Late Round picks that thrive in the NFL are one of the league’s great stories. For every Tom Brady and Antonio Brown, however, there are a lot of players that don’t leave a lot of impact in the league, fading away after a few seasons. You can find players in any round of the draft, or even after the draft; it’s just that you’ll have no idea if they’ll be any good.
Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick is one of those exceptions. Like Brady and Brown, he was drafted in the 6th round (2013). At Notre Dame, Riddick’s role changed constantly. First, he was a kick returner and running back. Then, he became a slot receiver. Finally, in his senior season, he returned to being a running back. With very little staying room at one position, it’s no wonder he went as low as he did in the 2013 Draft.
Thanks to the amount of positions played, however, the Lions wisely considered Riddick a major offensive weapon, drafting him late. Largely limited in his first 2 seasons, Riddick has been unleashed his last 2 seasons primarily as a receiving back, before becoming the team’s starting running back in 2016 after sophomore Ameer Abdullah was placed on injured reserve. Riddick too was out for 2 games this season before returning in the last 2 games.
In his last 2 seasons, Riddick has 115 receptions for 970 yards and 7 touchdowns, as well as 430 yards and a touchdown on 118 carries. He is a guaranteed PPR stud because of his flexibility, and as such the Lions gave him a 3-year extension earlier this September.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I am a huge fan of Riddick, but I wasn’t always. I was largely skeptical of him at a time where I valued stats over film. Since then I have made a full transition (much like Riddick) into valuing film over stats. Since I did, Riddick has become perhaps my favorite player in the league.
And in my opinion, he may just be the best receiving back in the league. Along with his running ability, I shall explain why he is and why I’m so high on him in the GIFs below.
The first thing that makes Riddick so much fun to watch on every snap is his elusiveness. Riddick is a gifted athlete with a tremendous skill set for a late round pick, and his elusiveness plays a big role in that.
Elusive players quick use of their footwork to dodge incoming tacklers, but it’s not always that simple. Timing is key, as is patience and mechanics. Sometimes it’s not always a straightforward cut; sometimes a spin move (GIF #2) is necessary to outwit the defense. Riddick packs all of this and then some.
In the first GIF, Riddick catches a checkdown before faking a cut inside then cutting back outside and getting the first down. In space, Riddick is near unstoppable. Before making contact he’ll ram forward and protect himself, allowing for a few more yards after contact and after the catch. His little jab after the catch fakes out the defender, creating much more space for him.
The 2nd GIF features an impressive spin move which creates a large hole for him to run through. The 3rd GIF shows off his Le’veon Bell-esque patience, briefly stopping the defense before allowing himself to find a running lane and push forward. As you’ll notice in this GIF, Riddick often uses subtle jabs in space to keep defenses on their toes, making it easier on him to create yards for himself.
The 4th GIF is all on Riddick. #25 can sense pressure coming to his right on a blown block, and makes a fantastic outside cut, creating a running lane for himself. This run is especially impressive because of what Riddick has to do on this short, but noteworthy gain. His elusiveness elevates his offensive line, making them look better than they are by using his feet to cut and elude defenders for a great run.
Great Route Runner
The best receiving backs understand how to get open, and on top of the food chain is Theo Riddick. His route running skills are excellent for his position, and considering he was once a wide receiver in college, that’s not a surprise. A severe threat when running his route, Riddick creates separation easily because of how quickly he adjusts his body during the route.
These five GIFs are especially impressive because of what Riddick has to do to create separation. The first GIF features Riddick faking an inside cut, then faking an outside cut, then finally cutting outside, all in a flash. The 2nd GIF features an amazing shuffling technique before Riddick does a double move and cuts inside for a big gain. The 3rd GIF shows #25 cutting inside, then adjusting his body completely and cutting inside, allowing himself to get plenty of space. The last 2 GIFs further exemplify Riddick’s excellent footwork.
