ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Periodically during training camp and then on Saturdays during the regular season, we’ll answer at least one of your questions in a weekly mailbag.
To ask a question for the mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter, ask via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. On to this week’s question:
What's your over/under on rushing yards for Ameer Abdullah this year? #LionsMailbag
— Jonathan Keplinger (@theoriginalkep) August 17, 2017
This is an interesting question because so much goes into it for the Detroit Lions running back. Start here, that the Lions have never had a strong running game under Jim Caldwell. Caldwell has never had a run game in the top half of the league in his time as a head coach in Indianapolis and Detroit or as an offensive coordinator in Baltimore.
With that knowledge, set expectations accordingly.
That said, Ameer Abdullah is in a good spot with the Lions. He clearly is the team’s No. 1 running back and should get almost all the work on early downs with Theo Riddick being a pass-catching specialist and Zach Zenner having more of a goal-line presence. Dwayne Washington is a wild card, but at this point Abdullah is the better player -- and it isn’t close.
From what I’ve seen from Abdullah, the Lions should be pleased with what they have. He has looked sharp throughout training camp and appears to have retained the speed and agility that made him an intriguing back before his foot injury.
With all of that knowledge, I’m going to make a bold prediction: If Abdullah stays healthy for all 16 games this season (or even if he plays 15), he ends up as the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013. Not going to say he’s going to go much over 1,000, and I think his touchdown numbers could be low because of Riddick as a pass-catcher and Zenner or Washington as a bigger option, but the yardage and volume should be there for Abdullah. That said, if you're looking for a true over/under line, I would probably be safe setting it at 750 yards (which I think he'll be way over).
If Abdullah averages 15 carries a game -- and that’s fairly reasonable -- he would have 240 carries over 16 games. At that rate, he would have to average 4.17 yards per carry to reach 1,000 yards.
That was his average as a rookie (when he had only 143 carries) and almost a yard-and-a-half less than the 5.61 yards per carry he had in a very limited sample size last season. But considering the 2016 offense looks more like what the Lions will operate this year, 1,000 yards is attainable as long as Abdullah's health holds up.
He also should be able to pull in between 30 and 40 receptions, especially if the Lions try to have more of a ball-control offense that will utilize short passes to the running backs, which they did the second half of last season.
Those are pretty strong reasons to think Abdullah has a chance to be a breakout player this season.