Look, I’ve been championing Lions rookie running back Ameer Abdullah ever since I sat down to watch his college tape last March ahead of the 2015 NFL Draft.
In my final review of the running backs I studied leading up to the draft, I wrote:
“I am not bashful in my love for Abdullah. He is my favorite RB in this draft class. People question if he is merely Darren Sproles, a very productive change of pace back and receiver. I think Abdullah can be more.”
I felt his talent was obvious and couldn’t understand why people were overlooking him because of his small stature. Draftniks, media and fans continually fail to realize running backs, more than any other position, come in all sizes.
After his spectacular preseason debut, the doubters began to jump on the Abdullah bandwagon, and by the time the Lions’ season opener rolled around last Sunday, the wagon was packed, as fans and media alike talked up the second-round pick from Nebraska.
But many still questioned Abdullah’s size and felt he couldn’t be a workhorse player in this league.
While the Homewood, Alabama native only played 21 offensive plays (45 percent), he flashed game-breaking ability on numerous occasions, something the Lions have been lacking out of the backfield since Jahvid Best in 2011.
Abdullah made quite the splash in his debut, gaining a league-leading 199 all-purpose yards on 14 touches.
Not only did Abdullah live up to the hype, he exceeded it on his first career carry.
This is a simple zone stretch run where the offensive line and tight end Eric Ebron all block to the right. The Lions are in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers), so the Chargers have five defensive backs in the game and only one inside linebacker, Manti Te’o (highlighted in yellow), on the field.
The middle is wide open as Te’o overruns the play, leaving a gaping cutback alley for Abdullah to exploit and he does the rest, making Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle look silly. Watch the acceleration from Abdullah once he spots the hole, sticks his right foot in the ground and shoots through the middle.
On Abdullah’s next touch, he shows his value and versatility in the the kick return game, bringing his first career kickoff return back for 48 yards. His vision, acceleration and tackle-breaking ability are on display.
Here, Abdullah shows off the third facet of his game, his threat as a dangerous receiver, taking this swing pass for 36 yards. Another nice cut with vision as he bursts to the left into the open field.
But my favorite play of the game from Abdullah solidified my analysis from watching him at Nebraska. He runs angry and competitively with surprising power. He out-physicals four Chargers to gain five yards after contact to earn the first down.
The Lions go right back to Abdullah on the next play. This is a slippery run from the rookie, as he again displays his elite quickness and ability to make violent cuts to avoid defenders. His transition from his cut to his burst upfield is what makes him special with the ball.
Despite his size, I thought Abdullah was going to be solid in short yardage after consuming his Cornhuskers game film. Some guys with his elite quickness and agility like to dance unnecessarily at times or try to make a big play instead of lowering their heads and taking the simple three-yard gain.
Abdullah doesn’t do that. He doesn’t dance when he doesn’t have to, instead running downhill with low pad level and balance to bounce off would-be tacklers.
He only picks up two yards on this crucial third-and-three in the third quarter, but it’s nice to see him run north-south and fall forward near the sticks despite little room to run.
You have to love how he lowers his shoulder against the safety to finish this 11-yard run falling forward. Look at the patience from Abdullah as he takes short quick steps after getting the handoff. Once he finds a seam, he’s lightning through the hole.
Here’s a 34-yard kick return in the fourth quarter. Again, north-south running from the rookie as he runs this one out from nine yards deep in the end zone.
Now the major knock on Abdullah coming out of Nebraska was his propensity to fumble, even though his fumble rate (fumbles per touch) improved every season.
Abdullah did fumble in the fourth quarter, though he was fortunate enough to wrestle the ball away from the Chargers. It looked like the ball may have been kicked out of his arms by Te’o. Again though, you see Abdullah’s strength and uncanny ability to shake off tackles.
Overall, it was a stellar debut for the 5-foot-9, 203-pound rookie, as he displayed his ability to contribute in the run game, pass game and on special teams.
The Lions have no choice but to feed Abdullah the ball in all three facets of the game because he’s a significant weapon and a threat on any touch.
The scary part is this was his NFL debut.
Credit to NFL Game Pass for the game footage. All GIFs were created by Marlowe Alter.