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Allen Park — When Lions coach Jim Caldwell took over in 2014, he said the team would put an emphasis on having a balanced offense that can have success running the ball.

Last season, the Lions ranked 28th in rushing, and on Friday night, they drafted a running back who they hope can improve the unit.

Ameer Abdullah, a highly-productive back at Nebraska the last three years, will join the Lions' backfield this year after the team selected him with the No. 54 overall pick in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

"Very happy to have Ameer Abdullah joining our team," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. "Outstanding running back, very productive, very consistent performer, very versatile guy."

The 5-foot-9, 205-pound Abdullah is quick, shifty and strong for his size, and many people consider him to be among the highest character players in this year's draft. He also has home-run speed, which is something the Lions didn't have in the backfield after cutting Reggie Bush earlier this offseason. Abdullah ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, but looks faster on tape.

After Bush, the Lions had room for a versatile option in the backfield along with Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. Last year, Abdullah had 264 carries for 1,611 yards, 22 catches for 269 yards and 22 total touchdowns. Abdullah also had success as a returner during his time with the Huskers and averaged 29.3 yards per kickoff return last year.

"He's a guy we're going to give a look in the backfield obviously, but also on returns as a kickoff and punt return guy," Mayhew said.

The biggest question mark with Abdullah is his fumbling issue. In four seasons at Nebraska, he has 23 fumbles and lost 16. He improved that aspect of his game a bit in 2014 with just four fumbles, but his small hands make it a concern.

Mayhew and Lions coach Jim Caldwell said they think fumbles are a correctable issue, and he decreased his fumbles each of the last three years.

"None of these guys are the finished product," Mayhew said. "All these guys need to be trained and something has to be worked on, no matter what position that it is. If it's a running back and ball security, we're going to teach him on that. If it's catching the ball out of the backfield, we're going to teach him on that."

On Thursday, the Lions drafted an offensive guard, Duke's Laken Tomlinson, in the first round, and the addition of Abdullah is yet another sign they want to run the ball. Though Abdullah is short, he can run inside and absorb contact.

"He's a tough runner," Caldwell said. "He's a tough, determined guy, he's got good balance, he can break tackles. But I think overall you'll see that he's a guy that knows what he's doing when he gets the ball in his hands."

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/jkatzenstein

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