Lights, Camera, Ameer!

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and the Detroit Lions having a bad run game. Since the retirement of Barry Sanders, the Lions have the lowest amount of rushing attempts, to go along with the 2nd lowest rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns in the NFL. None of which is all that surprising when you take a walk down the Hall of Horrors that have been the Lions running backs. James StewartArtose Pinner, Kevin Smith, Joique Bell, and let’s not forget Mikel Leshoure.

There was a glimmer of hope. Monday, October 11th, 2011. How could any Lions fan forget Jahvid Best splitting the defense on his way to an 88-yard touchdown to secure a 5-0 start to the season. Ford Field loved it. Detroit loved it. We all loved it. The roar had been restored. Six days later, Best suffered the concussion that would ultimately end his career. He never played another NFL game. The roar had been tamed, just like that.

In the 2nd round of the 2015 draft, the Lions selected Ameer Abdullah, running back from the University of Nebraska. Detroit falls smack dab in the middle of Big Ten country, so we all saw what Abdullah can do. He had 24 100-yard games in his time in Lincoln, including 5 of which, exceeded 200 yards. Four out of his five career games against Michigan and Michigan State, he surpassed 100 yards on their stout defenses. He single-handedly carried the Cornhuskers to three straight nine-win seasons, by putting the team on his back week after week.

As a rookie, Ameer split time with the incumbent starter, Joique Bell. Abdullah still amassed 50 more rushing yards on 30 fewer carries than Jahvid Best did in his only full season. It was the exact sign new GM Bob Quinn needed to see. Heading into the 2016 season, Bell was released and the reigns were proverbially handed to Abdullah.

Heading into the 2016 offseason, the coaching staff wanted to see Ameer get more involved in the passing game. Week one against the Indianapolis Colts, a team that had just played in the AFC championship game, Ameer did just that. Five receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown. A new career high in receptions in his first game as the workhorse. The 5-foot-9, 205-pound Abdullah also ran the ball 12 times for 63 yards or 5.3 yds/carry. He was exactly what the Lions hoped he’d be when they took him in the 2nd round of the draft, a lethal three down back who Matthew Stafford could turn to in the passing game.

He continued that the next week against the Tennessee Titans. Rushing six times for 38 yards, including a gorgeous run, juking two would be defenders for a first down before going down awkwardly. Lisfranc tear. Out for the season.

Is this Jahvid Best all over again? Are the football gods really doing this to us twice in 5 years? Not so fast. Best was injury prone long before he wore the Honolulu Blue and Silver. He suffered two concussions in college, including one vicious hit against Oregon State. He also got one in the preseason in 2011 prior to his career ending concussion that same season.

Getting hurt is part of being a running back. Every superstar running back has a major injury at some point. Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Le’Veon Bell, the list goes on and on. It’s how often they get hurt, that determines if they’re injury prone and more susceptible to further injuries.

The only games Ameer Abdullah has missed in his career are those that he missed due to the Lisfranc injury this past season. That doesn’t seem all that impressive since he’s only been in the league for two years. Did I mention that includes his college career? In four years at Nebraska, plus his rookie year in 2015, Ameer Abdullah didn’t miss a single game. ZERO. That is 956 carries during that five-year span. Abdullah has a long history of playing smart to avoid injury. The Lisfranc tear in 2016 is the clear and obvious outlier.

What about the Lisfranc injury itself, how does it affect running backs post-injury? According to a study done by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennslyvania, 93% of NFL athletes that suffered a midfoot injury, returned with no statistically significant decrease in performance. Remember that Le’veon Bell injury I mentioned earlier? That’s right, Lisfranc injury. Bell returned from his in 2016 and amassed over 1,800 yards in only 12 games. Maurice Jones-Drew had Lisfranc surgery, and the following year accumulated 1,100 yards in 15 games at 28 years old. Time and time again, running backs come back from similar injuries and perform at elite levels. Looking back at running backs who suffered some form of debilitating Lisfranc injury, I couldn’t find a single instance where the Lisfranc was reinjured. Darren Mcfadden suffered a Lisfranc tear, and not even he reinjured his. That should say something on the rarity of reinjury occurring. Abdullah seems to be in the clear.

The Lions won eight games in 2016 without Abdullah. With a revamped offensive line and another rookie receiver in Kenny Golladay to keep defenses off balance, Abdullah should be in for his breakout season in 2017. The light at the end of the tunnel is reachable, and 2017 is the time to let Ameer Abdullah out of his cage.

 

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