Allen Park — The Vikings didn’t have much film of running Theo Riddick before his career-high 75 receiving yards helped the Lions win in Minnesota in Week 6 last year.
Riddick surely won’t be able to surprise the Vikings at Ford Field Sunday as his 33 receptions lead all running backs and his 278 receiving yards rank third at the position.
Riddick has been so impressive in his third season, in addition to his spot duty last year, that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer compared him to former Lions running back Reggie Bush, who spent much of his career featured as a receiver out of the backfield.
“I’m not saying they’re the same guy, but it takes another guy out of your back end of coverage because you have to pay special attention to him,” Zimmer said on a teleconference.
No matter what comparisons people make, a key reason Riddick has excelled in his third season is it’s clear he’s earned the trust of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who’s targeted the back 42 times this year — more than any player besides star receivers Calvin Johnson (63) and Golden Tate (55).
“The way you earn a quarterback’s trust is you go out there and you get open,” Stafford said. “And when you get open, I throw it to you, you catch it. And he does that pretty well, so it’s been working out for us.”
When the Lions drafted Ameer Abdullah in the second round, the expectation was that Abdullah would fill Bush’s role as the player who split time with Joique Bell, leaving little role for Riddick. In Week 1, the Lions showed that Riddick would be the primary back in 2-minute situations, but as Bell dealt with injuries and Abdullah has struggled with fumbles, Riddick has earned more of a role.
Against Chicago last Sunday, Riddick set career highs with seven carries for 28 yards as Abdullah dealt with a left arm injury for much of the second half — though a fumble leaves it open to interpretation whether he was benched. Riddick added three catches for 50 yards, too.
Zimmer also praised Riddick’s pass blocking, which makes it easier for him to stay on the field in varied situations.
“His skill set is pretty wide-ranging,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.
Riddick was also a special teams star as a rookie, but he hasn’t played as much on that unit as his offensive role has grown.
Because the Lions pass most of the time Riddick is on the field, the Lions offense might be predictable, but Zimmer said the defenses still have to stop him. When Riddick is on the field, Zimmer said defenses might treat the package like there aren’t any running backs because of his receiving skills.
Riddick has become such a threat that Stafford said he noticed the Bears trying to knock him down before he could run his routes last Sunday. But when he gets into his routes, it’s often hard to stop him.
“A lot of times, that’s one of the best matchups on the field,” Stafford said. “He against a lot of linebackers is a good look for us, and especially with the skill guys that we have outside, the attention that the safeties give those guys, lots of times, the back is the best one-on-one matchup we have. And not only Theo, but Ameer (Abdullah), they do a great job out of the backfield. They both have a little different style of doing it, but are both extremely good at doing it.”