When the Detroit Lions used their second-round pick on running back Ameer Abdullah, it couldn't have been a better fit of value and need. After releasing Reggie Bush earlier in the offseason, the Lions desperately needed a running back who could add some explosion to their offense.
Abdullah may never be the every-down back in Detroit, but he also doesn't really need to be. He was highly productive all throughout college, never running for fewer than 1,100 yards in a season and remaining relatively injury-free despite carrying the ball over 800 times. He did suffer a sprained MCL last season.
Where he wins
Moves the chains
While Abdullah's straight-line speed doesn't compare to that of a guy like Indiana's Tevin Coleman -- as demonstrated by his 4.60 time in the 40-yard dash -- he makes up for it with explosive lateral quickness and foot speed. He is able to effortlessly glide through traffic and pick up the all-important short-to-mid-level runs. Those are the money runs in the NFL, and Abdullah consistently moved the chains throughout his career.
According to Pro Football Focus, he forced a missed tackle on average once out of every 4.3 offensive touches, and forced 66 missed tackles on rushes and receptions, which ranks third-most in the 2015 draft class.
Natural pass catcher
The Lions want to have that dual-threat back in their offense. Even when Reggie Bush wasn't productive last season as a receiver, the Lions still tried to force him the ball. As the season went on, the Lions began to use Theo Riddick more in that role. According to Pro Football Focus, Riddick led all running backs in 2014 with 2.45 Yards Per Route Run. So the Lions clearly have a role in mind for a pass-catching running back.
In 2014, Abdullah had 22 receptions for 269 yards and 3 TDs through the air. And he could have been even more productive in that role if Nebraska used him that way. In two years at Nebraska he didn't drop a single pass. He's not a great route runner at this point, but his sure hands make up for it.
Limited wasted movement
The closest thing Abdullah will be to resembling Reggie Bush in Detroit is their jersey number. One thing Lions fans will instantly love about Abdullah is his ability to make people miss with limited movement. He has excellent vision for a running back and hits the hole with authority. He can get caught trying to bounce it to the outside, but he also is able to pick up yards even when he seems trapped in the backfield.
Where he needs to improve
It seemed like everyone's ding on Abdullah going into the draft process was that he racked up a lot of fumbles in his time at Nebraska. And while this was true, especially early on, he did make improvements as his career moved forward. Martin Mayhew spoke about it soon after the Lions drafted him:
"You might want to check some of the other backs and see how many fumbles they had," Mayhew said. "He only had (two). He has worked really hard on that. He has improved on that every single year. That is something he will continue to work on and keep getting better."
So while he has gotten better, he still needs to continue to improve that area of his game. I wouldn't be surprised to see NFL defenses try and attack that part of his game early on.
If he wants to be more than just a situational player in his rookie season, Abdullah is going to have to improve his pass protection. He was Pro Football Focus' 51st-rated running back in Pass Blocking Efficiency last season. He had to pass block on 26.5 percent of plays and gave up four sacks, one hit and four hurries. Coaching could play a big part this offseason, and his playing time could significantly come down to how well he can protect Matthew Stafford.
The good news is this is definitely an area where he can improve, and I have no doubts he'll take to good coaching at the next level.
If not for his size, Abdullah may have been vying for a first-round draft selection. The Lions were able to add a key cog to their offensive arsenal. He should be able to come in day one and help out on offense and special teams.