New Contract Tracker: Running Backs – Week 5

This new weekly feature will analyse the progress of the running backs that signed new contracts in the 2016 offseason. Each week I will select players of interest, discuss their production, and analyse it with respect to the contract that they signed.

Theo Riddick – Lions

Theo Riddick has an established role in a rather obscure Detroit Lions backfield. With promising 2nd-year back Ameer Abdullah, the Lions’ 2nd round pick in 2015, given most of the rushing work last season, Riddick was mainly utilised on 3rd down and obvious passing situations. While Abdullah dominated the carries tally, Riddick was an absolute weapon in the passing game, and that play justified the Lions striking a deal with Riddick for three years, $11.5 million. Riddick’s deal puts him in a similar range to other non-rookie backs like Frank Gore, Matt Forte and Ryan Mathews, all of whom have restrictions based on age and/or durability. Riddick does earn less than other 3rd down backs like Shane Vereen and Darren Sproles, and considering their respective production and age that can be considered good value for the Lions.

Similarities are clear between Riddick and Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, who I wrote about after Week 4. Both are primarily used as receivers out of the backfield, and have proven very effective with that skill. Both are young, drafted in 2013 and approaching their primes soon. But the most significant similarity is the presence of a young and promising “true” running back in their respective backfields. For Riddick that is of course Abdullah, and for Bernard, that is Jeremy Hill. I think that fact is reflected in their contracts. Both Riddick and Bernard have relatively low guarantee percentages in the low 30% range, and both signed just three-year deals despite their youth and effective production in the league. The three-year nature is probably indicative of the team’s desire to keep their running back position flexible in case of an Abdullah or Hill breakout in the next few seasons.

The main difference between Riddick and Bernard is that Bernard has a higher APY of about $1.3 million, and I think that is for two main reasons. Firstly, Bernard has been more effective and contributed much more in the ground game than Riddick through three seasons. Secondly, Jeremy Hill is a less complete back than Ameer Abdullah. Bernard will likely have a clear role as long as Hill is on the roster, unless Hill improves his receiving game. Abdullah is more of a threat to Riddick, as Abdullah came into the league with a reputation for being a complete, well-rounded back, just with some fumbling issues. That competition between Abdullah and Riddick will be interesting to follow in seasons to come.

On to the current season, and Theo Riddick has been thrust into a greater role in the Lions offense. Ameer Abdullah went down with a foot injury in Week 2, and is likely out for the season. Riddick has therefore assumed more carries, averaging 10 carries per game this season compared to 2.7 last season. Riddick has maintained his receiving role, with his 26 receptions this season the most for any running back in the NFL, and he is 5th in receiving yards among running backs with 190. He has also chipped in with 3 receiving touchdowns. The problem for Riddick has come in the run game, where he has failed to move the ball efficiently. Riddick is currently at just 3.4 yards per attempt, whereas Abdullah and big back Dwayne Washington have gained a combined 4.9 yards per attempt. Riddick has been given a much larger rushing workload with Abdullah out, and he has failed to provide much of a threat.

At the end of the day, the Lions didn’t pay Riddick to be a rushing leader. His career yards per attempt is 2.9, and he has never been pushed into the rushing spotlight with Abdullah healthy, with just 43 rushes last season. The Lions are paying, however, for Riddick to be a legitimate passing game threat out of the backfield, and he continues to do that. Riddick had the 2nd most receiving yards for running backs over 2014 and 2015, with 1013 yards. As stated previously, Riddick is performing as well as ever catching the football in 2016, and is relatively good value for the Lions.

Grade after five weeks: B

Here is the full list of running backs that signed new contracts this past year.

NameTeamAPYAttemptsYardsTouchdownsYd/ADYAR rank (min. 40 rushes)Rec.R.YdsR.TDSEASON GRADE
Doug MartinBuccaneers$7,150,000258503.4n/a5340C (inj.)
Lamar MillerTexans$6,500,00010137103.726th14820B-
Chris IvoryJaguars$6,400,000204302.2n/a190C-
Giovani BernardBengals$5,166,6673411803.5n/a252111B-
Darren SprolesEagles$4,500,000249604n/a141831B+
C.J. AndersonBroncos$4,500,0008429333.525th12941B
Matt ForteJets$4,000,0009334133.715th13900B
Theo RiddickLions$3,850,0005017113.422nd261903B
Bilal PowellJets$3,750,0001710906.4n/a211440B-
James StarksPackers$3,000,000244201.8n/a6500C-
Alfred MorrisCowboys$1,750,0003012824.3n/a120B
Mike TolbertPanthers$1,650,000153902.6n/a4130B-
Arian FosterDolphins$1,500,000164702.9n/a3620C
Reggie BushBills$1,500,0004-10-0.3n/a000D
Chris JohnsonCardinals$1,500,000259513.8n/a000B
Lance DunbarCowboys$1,250,0005911.8n/a5560C
LeGarrette BlountPatriots$1,000,00010638953.729th340A-

Will Eddowes is a 20 year old college student from New Zealand. Will is in his second year of study at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, pursuing conjoint degrees in law and economics. Despite living so far away from football, Will has developed a strong passion for the game, particularly the front office aspects of salary cap analysis and team building/scouting.