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Detroit Lions 2018 roster review: Did Zach Zenner earn a bigger role for 2019?

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The Lions running back is facing free agency again, but his late-season surge could earn him a real contributing spot.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

As free agency approaches, we will look back at the Detroit Lions roster, examining expectations coming into the season and evaluating players’ futures with the team.

Today we look at running back Zach Zenner.

Zach Zenner, RB

Expectations before 2018

A restricted free agent this past offseason, the Lions let Zenner walk in free agency, but they would re-sign him in mid March. However, with the addition of Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount in the draft and free agency respectively, Zenner was expected to be little more than a depth player, with an outside chance to even make the roster. Though effective as a pass blocker last season in limited snaps, Zenner didn’t bring enough as a runner to solidify himself behind Johnson, Blount, Theo Riddick, or Ameer Abdullah.

Actual role in 2018

2018 Stats: 55 carries for 265 yards (4.8 YPC) 3 TDs, 7 receptions for 56 yards
PFF Grade: 73.2 (Didn’t qualify for rankings)

As expected, Zenner did not survive the initial roster cuts, getting placed on injured reserve on September 1 before being waived on the 12th. It was later revealed that he broke two bones in his back. Somewhat surprisingly, the Lions re-signed Zenner on November 6 after his injury settlement plus three weeks were up; he would take the roster spot of Abdullah, who was waived on the same day.

Weeks 10 through 13 would be quiet for Zenner, mustering a mere four carries. However, with Blount being largely ineffective and Johnson nursing an injury, Zenner’s snap count would hit double-digits, and he achieved some success, rushing for 54 yards, 45 yards, 45 yards, and 93 yards in the final four games of the season, all while maintaining a yards per carry of at least 4.4 in each game.

Outlook for 2019

Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent

Once again, Zenner will hit the free agency market, but there is more optimism for him this year. Zenner put together some solid performances in the latter part of the season, and it should be enough to warrant returning next season. With Blount likely gone and no definitive backup to Johnson, Zenner should at least compete for a larger role in training camp. The Lions will likely add a running back or two in free agency and the draft, which could once again hinder his chance at a roster spot.

Previously roster reviews: Luke Willson, Ezekiel Ansah, LeGarrette Blount, Matt Cassel