The Detroit Lions added veteran battering ram LeGarrette Blount in free agency prior to drafting Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson to the backfield. The rookie is far more versatile than Blount and Ameer Abdullah, but Detroit will compartmentalize the use of its running backs anyway.
Abdullah and Johnson will battle for work on the obvious rushing downs, while Blount largely is uncontested for the chores near the goal line. Third-down duties will go to Theo Riddick. Don’t be surprised if Abdullah is outright released this summer with a strong showing by Johnson.
Detroit promoted current offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter during the 2015 season, and the passing offense flourished. The ground game has remained stagnant, but not all of it is Cooter’s fault. The personnel simply hasn’t been there via injury and inefficacy. In 2016, only the Baltimore Ravens had a lower discrepancy in run-to-pass ratio than Detroit (37-63%). Last year, this offense once again was in the penultimate spot, albeit nearly 2 percent higher.
The point: Detroit must run the ball more to give any of its ground-based backs a fighting chance in fantasy. Upgrading the backfield is no longer an excuse, so it will be intriguing to see if Cooter can get away from the arm of Matthew Stafford in what should be blatant running situations.
Fantasy football outlook
With an upgraded offensive line after spending a first-round pick on guard/center Frank Ragnow, the Lions effectively have only one direction to travel for fantasy rushing output.
Blount, who turns 32 in December, will be confined to a role dependent on the flow of games and situational coaching decisions. This alone makes him a fringe fantasy consideration. He could thrive in a few contests, which will inflate season-long stats, yet also making him a difficult fantasy play.
Philadelphia limited Blount’s workload last year after acquiring Jay Ajayi, and the result was a more productive Blount in the postseason. Sixty-eight of his 173 carries came in the final seven games of the regular season. He finished with 4.5 yards per carry and three scores on 29 totes in the playoffs, including 14 handles for 90 yards and a TD in the Super Bowl. Detroit could follow a similar path of utilization, or at least one spread throughout the year, and deploy the bruiser when defenders are gassed late in games.
Matchups will dictate Blount’s fantasy utilization, and gamers will be taking a leap of faith any time he is played. In most situations, Blount should be relegated to a DFS role. His current average draft placement is — rightfully — well outside of the scope of conventional leagues, landing in Round 20.