Lions mailbag: Theo Riddick still a catch for Detroit

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — You know the drill: You ask questions, I give some answers. Here's our weekly Detroit Lions mailbag.

@Justin_Rogers Hey. I have a question. Do you think Lions fans overrate Theo Riddick? I do, and I know some others, but looking for perspective.

— CaseDillon_DLP (@sosuhme_rNFL) May 8, 2017

This one missed the cut a couple weeks back, but I wanted to double back because I thought it was a good question.

Lions running back Theo Riddick is arguably one of the top receiving running backs in the NFL.

First, it's tough to speak on the collective opinion of the fan base. There are people who overrate and underrate every player. Let's instead look at Riddick's new contract and determine if the compensation is appropriate for the production.

The extension, signed last year, is for three years, $11.6 million. Only the $3.85 million signing bonus was guaranteed. Those numbers are comparable to Bilal Powell, Matt Forte, James White and Shane Vereen. Outside of Forte, where age (31) is a factor, those backs are similar to Riddick — backfield complements with plus-receiving skills. Statistically, the pay isn't out of line.

As for Riddick's skill set. I'm of the belief he's one of the best receiving backs in the NFL. He runs a fairly compete route tree, has good hands and is highly elusive in the open field, as indicated by his missed tackle and YAC numbers.

As a ball carrier, he's shown improvement, but is still below average. The 3.9 yards per carry last season were a pleasant surprise, and I appreciated the seven 10-plus yard carries he had with his 92 touches. He was a far more dynamic weapon in 2016, prior to his season-ending wrist injury, than he had been in previous years.

I believe Riddick is a key cog to the Lions' offensive success, and while certainly not a Pro Bowl talent, I find it difficult to believe he's overrated.

@Justin_Rogers If Lions defense really improves in'17 cuz of new additions & no longer needs 2b protected,can we expect a return of the no-huddle offense?

— John Henry Smith (@jhsthethird) May 23, 2017

What if I told you only two teams ran no-huddle more than the Lions last season? Would that surprise you? To be perfectly honest, it surprised me.

Detroit didn't huddle a shade more than 19 percent of their offensive snaps in 2016. Still, that was way behind San Francisco and the New York Giants. Both those teams worked no-huddle offense more than 44 percent of plays.

Mind you, no-huddle and hurry-up offense are not synonymous. While the 49ers and Giants moved quickly between plays, the Lions ranked 27th in time between snaps. Peyton Manning used no-huddle to get to the line quickly and read the defense. That's closer to what the Lions are doing, not to say Matthew Stafford is on Manning's level with that ability.

To answer your question, a healthy, improved defense, along with a more consistent running game, could increase the pacing the Lions play with next season. There's naturally going to be more familiarity with the scheme entering coordinator Jim Bob Cooter's second full season, increasing the comfort level to push the tempo.

I wouldn't expect a switch to flip and the Lions to suddenly turn into a Chip Kelly-esque offense. They'll still play the matchups, but an up-tempo look appears to benefit the team's personnel.

@Justin_Rogers Hearing all kinds of crazy athleticism about Kenny Golladay. Is he a realistic 3rd WR option on this team if Boldin doesn't come back?

— Jay Gala (@jaygala0317) May 23, 2017

Lions rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay (19) runs after a catch during the team's rookie minicamp this month in Allen Park.

This is a no-brainer for me. If you take a guy in the first two days of the draft, you expect immediate contributions. By not signing Anquan Boldin, you've eliminated a major hurdle for Golladay to see the field early and often. His size and athleticism are ready out of the box and the only things that will limit his early contributions will be the time it takes him to understand his assignments and polishing his route running.

@Justin_Rogers Are Tomlinson & Whitehead still on the team due to a lack of trade interest or do the coaches really want to see them compete before cuts?

— Anthony Armon (@ch0z3n1) May 23, 2017

No, that's oversimplifying things. With Tomlinson, he was the more likely candidate to be moved, given the roster situation. You have to believe general manager Bob Quinn would have pulled the trigger if the right offer came across his desk. Of course, that's still a possibility, especially if Tomlinson can reestablish some value with a strong preseason.

As for Whitehead, he was the team's leading tackler last year. Sure, there are some flaws in that statistic, but he has a thorough understanding of the defense and is consistently around the ball. If you dump him, after moving on from DeAndre Levy, you're looking at an entirely rebuilt corps centered around unknowns. If nothing else, Whitehead is a solid bridge from the present to the future.

@Justin_Rogers Is there a remote possibility Devin Taylor would be resigned on a 1-year deal? At worst he's good depth, no?

— NightMoves212 (@NightMoves212) May 23, 2017

Remote is exactly how I would describe it. Taylor struggled to capitalize on multiple opportunities in Detroit and it was time to move on. Still, I'm surprised another team hasn't rolled the dice on him, given his measurables and flashes of production. He's exactly the type of guy a coach would look at and believe he could unlock the potential.

