It has been about five years since the Lions last used a Fullback as a staple in their offense. Matthew Stafford was a rookie, the starting defense was a mish-mash of washouts and dried up former stars, and quite frankly there was very little hope for the team.
That 2009 team is a far cry from the team of 2014, with superstars on both sides of the ball and an air of a team that could contend any Sunday if they could only get out of their own way. Despite signing former Saints and Lombardi favorite Jed Collins, the Lions brought in UDFA Chad Abram out of Florida State to compete at the newly resurrected position. Is he a camp body, or does he have a legitimate shot?
Physically, Abram is the polar opposite of Jed Collins. Where Collins is larger than an average fullback, he’s also slower than average. Likewise, Abram is smaller than the average FB but significantly faster. These traits manifest themselves in the ‘type’ of FB each player is. Collins tended to be a lead blocker for the Saints, while Abram was a dependable if scarcely used backfield target (8.1 YPC). That isn’t to say one or the other are one way players, but they each have their strengths.
Coming into camp as the third FB on the roster is never an admirable position to be in, even on a team that is aiming to breathe life into the position. There is just enough concerns with the two men ahead of him, however, that Abram should get a shot to push for more playing time.
As someone who sincerely liked Montell Owens during his time in Jacksonville and Collins during his time in New Orleans, believe me when I say that Chad Abram has a good chance to beat either veteran out for a job. With a couple of caveats of course.
What does he have to do to beat Montell Owens?
Montell Owens came into camp in 2013 with low expectations from a fan base that had become jaded with the Lions over reliance on former Jaguars. Even though Owens brought the glimmer of hope that the Lions might use some FB again, it was his Special Teams play that led to his signing int he first place. Owens is recognized as one of the best Special Teamers in the NFL and it wasn’t until 2012 that his play as a RB/FB had really gained any sort of notice.
Chad Abram will have his work cut out for him trying to unseat Owens. Apart from proving he can block as well as rush and run routes, Abram will have to make Owens expendable on teams. To that end, Abram has already gotten a hand from an unexpected source, as Theo Riddick showed enough in 2013 to possibly give Owens one foot out of the door.
Showing durability is an absolute must to have any chance to push Owens out of his spot. Owens missed all of 2013 with a knee injury and any injury to Abram could trigger a “May as well keep the proven guy…” response from the team.
What does he have to do to beat Jed Collins?
While not an easy task, beating Collins out for a roster spot is much more straightforward for Chad Abram. Abram has to show he’s at least adept at special teams, but will have to be a punishing lead blocker during camp and the preseason to make any kind of move for Collins’ spot.
Abram has limited but very impressive tape as a runner/receiver, so it will be his ability to block and open holes that will get him recognized by this coaching staff. A few highlight reel hits sandwiched between a whole lot of consistency will go a long way for the former Safety.
What does he bring?
Abram’s stats don’t jump off the page. He was a low volume runner and receiver, but what’s important to note is that he did a whole lot with the touches he was given. His 4.1 yards per carry and 8.1 yards per catch are impressive, as is his 3 TDs despite only touching the ball 16 times in 2013.
Jed Collins had his physical shortcomings as a runner, but the Saints offense was able to make use of his skills out of the backfield regularly enough that I have confidence in a faster, shiftier player like Abram.
FSU used Abram primarily as a blocker. With Devonte Freeman and James Wilder, there wasn’t much need for a whole lot of running. As you can see in the clip here, Abram understands his assignment enough that he doesn’t get swallowed up by the first wave of defenders, trusting his line to take care of them while he climbs to the second level.
As a receiver, while you don’t get to see much route running, you can see from the below clip that Abram has an eye for the end zone with the ball in his hand. A defender has him dead to rights and he effortlessly dodges him to score.