Known as one of the shiftiest running backs in the NFL, Theo Riddick has been vital to the Detroit Lions offense. But will his role shrink in 2018?
Anyone who has watched a Detroit Lions game this decade knows how heavily the offense relies on the passing game. This is partially due to the elite play of quarterback Matthew Stafford and a handful of talented receivers.
It is also partially due to the fact that the Lions have had basically no consistent running game this decade as well. Detroit hasn’t used their running backs in a conventional way, rotating backs and relying on them to catch out of the backfield.
Catching the ball out of the backfield is running back Theo Riddick‘s specialty. His ability to not only secure the ball but also make defenders miss in space makes him one of the best pass-catching backs in the league.
With 224 catches for 1,854 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns under his belt, Riddick has really excelled in his role as a pass-catching back who provides an interesting wrinkle to a prolific aerial attack.
Riddick really has carved out a nice little niche for himself here in Detroit. But with the free agency acquisition of LeGarrette Blount and drafting Kerryon Johnson in the second round, Riddick might see his time on the field limited in 2018.
Lions fans got a glimpse of what life without Theo Riddick would be like two weeks ago when he sat out of the first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders to nurse an unknown minor injury. With Blount, Johnson and Ameer Abdullah combining for 71 yards and a touchdown, he wasn’t exactly missed in the loss.
It may be a smart idea for the Lions to use Riddick solely as a third down back who goes out for a pass the majority of the time. Even though defenses know he’s not in the game to run the ball, he’s so good at making defenders miss in space that it really doesn’t matter that they know it’s coming.
As good as Riddick is at catching the ball, he has proven to not be great at actually running the football off a hand-off. In 70 professional games, Riddick is well short of rushing for 1,000 total yards and has scored a mere five touchdowns rushing, which aren’t super impressive numbers for a five-year veteran.
With the wealth of running backs on the roster, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has the flexibility to get creative and use Riddick all over the field. As much of a threat as he is out of the backfield, using him in the slot could be beneficial to the Lions as well.
Cooter did exactly that in last week’s preseason game with the New York Giants, playing Riddick in the slot in a few packages towards the start of the game. That paid off for the Lions, as Riddick amassed 50 yards receiving, including a beautiful 42-yard catch where he turned linebacker Alec Ogletree‘s ankles into jelly.
Riddick possesses a very high football I.Q., and because of that, he should have little to no issue running new routes and making guys miss out of the slot. Head coach Matt Patricia has confidence in him. Here’s what Patricia told Justin Rogers of the Detroit News.
"“With all the different defensive packages that teams run, and disguises from fronts and pressure standpoints, insides, outside, that’s really a very complex sort of assignment to be able to handle, especially in those critical situations. He does an excellent job of deciphering that and really being on the same page as the quarterback as far as where the extra man is coming from.”"
Although he may see the field less this season on first and second down, Theo Riddick’s agility, willingness to change and football smarts give him the potential to be the best third-down back in the league in 2018.