The Lions made a serious commitment to improving what was the 32nd-ranked rushing attack in 2017 (76.3 yards per game) through both the draft and free agency.
First, they signed former Eagles and Patriots bruiser LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 1,927 yards and 20 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Ragnow is an athletic center that could finally help give the Lions some interior push in the running game which they’ve lacked since about 2001 at the very least. He was one of Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked players in the 2018 Draft.
Johnson is a do-it-all back capable of getting tough yards and running with speed. He could be Detroit’s eventual bell-cow and is already a popular Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) May 4, 2018
But let’s not forget about Theo Riddick, arguably the best pass-catching tailback in the league, who’s still under contract and in his prime. Riddick is a go-to weapon during Detroit’s two-minute drill.
And lastly, that brings us to former second-round pick Ameer Abdullah, who made news yesterday by talking about the frustration of his part-time role.
Ameer Abdullah frustrated with light workload in Lions' offense https://t.co/zXUrwgyLHs
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) May 12, 2018
It’s easy to say that Blount and Johnson should be given the majority of the workload, given they are the team’s most recently acquired players at the position. However, the best method for success could the one that’s been used in New England over the past decade.
The Patriots routinely frustrate fantasy football owners by constantly switching backs and using guys in different roles from week to week. That’s precisely what the Lions should do next season.
And given that they have four backs each capable of doing something a little bit different, why not emulate the Bill Belichick method? After all, they’ve already taken the Patriots’ former scouting director in Bob Quinn and defensive coordinator in Matt Patricia.
Fans will want to see Kerryon Johnson early, and rightfully so if you’ve watched him play at Auburn. There’s no reason not to ease him in, though. The rushing attack was dreadful under Jim Caldwell, which was one of the reasons he got fired.
With that in mind, each running back should be given somewhat of a clean slate. Now that the team will have T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner back presumably healthy to accompany Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow and Ragnow up front– all five acquired by Bob Quinn since 2016 — why not just let it all play out?
Abdullah is looking like the odd man out due to the team’s recent acquisitions, but he still has value as a kick returner, receiver and change-of-pace runner at the very least. The team should let each player earn their carries and not worry about validating Johnson’s draft status, or proving Blount was money well spent.
I understand the desire to commit to one guy, and that could end up being the right move if somebody really stands out early. Plus, it really is quite absurd that Matthew Stafford is entering his tenth season and has only once had a 1,000-yard back (Reggie Bush in 2013).
But the goal should be to play the guy that gives the team the best chance of winning each week. Maybe that’s Blount, maybe that’s Johnson, but Detroit must let it be decided on the field.