A week before the 2015 NFL Draft, I asked former Nebraska running back and draft prospect Ameer Abdullah what he was looking for in a future employer.
After giving the expected and understandable answer that he simply wanted to play for any NFL team, Abdullah did narrow it down a bit. He said it’d be ideal to line up behind a solid offensive line that had played together for some time; to take handoffs from a battle-tested quarterback; to land on a team with a playoff pedigree that knows how to win. And of course, like any athlete, Abdullah wanted to go somewhere that presented an opportunity for him to play as much as possible.
On Friday, Abdullah was drafted in the second round with the 54th overall pick by the Detroit Lions, who may be as close to a perfect fit for him as any rookie can hope for when they don’t have choice in the matter.
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell owns two Super Bowl rings from his time as an assistant with the Colts and Ravens, and he led the Colts to another Super Bowl appearance (which they lost) as head coach. The Lions went 11-5 last season, Caldwell’s first with the team, before losing to the Cowboys in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs. The Lions may not be a Super Bowl contender yet, but this is a franchise that is good right now and trending upward.
Detroit’s quarterback is former No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford, a Pro Bowl performer last season who has guided the Lions to the playoffs in two of his four years as full-time starting QB. The offensive line is in a rebuilding phase; longtime starters Dominic Raiola (center) and Rob Sims (guard) are gone, but youngsters like Travis Swanson, Larry Warford and Cornelius Lucas are ready to take over. The Lions drafted Duke guard Laken Tomlinson in Thursday’s first round, while veteran left tackle Riley Reiff is the unit’s anchor.
Most importantly for Abdullah, the Lions have a hole in their backfield that he can potentially fill right away.
Last year’s Lions featured a two-man rushing tandem of elusive speedster Reggie Bush and straight-ahead powerhouse Joique Bell. Bush is gone now, having signed with the 49ers in free agency, leaving behind plenty of carries and catches that Abdullah could claim for himself.
Immediate reaction to the Lions drafting Abdullah was positive, as most analysts said the team filled a need position and got a guy who can also return kickoffs and punts. Here was the post-pick breakdown of Abdullah from ESPN.com: “Abdullah isn’t a power back but plays much bigger than his size. He runs angry. He is also the best back in this class at getting in and out of creases. Some backs have elite agility but can’t sense holes opening up in time, while others have the instincts but not the quickness to take advantage of it. Abdullah has a rare combination of both. He’s a good pass-catcher, but needs to improve his ball security.”
An article on Michigan Live mentioned Abdullah’s religion: “He’s Muslim and follows the Islamic faith. Abdullah fasted during his football days in high school and made sure to drop to one knee and pray before games at Nebraska. ‘Wishing myself, my teammates and the opposing teammates the best of luck, asking the Lord to help us use our talents to just glorify him, not to be selfish or self-motivated today, just to let our talents glorify him and keep us safe from injury, to allow us to go out and show everything we’ve worked for the week before.'”