The Lions went a different direction this offseason, signing Cornelius Washington, re-signing Armonty Bryant and drafting Pat O'Connor. There are also a couple UDFA edge rushers who have an outside shot at pushing for a roster spot. There isn't a need for Taylor in this mix, but if there's an injury or two during the offseason, and he's still on the market, I could see a reunion.

A return to Detroit next season is unlikely for defensive end Devin Taylor (98).

@Justin_Rogers With Calvin's criticism how does that impact Stafford and ansah's negotiations

— jason poitras (@jpointez) May 23, 2017

I can't imagine it does since neither one of those players are likely retiring during their next contract. What you could see, in the future, is older players seeking more guaranteed money tied to their base salaries and not signing bonuses to avoid these unnecessary conflicts.

@Justin_Rogers Who will be the 2nd TE off the bench? Fells or Roberts?

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) May 23, 2017

Plenty can change between now and the start of the season, but I fully expect Darren Fells to be the primary No. 2 tight end to start the season. That said, he and Michael Roberts have different strengths and you'll probably see packages designed for each.

@Justin_Rogers Is Jace Billingsly the annual hyped player that won't play a down - or - do you think he can viably get meaningful reps?

— NightMoves212 (@NightMoves212) May 23, 2017

Jace Billingsley could earn a spot on the Lions' roster as a fourth or fifth receiver.

Hyped player who won't play a down? I'd suggest you're being cynical, but history would probably be in your favor. There are always camp darlings who make little to no contribution during the regular season.

I don't know what people are expecting from Billingsley. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if he made the roster as a fourth or fifth wide receiver who handles kickoffs or punts, but with Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron, Ameer Abdullah, Riddick and Golladay, it's silly to think his production ceiling is beyond 20-30 catches in 2017.

The Lions thought enough of Billingsley to promote him to the main roster at the end of last season. That move wasn't just a reward for hard work on the practice squad, it was to protect the Lions from having him poached by another team as a free agent. The Lions wanted a longer look and I don't see anything wrong with fans getting behind the underdog from Winnemucca.

@Justin_Rogers How fast do you think J. Davis pick up MIKE position?

— AZDetroitLion (@azcwillams) May 23, 2017

I have no concern about work ethic and mental capabilities to process the playbook. The bigger adjustment will be physical. Davis has all the athletic tools you could want, and he's built like a truck, but shooting gaps and shedding blocks in the NFL is another world, even compared to the SEC. Fans shouldn't get too upset if there are struggles with consistency throughout his rookie year. That would be normal.

@Justin_Rogers What is your perfect pizza?

— Skippy (@TheStamosReturn) May 23, 2017

Pepperoni, Italian sausage and onion. If you want to caramelize the onion, even better. And get those flavored crusts out of here. Wait, what were we talking about again?

@Justin_Rogers And if I have to ask a serious question... what player are you looking forward to seeing the most on the field?

— Skippy (@TheStamosReturn) May 23, 2017

Oh, right, football.

The rookies are always the highlight and I'm interested to see how Teez Tabor and Golladay match up with the veterans. Obviously, questions about Tabor's speed will continue to dog him until he proves it's not an issue, and I want to see how much it matters when he's matched up against a burner like Marvin Jones. As for Golladay, this is a big jump in competition from the MAC. How far will his aforementioned athleticism carry him in these early practices.

@Justin_Rogers Heard the Lions put an ad on Indeed looking for a receivers coach. Pay is 320K, do you think Calvin would be interested?

— Chris Hauler (@ChrisHauler) May 23, 2017

That's just mean, Chris.

@Justin_Rogers Is Detroit going to be able to afford Stafford and Ansah and still have money for Free Agency in the coming years?

— Troy Tennyson (@ttennysonTDR) May 23, 2017

The salary cap is $167 million in 2017 and has risen more than 25 percent in four years. Stafford is probably looking at a deal that will pay him around $25 million annually. And if the Lions sign Ansah to a long-term pact, you're probably looking at a package averaging $17-18 million. That's 20-25 percent of your cap tied up in two players, which isn't all that unusual.

Ultimately, it would probably prohibit the Lions from being active at the top of the market, the guys commanding $100 million contracts. But there's nothing to stop the team from continuing to hunt the middle of the market for players like Marvin Jones, Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang the past two years.

@Justin_Rogers The Lions upgraded their offensive line-but how will the plays look "different" to the avg fan? More holes? Power blocking? More athletic?

— Derek Wilczynski (@derekwilc) May 23, 2017

On a down-to-down basis, probably very little. But game-to-game, Matthew Stafford should have more time in the pocket (remember, 0.2 seconds is a significant difference) and take less hits. As for changes in the run game, I'm less certain. You'd hope for longer sustained blocks, cleaner seals on doubles and better timing on the second blocker peeling off to pick up a linebacker in the second level. But a lot of that is chemistry and there's no guarantees to be made there.