When Calvin Johnson called it quits this past offseason at the age of 29, it was as if the NFL was disbanding the entire Detroit Lions franchise. Every analyst questioned how in the world offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter would go about trying to replace one of the greatest wide receivers of the last 10 years.
The answer, through Week 1 anyway, is to spread the ball around to multiple receivers, including running back Theo Riddick. The 25-year-old was one of the best pass-catching backs in the league last season, catching 80 passes for 697 yards and three touchdowns.
In Week 1 versus Indianapolis, he hauled in all five of his targets for 63 yards and a score, but the icing on the cake was his 45 traditional yards for a running back (on the ground) and another score. In standard leagues, Riddick scored 22.8 fantasy points.
Although that should have all his owners excited about the possibilities for him this season, in reality, it’s a performance that he’s probably never going to repeat. Before last week, Riddick had never posted 100 yards from scrimmage before let alone found the end zone twice in a game.
Prior to the 2016 opener, his previous career-high for fantasy points in one week was 12.8. In other words, nearly half his total from last Sunday.
For that reason, it’s completely understandable for owners to explore their options with Riddick on the trade market. More than likely, his value is never going to be any higher than it is right now, but for the owners who decide to keep him, there are reasons to be excited.
For one, Detroit’s offense didn’t skip a beat in its first game without Johnson. The Lions gained 448 yards of offense, including 332 yards through the air. In Week 1, Detroit averaged 4.8 yards per rush and 8.3 yards per pass, which was far better than what they posted in 2015. Last season, the Lions averaged 3.8 yards per carry and 7.1 yards per pass attempt.
Now, Cooter’s offense likely won’t maintain those averages all season. The fact they were playing last year’s 25th ranked defense certainly helped, but there is definitely a different feeling around the Lions. Detroit is taking more shots down the field, stretching the field more often. This strategy has opened things up in the short passing game as well with the running attack.
This transformation really began at the end of October last year when the Lions fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. He called far too many short passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage, which brought defenders into the box and hurt the running game.
That changed under Cooter midway through last year, and it carried over into Week 1. Quarterback Matthew Stafford took three deep shots versus the Colts, and even though he didn’t hit on all of them, running lanes opened up because of the threat of a deeper pass.
The other reason to have faith in Riddick moving forward is because he received 12 touches in Week 1, which was just five fewer than starting running back Ameer Abdullah. The second-year runner had a great game too, gaining 120 yards from scrimmage, but Riddick averaged 1.5 more yards per touch. That could lead to a more equal backfield in Detroit than owners originally anticipated.
On the other hand, the number of plays for each back wasn’t as even. Abdullah was on the field for 40 plays, 61.54 percent of the Lions’ offense. Riddick had just 24 plays, which was 36.92 percent, and on those 24 plays, he touched the ball 12 times. It’s very unlikely that if Riddick continues to see only about 25 plays per game, that he will keep getting 12 touches.
That would again point towards selling high on the 25-year-old back. Nobody touches the ball half the time they are on the field over the course of a whole season, and Abdullah appears to be the No. 1 guy in Detroit.
Feel free to test the trade market with Riddick quickly before the Week 2 games begin, but do keep in mind, stashing him on the bench isn’t the worst of ideas if the price isn’t right. Remember, he did catch 80 passes last year, which could be extremely valuable as a bye week replacement in future weeks, especially in PPR leagues. Just don’t expect a touchdown per game.
Consider Riddick a low-end RB3 in 12-team leagues moving forward. He is a decent FLEX play consideration this week against Tennessee.