The Detroit Lions made a surprising move Saturday morning when they released running back Theo Riddick. The running back had been one of the offense’s best players since the team drafted him in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, but recent regression and a change in offensive philosophy have made him expendable.
Detroit will need to replace the Riddick’s production, though, which opens things up for players beneath him on the roster.
While many have already anointed rookie running back Ty Johnson as Riddick’s heir, wide receiver Brandon Powell may truly be the one that benefits from the veteran running back absence.
Riddick is officially listed as a running back, but he was always more of a weapon in the passing game than the running game. He had more receptions that rushing attempts in the first four years of his NFL career, and ended his Lions career with only three more rushing attempts than receptions.
The running back’s greatest asset was his route running and good hands. While Riddick is not a particularly fast player, he is incredibly shifty and hard to keep up with, especially for the linebackers he is usually lined up against.
Powell is a strikingly similar player. He is a touch smaller than Riddick, but plays the same way. The receiver is very shifty and hard to really pin down when he’s in space. Powell is not particularly fast, but he may be better after the catch.
The 2018 undrafted rookie would be able to slide into a Ryan Switzer type role in Detroit. While listed as a receiver, he could also take many snaps lined up in the backfield with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Powell can run routes out of the backfield, avoid press coverage and get matched up against linebackers that he can easily dance around one-on-ones. They probably would not hand off the ball to him much, as all of Riddick’s carries would be usurped by the team’s running back room, but he could take on all of Riddick’s passing usage.
The race at the bottom of the depth chart for the Lions’ skill positions will he heated during training camp. Riddick seemed like a lock for the roster, but his departure opens up a spot for someone else. While Powell will still have to work hard for a roster spot, his chances of making the roster just got way better.