Lions expect Abdullah to develop like he did in college

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Ameer Abdullah

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah produced mixed results his rookie season.

He finished 2015 averaging 4.2 yards per carry despite offensive line issues, ranked second in the NFL with a 29.1-yard average on kickoff returns and was fifth among rookies in rushing yards with 597.

Among the negatives was a lack of production in the passing game with just 183 yards on 25 catches as Theo Riddick and Joique Bell were the top options out of the backfield.

Then, there were the fumbles as Abdullah put the ball on the ground five times, earning a brief benching after a couple.

But, even if the Lions select a running back high in next month’s draft, Abdullah should still have a sizable role in 2016. And coach Jim Caldwell expects him to do better than he did as a rookie.

“If there’s anybody that’s going to improve, he’s going to improve,” Caldwell said last week at the NFL annual meetings.

One of the best ways for the Lions to improve next year is to receive more production from the 2015 draft class, whether that’s better play from guard Laken Tomlinson, Abdullah or others.

A second-round pick last year, Abdullah showed potential for future growth as a rookie. However, despite leading the Lions with 143 carries, Abdullah’s season high for rushes in a game was 16, leaving questions about how much he can be an every-down back.

Caldwell said he expects Abdullah to improve based on history. Granted it’s not the same as the NFL, Abdullah showed steady growth at Nebraska, improving his yards per carry and touchdowns each year and yards per reception each of his last three years.

Another reason for optimism with Abdullah was his close to his rookie year. In the final five games, he had 47 carries for 250 yards, a 5.3-yard average. He also fumbled just once in the last 10 games.

“I think he was able to (improve) during the course of the year. He had some peak and valleys, but I think he’s going to be OK.”