Riddick’s craft as a route runner is sensational. We know receiving backs can do great things in space, but his athleticism and technical ability running routes is a sight to behold. This is so much so that Riddick is often move around the field when his receiving talents come into play, being positioned in the backfield, slot, and even a primary outside role. Jim Bob Cooter’s short passing YAC offense is well suited for Riddick, and allows him to play to his full potential.
Great Ball Skills
As well as a fantastic route runner, Riddick’s past as a wide receiver has allowed him to join the hands team. Like fellow teammates Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin, and Eric Ebron, Riddick’s ball skills are exceptional, offering quarterback Matthew Stafford more margin for error on his accuracy.
Riddick’s adjustments after the catch are excellent on their own, but his refinement on these plays also lend themselves over during the catch point as well. In the first GIF, Stafford’s throw is placed behind Riddick, who helps him out anyway and adjusts so the play is not affected negatively.
The 2nd and 3rd GIFs feature a couple more passes thrown wide of Riddick, but again, his skill set ensures that accuracy does not matter, and makes a pair of superb one handed catches. The first catch is tipped and hauled in, while the 2nd was a clutch catch made on the Lions’ game winning drive in the 2014 London matchup against the Falcons.
The 4th and 5th GIFs are a pair a touchdown plays where Riddick’s range again bails out Stafford’s accuracy. The first pass is a fine catch on what should be an easy throw, but the 2nd one is even worse for the quarterback. Riddick should have an easy touchdown without anyone near him, but Stafford’s accuracy prevents this from being a stroll in the park. Incredibly, Riddick dives to the ball and makes a great play for a touchdown. Riddick’s knowledge of how to adjust for an inaccurate throw is shown in all 5 of these GIFs, and his past experience as a wide receiver has made it another part of his wide skill set.
Tough To Take Down
At 215 pounds, Riddick is ideal as a back in the league in terms of mass. As such, he has a perfect balance of elusiveness and strength when running without overloading on either trait too much for his own good.
Riddick has been known to always make something out of nothing on lost plays, and his strength plays a key factor in this. On these 4 GIFs, it’s clear that Riddick is not an easy player by any means to bring down. As well as being slippery, he is also sturdy, and always does a heads up job to secure himself when tacklers are approaching, lowering his head at the right time and securing the ball to give him a safety cushion (and in some instances, more yards after contact).
Too Much Fun To Watch
You can guarantee that on almost every play designed for him or targeted to him, Riddick is going to make a highlight worthy play, even if it’s for very little gain. Riddick’s elusiveness allows for busted plays to become big gains (GIF #1, GIF #2), and his ability to adjust and attack quickly after the catch (GIF #3) is also a plus. Riddick is very technical, but he is also a razzle dazzle player, being able to create and attack space with near flawless ability (GIFs #4 and #5).
Theo Riddick is a fantastic offensive weapon. His running ability behind a weak offensive line is incredible, and the amount of range he has in the passing game is massive. Anytime he receives the ball is a time where I have to sit down and GIF the results of the play, because I am sure he will create something out of it.
As for why I think he is the best receiving back in the league, Riddick’s skill set is so refined and well crafted above the rest. David Johnson is very good, but his receiving game as not as polished as Riddick’s. Likewise, Le’Veon Bell is the best running back in the league, but I think #25 edges him out in the receiving game. Matt Forte is another popular pick, and even then I feel Riddick’s skill set has the wider range and the advantage as a whole.
The point is that Theo Riddick’s skill set helps bail out both his quarterback and his offensive line. Sometimes the play calling, as good as it has been for the Lions, gets bailed out as well. Riddick is extremely well balanced in his huge role, allowing him to flex as a running back, slot receiver, and a primary receiver. Detroit’s faith in him has paid off, and he has been a huge plus in an offense filled with them.
I love watching #25 play football, and after a few plays of tape, so will you. He has flashy play and sophisticated discipline that allow for exciting plays and smart decision making, making him a joy to watch. He has bought comparisons to fellow receiving backs Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead, and rightfully so for the aforementioned reasons.
In conclusion, Theo Riddick is my favorite football player of the 2016 season, and he should be yours after this article.
(Featured Image via mlive.com)