NFC North Rookie Preview: Detroit Lions (Offense)
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
With the 2015 NFL season less than 3 months away, it’s time to start thinking about the competition in the NFC North. According to most draft publications, the other three teams in the division had solid drafts so there will be an influx of new play-makers for Bears fans to root against. This week I’ll be breaking down the drafted and significant undrafted rookies for all the teams in the North. I’ve already covered the dreaded Packers on both offense and defense, so today I’m moving on to the Detroit Lions.
Detroit Lions Rookies (Offense):
#72 G Laken Tomlinson (Duke, 1st round)
Tomlinson isn’t your typical Duke player, he turned down scholarship offers from Ohio St, Illinois, and Michigan St. He’s not a small school player who surprised, he’s a potential beast inside who could have played anywhere. At the Senior Bowl Tomlinson was the only O-lineman who held his own against Washington DT Danny Shelton, which is a significant accomplishment. Tomlinson is very strong, showed better feet than expected and consistently won his 1-1 battles. The Lane Tech (Chicago) & Duke alum is also very smart and looks like the total package at guard.
The Lions made a draft day trade for G/C Manny Ramirez from Denver who will be Tomlinson’s primary competition for the starting left guard spot. Ramirez has good size and is a powerful run blocker, but has limited mobility and I would be surprised if Tomlinson doesn’t beat him out to earn the starting gig. Ramirez has the versatility to play either guard or center which gives him more value off the bench than Tomlinson would have anyway.
#21 RB Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska, 2nd round)
As well as Reggie Bush played against the Bears over the last two years, Bears fan are going to wish the Lions kept him and passed on Abdullah. He is pretty solid in all aspects except ball security, but the one trait that stands out is his elite balance which helps make Abdullah a potentially special running back. I had him 3rd in this year’s draft after Gurley and Gordon, but not very far behind and well ahead of the rest of the running back class.
Abdullah is patient, reads his blocking very well, has great vision, elite balance, changes direction with almost no loss of speed, and has a variety of moves including a Walter Payton-esque leg kick that you don’t see much anymore. Despite not being a big back, Abdullah runs with power, keeps his pad level low, and runs through arm tackles. He is also a polished receiver who often lined up in the slot and ran multiple different routes. Abdullah is going to be a headache for Bears defenses the next few seasons.
With projected starting RB Joique Bell missing OTAs Abdullah has been able to get reps with the starters and has impressed, earning rave reviews from both HC Jim Caldwell (he speaks!) and QB Matt Stafford. Abdullah has the ability to be a 3-down back and the longer Bell stays out, the better the odds of Adbullah stealing the starting job. Even if he doesn’t win the RB1 job, he’s got a good shot to be the primary kick and punt returner. I’ll be writing more about Adbullah when I start my fantasy previews in July, but if your league drafts early bump Abdullah up to a solid flex option.
#46 FB Michael Burton (Rutgers, 5th round)
I don’t know much about Burton as it takes a lot for a fullback to stand out on tape. According to NFL Network’s Mike Mayock:
"“There are two things I like. One, if you’re going to be a fullback in the NFL, you have to be a tough guy. And he is a tough guy, and he’s been a lead blocker,” Mayock said during a conference call on Monday afternoon. “I think he also catches the football and that’s important. I don’t really care about him as a runner, but he’s got to be able on play-action to sneak out in the flat and catch it, which he does.”"
The Lions released last year’s fullback Jed Collins, so expect Burton to earn the starting gig in 2015.