With Ameer Abdullah gone for at least the next two months, the Detroit Lions need to figure out their running back situation. Theo Riddick will undoubtedly become the team’s starting back. In fact, Riddick has the exact same amount of carries as Abdullah anyways (18) and is averaging a solid 4.6 per carry—though not as good as Abdullah’s 5.6.
The Lions brought in Joique Bell for a visit on Tuesday, but as of Wednesday afternoon, they had not offered him a contract. Bell played with the Lions for four years before the team cut him earlier this offseason. Bell had his worst statistical year with the team in 2015, but once offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter took over, he had a small surge in his play.
If the Lions decide to forego signing Bell, they will likely have to rely on rookie Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner to take over as the active running backs on game day. Considering Zenner has been inactive through two weeks, that would likely mean Washington would take over as the primary backup. Is he ready to take on such a task?
Washington, a seventh-round pick this year, has already done a lot to impress the Lions’ coaching staff. Entering the team as a long-shot to make the roster, his impressive play over the preseason forced the Lions to cut veteran Stevan Ridley. Not only that, but he jumped Zenner on the depth chart, making him not only part of the 53-man roster, but on the 46-man active roster on game days. In his first career game, Washington scored his first NFL touchdown on a one-yard goal-line rush.
When Abdullah went down against the Titans, Washington again met the task. The Lions trusted Washington with four carries and he delivered 31 yards, including an impressive 28-yard rush on a draw play.
But for Washington, being a running back can be about a lot more than just rushing the ball. It requires a deep knowledge of the offense, including knowing who to pick up in pass protection situations. Matthew Stafford seems confident of his abilities though. “Everything we’ve given him he’s done a nice job of soaking up,” Stafford said on Wednesday.
Still, this is a risky prospect. The Lions have relied heavily on their backup running backs in the past. In Week 1, the Lions used Riddick as a backup in 37 percent of their offensive snaps. Considering Riddick has never carried the ball more than 11 times in a game, the new backup player will have to contribute often. That’s a big responsibility to put on a seventh-round rookie. In that sense, the addition of an experienced player like Bell makes sense. However, the Lions may not be able to afford a roster spot given the abundance of injuries elsewhere on the roster.
At this point, it may make the most sense to give Washington a game or two as the backup running back. If things aren’t working out, Bell will likely be there waiting.