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Analyst: Lions must ease Stafford’s burden with star RB

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Leonard Fournette

Mobile, Ala. — NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks is a believer in Matthew Stafford, calling the Lions quarterback MVP-caliber and stating the team probably could have made some noise in the postseason had it not been for the injured finger on his throwing hand.

Brooks also likes what Bob Quinn has done in his first year with the Lions, but believes the general manager needs to continue to ease Stafford’s burden to carry the team for the franchise to take the next step.

Brooks, who played in the NFL for five years and served as a college scout for several more, said there are many ways Quinn can help Stafford, but strongly feels the team needs a top-tier running back.

“They need a crown-jewel type running back, an upper-echelon type running back, someone who can carry the mill, be an every-down back who can also make plays in the passing game,” Brooks said at the Senior Bowl. “(Theo) Riddick and (Ameer) Abdullah, those are nice complementary guys.”

Quinn was counting on Abdullah to shoulder the load last season, and given the back’s history of durability, it wasn’t an unreasonable expectation. But two weeks into the season, Abdullah suffered a season-ending foot injury requiring surgery. It was the first time he had missed a game, at any level, because of injury.

Despite the track record, Brooks was never convinced Abdullah could be a workhorse. Writing preview content for the 2015 draft, he labeled Abdullah as an “intriguing change of pace option.”

Defensive help on display for Lions at Senior Bowl

“It’s just uncommon for a smaller back to be able to carry the load, from a durability standpoint, having to be able to grind it out between the tackles,” Brooks said. “He has some things that he does really well at Nebraska, but I always thought he’d be that receiving back, as opposed to that every-down back.

“They need someone that has a completely different style or they need someone who can do both things and never has to come off the field.”

Many analysts feel this draft is loaded at the running back position. The class is highlighted by dynamic workhorses Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette at the top, with tremendous depth through the middle rounds, including Texas’ D’Onta Foreman, Toldeo’s Kareem Hunt and South Florida’s Marlon Mack.

There’s nothing guaranteeing those prospects will be stars at the next level, but they offer big-time college production and possess the bulkier build Brooks thinks the Lions need.

The Lions have essentially lacked a consistent running game since Barry Sanders retired in 1999 and the team has routinely finished near the bottom of the league in rushing attempts and yards per carry in the three years Jim Caldwell has coached the team.

After the season finished, Abdullah said he still believed he could be a featured back in the NFL, but wasn’t certain the Lions would give him the chance. Quinn said the combination of Abdullah, Riddick, Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington is good enough, but left the door open for an upgrade.

Quinn also doesn’t believe the answer to the Lions’ rushing woes is simply adding a star back.

“This isn’t you pick one running back at the top of the draft and your running game is fixed,” he said after the season. “That’s not how this league works. I think you can go back to the Cowboys, and everyone writes about their great offensive line and they have a great running back. Well, they also have a really good blocking tight end and they also have a pretty good fullback when he’s in there. I think it takes 11 guys on the offensive side of the ball to run the football.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

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