Last season, RB Joique Bell surprised the Detroit Lions organization, as well as every fantasy GM out there. After hours compiling ranks and analysis of players across the league, very few (if any) GMs felt any inclination to pick the backup to the highly touted Reggie Bush. GMs who were proactive and lucky enough to pick Bell off of waivers were treated to a Top 20 campaign from the dual threat back.
Bush and Bell tore it up last season, combining for more than 2,700 yards and nearly 400 fantasy points. Of course, that was with Scott Linehan‘s offense, and now the Lions bring in a new system from Joe Lombardi that should look similar to the system ran by the New Orleans Saints. That being said, that stat line from the Lions’ backfield should increase this season and will implement a third running back. Second-year RB Theo Riddick will be that third back, but by no means will he be a “third wheel” in the offense. He’ll be a great complement, but also be a highlight for the Lions’ offense.
Riddick’s experience is virtually non-existent (though he did land in the end zone once on 13 touches). He’s coming into his second season, and though he hasn’t had opportunity to impress in live-action on offense, he’s certainly raising eyebrows and expectations in Detroit during training camp (and his hard work on special teams has proven commitment to the coaching staff). Backup QB Dan Orlovsky commented to the Ross Tucker Podcast that, “[he] could be the Lions’ version of Darren Sproles.”
Of course that comparison is no surprise, as their new offensive coordinator, who had experience in New Orleans, had much success giving passes to their running backs. He’ll get the opportunity, as a more run-and-by-committee should be implemented this season. But what about the talent? He certainly has that, even his superior in Bell admits that, saying that he believes Riddick will be a Pro Bowl player and “one of the best running backs in the league.”
That could all be smoke and mirrors, trying to get fans hyped up and defenses looking to diverge on multiple players. But Riddick was a proven talent at Notre Dame and has experience as a pass-catcher, much like he’s anticipated to be this season. For two seasons he lined up in the slot for the Fighting Irish, and then made the move back to running back for his senior season and almost amassed 1,000 yards while splitting carries. He also possesses great finesse and speed fueled by a great tenacity to get the extra yard on each touch. He may not have blazing speed, but neither does Bell, and no one expected a lot out of him — an undrafted free agent in 2010.
We really can’t know how much opportunity any of the Lions’ running backs will have this season with the new system. However, we do know that they’ll all get a fair slice of the cake, and a majority of that will come from the passing game. I’d anticipate Riddick to amass about 55 catches opposed to 35 carries this season. That may be an over-estimated figure, but when the offensive coordinator states he’ll receive “eight catches a game,” my prediction is quite low-balling it. Remember, most Saints third string running backs took on about 90 touches a season as well.
To cut to the chase though, Riddick’s fantasy value should land somewhere around 100 points. While that’s not an overly impressive figure for a fantasy starter, it certainly is a great value for a player who is going virtually undrafted. Plus, his value could increase to that of Bell from last season, assuming one of the two back in front of him should land injured this season. There’s incredible upside to him, and as a last round pick, there’s certainly no reason not to draft him — he won’t devalue your team, only raise it.