The Detroit Lions had one of the worst running games in the NFL in 2016. They had the third-fewest rushing yards per game (81.9) while managing just 3.7 yards per carry, good for 27th in the league. Even with one of the most dynamic passing games, the Lions rushing attack could never seem to get itself off the ground.
But at this point in the offseason, hope springs eternal. Many are expecting a big turnaround in the Lions running game. The health of Ameer Abdullah, who played in just six quarter last year, is the biggest reason for optimism in Detroit. However, the Lions also made some important additions at offensive line and at tight end that could really affect Detroit’s ability to run the ball next season.
So today’s Question of the Day is:
What are realistic expectations for the Lions run game in 2017?
My answer: This is a very tough question to answer because of the uncertainty surrounding Abdullah. While I think his injury concerns are quite overblown, we still don’t really know how good Abdullah is. His rookie year was somewhat promising, but he still only averaged 4.2 yards per carry, which is just about average.
Then there’s his performance in a game and a half last year. Abdullah was great, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions from just 18 total carries. His 120 all-purpose yards against the Colts was impressive, but let’s put his performance in context. The Indianapolis Colts had one of the worst defenses in the league in 2016 (29th in DVOA, 32nd against the run). His six rushes for 38 yards against a very good Titans defense was more promising, but again, that is a dangerously small sample size.
On the positive side, Abdullah, like all of the Lions’ backs, is still extremely young. From pure experience alone, Detroit should see improvement across the board with Abdullah (23 years old), Zach Zenner (25), Dwayne Washington (23) and Theo Riddick (26).
Still, I think the unit has a long ways to go before we can even expect an average rushing unit. I think realistically we can expect the Lions to jump from a bottom five rushing team to somewhere around 20th, averaging a little over 100 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry. That is no small accomplishment for one offseason.