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2015 Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Grab This Detroit Lion

By Jared Smola 11:01am EDT 7/16/15

          

The Lions nabbed Abdullah with the 54th overall pick of this spring’s draft, making him the 4th RB off the board in what was considered a deep class. That type of draft capital makes Abdullah a good bet to play a significant role this season. He certainly seems capable.


Big college production

Abdullah topped 1,100 rushing yards in each of his final 3 seasons at Nebraska, including a 1,690-yard 2013 campaign and 1,611 yards in 2014. He posted 100+ rushing yards in 25 of his final 40 games as a Husker. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry over those 3 seasons and improved his average each year, from 5.0 to 6.0 to 6.1. Abdullah popped in 36 rushing TDs from 2012-2014.

Abdullah was also productive in the passing game. He posted 22+ catches in each of his final 3 seasons, totaling 72 grabs for 679 yards (9.4 YPC) and 7 TDs.


Elite athleticism

Abdullah checked into this year’s Combine at 5’9 and 205 pounds. He posted a mediocre 4.6-second 40 time (which he improved to 4.53 at his Pro Day) but crushed the other drills. He showed elite explosion with a 42.5-inch vertical and 130-inch broad -- both tops among RBs. Abdullah also led the group in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle, while finishing 3rd in the 60-yard shuttle. Those drills show impressive change-of-direction and short-area burst.

Abdullah sits in the 98th percentile among RBs in SPARQ Score, which factors in size and athleticism. His best comparable is Ahmad Bradshaw. That happens to be the guy NFL Films guru Greg Cosell compared Abdullah to. Scouts love his vision, burst and leg drive. And according to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, Abdullah didn’t drop a pass in either of his final 2 college seasons.


A couple of weaknesses

Now, Abdullah isn’t a perfect prospect. He needs to improve his ball security and pass protection. He fumbled a whopping 23 times in 4 college seasons and had the worst college fumble rate in this year’s RB class. Abdullah also ranked 9th worst in the class in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking efficiency metric. Those 2 shortcomings could curtail his role, especially in passing situations.

The Lions have a couple of plus pass-catching RBs in Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. So despite his strong college receiving production and reliable hands, Abdullah might not play a huge role in Detroit’s passing game this season.


Plenty of opportunity

Abdullah is capable of quickly emerging as the lead ball-carrier, though. Bell has averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in each of the last 2 years. He ranked just 34th among 57 RBs in PFF’s 2014 running grades. Riddick has averaged an ugly 2.6 yards per carry on 29 totes over the past 2 seasons. And the Lions view Abdullah as a “primary RB,” according to insider Dave Birkett.

Abdullah looks like the best runner on the Lions roster, and we’re expecting him to lead the 2015 backfield in carries. He’ll run behind an O-line that finished a mediocre 18th in Pro Football Focus’ grades and 21st in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards last year. But Detroit used its 1st-round pick this spring on mauling G Laken Tomlinson and will hopefully get improved play from youngsters LaAdrian Waddle, Larry Warford and Travis Swanson (all 24 years old at the start of the 2015 season).


Draft Sharks Bottom Line:

Abdullah checks all the boxes: big college production, strong measurables and impressive tape. The Lions spent a 2nd-round pick on him this spring, which makes him a good bet to make an immediate impact.

Consider Abdullah the favorite to lead the Lions in carries this season. His ball-security and pass-protection issues might curtail his volume a bit, especially on passing downs. The Lions have 2 of the better pass-catching backs in the league in Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. But Abdullah should top 200 total touches, which will give him RB2 value. He’s a fine value at his current 5th-round ADP.


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