Detroit Lions: Will Zach Zenner return with a new coach?

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 08: Quarterback Matthew Stafford
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 08: Quarterback Matthew Stafford /

Detroit Lions running back Zach Zenner is a restricted free agent, but with the logjam of rushers on the roster, will he be back in Honolulu blue?

It seemed like the Detroit Lions found a gem in the undrafted free agent market when running back Zach Zenner powered through defenses at the end of the 2016 season. He posted back-to-back 65-plus yard games against the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers – both were playoff teams that year.

Not surprisingly, at the start of the 2017 season, Zenner was back behind lead running back Ameer Abdullah and change-of-pace running back Theo Riddick. After all, Zenner got the start in those late games due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. The head-scratching question Lions fans were faced with: Why was Zenner used so little this past season?

Zenner did suffer an injury in the preseason, but still saw the majority of his playing time early in the season. In Week 5 he posted the team’s second rushing touchdown of the season against the Carolina Panthers. He finished that game with three carries for 11 yards. He went on to finish the season with 14 carries for 26 yards and a touchdown over eight games before finishing the season as a healthy scratch.

Instead of turning to Zenner late in the season, the team sent rookie running back Tion Green onto the field. The move seemed to be an instant success as Green posted some exciting plays right out of the gate and finished the season with 42 carries for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

So, where does that leave restricted free agent Zach Zenner this offseason? Former Lions head coach Jim Caldwell seemed to believe in Zenner until the unexpected drop in usage, even after having plenty of success at the end of 2016. With Caldwell out of town and assumed new head coach Matt Patricia coming in, nobody really knows what will happen at the running back position.

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The logjam at the position consists of Abdullah, Riddick, Green and Dwayne Washington – all currently under contract. Zenner is on the outside looking in, especially with scouts drooling over prospects in the draft. With a new coach and last year’s lack of success on the ground, it would be a huge surprise to see all five of these players in Detroit when the 2018 season kicks off.