While many Detroit Lions fans are focused on the hopeful improvement of Ameer Abdullah and Marvin Jones on offense, let’s not forget about the return of one of Detroit’s most key elements to their offensive attack: Theo Riddick.
For a few years now, Riddick has been the unsung hero of the Lions’ offense, breaking ankles of unsuspecting linebackers on the way to catching an insane amount of passes for a tailback. In fact, Riddick set the franchise record for receptions and receiving yards in a season in 2015 when he hauled in 80 catches for 697 yards.
But his production isn’t just outstanding for the Lions, he has arguably been the best at what he does in the entire league. According to Pro Football Focus, no running back has earned more receiving yards per route run than Theo Riddick over the past five years:
After playing WR for a time at Notre Dame, it's no surprise Theo Riddick has been the most productive receiving back the past five seasons pic.twitter.com/Dm8cLTQOoY— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 12, 2017
(Riddick has only been in the league four years, for what it’s worth.)
That is a pretty outstanding accomplishment for a player that was selected in the sixth round and still isn’t getting the kind of attention that a similar player like Danny Woodhead is getting. In fact, let’s take a look at the two backs over the last four years.
Riddick: 54 games (11 starts): 566 rushing yards (3.5 YPC), 171 catches, 1410 receiving yards
Woodhead: 37 games (4 starts): 919 rushing yards (3.9 YPC), 167 catches, 1429 receiving yards
Though Woodhead’s stats are far more impressive on a per-game basis (Woodhead also consistently received more snaps per game than Riddick), Riddick’s raw statistics are right there with the best in terms of receiving.
The Lions were impressed enough by Riddick’s performance that they gave him a three-year, $12.75 million extension before the start of last year’s regular season. Entering this year, however, there are some questions surrounding Riddick. Theo has not fully practiced with the team in the offseason due to double wrist surgery that ended his 2016 season in Week 13. It’s unclear whether he’ll be ready to go by the time training camp rolls around at the end of the month.
Presuming he’s healthy by the time the regular season rolls around, Riddick will take a backseat to first-string runner Ameer Abdullah, who missed the majority of last season with an injury of his own. Riddick has been in that position before, thriving in a third-down back role, but Detroit would be wise to give him a bigger role than that. Riddick is a legitimate weapon that is a constant mismatch in the passing game.