Allen Park — For the past three seasons, Theo Riddick has established himself as one of the NFL's premier receiving backs, averaging better than four catches per game during the stretch. That skill alone justifies the three-year, $11.5 million extension he signed with the Detroit Lions in 2016.
"Taking a look at the different things that he can do based on what he sees out on the field and how he can respond to that really quickly — there’s a big mental part to the game with him that is the reason why he’s been so productive," Lions coach Matt Patricia said.
But Riddick elevated another aspect of his game to a discernibly higher level in 2017, establishing himself as the team's best pass protector at his position and making him an ideal third-down back.
"With all the different defensive packages that teams run, and disguises from fronts and pressure standpoints, insides, outside, that’s really a very complex sort of assignment to be able to handle, especially in those critical situations," Patricia said. "He does an excellent job of deciphering that and really being on the same page as the quarterback as far as where the extra man is coming from."
According to data collected by Pro Football Focus, Riddick ranked sixth among backs in pass-blocking efficiency. On 74 snaps with a blocking assignment, he allowed six pressures and one sack. That's even more impressive when you factor in his 5-foot-9, 201-pound build, a much smaller frame than the blitzing linebackers he's asked to slow down.
Riddick credited his improvement to three things — the emphasis position coach David Walker puts on pass protection, film study dedicated to identifying blitz looks and the same want-to attitude that made him one of the team's best special teams players early in his career.
"Everything you do in football has a correlation, from one thing to other, but mainly it's just a mindset, it's a want-to," Riddick said. "Personally, I'm not going to have my QB get sacked. I don't want anyone to touch him. If I get my (butt) run over, as long as the ball gets out, I'm OK with it."
Pair the trust quarterback Matthew Stafford has in Riddick as a blocker with the emphasis a defense must put on stopping the shifty back as a pass-catcher in third-and-long situations and you have a versatile weapon who keeps their opponents on their toes.
The Lions are in the midst of overhauling the team's backfield, working to solve longstanding issues moving the ball on the ground. Riddick, who has averaged 3.4 yards per carry during his five-year career, might not be part of the solution, but the other skills he brings to the table continue to make him a critical cog in the offense.