A seventh rounder pushing to be Theo Riddick’s replacement?
After the first round of the draft, Bob Quinn talked about there being a “clean slate” now that he was there. “Everybody has to earn their spot,” he said. After wrapping up the draft on day three, he continued to harp on that theme in his press conference. Quinn said that he felt the Lions “improved the competition of the team,” and that’s certainly the case. He created competition all along the offensive line with the additions of Taylor Decker (16th overall), Graham Glasgow (95th overall), and Joe Dahl (151st overall). He brought in Miles Killebrew (111th overall) for a three-way battle at strong safety. He even drafted long snapper Jimmy Landes (210th overall) to give longtime special teams standout and fan favorite Don Muhlbach a run for his money. But, something that might go unnoticed is the competition he created at running back by selecting Dwayne Washington with the 236th overall pick. Obviously, Zach Zenner was going to be challenged for playing time, and George Winn was going to have to earn a roster spot, but I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about competition with Theo Riddick.
While Washington is unlikely to be Riddick’s replacement as the pass-catching back in Detroit’s offense this season, he has the potential to threaten any possible extension Riddick could receive next year if coaches like what they see from him this year. Back in March, I wrote an article about the attrition of the NFL running back, the value placed on the position in New England while Quinn was there, and why I thought that made it possible Theo wouldn’t be in Detroit in 2017. Riddick has reliable hands and is a good route runner with the ability to make things happen after the catch, but he’s a niche player in the passing game. He’s certainly one of the best receivers out of the backfield there is, but he doesn’t have much value outside of his pass-catching abilities.
It’s a value thing
In three seasons with the Lions, Riddick has more than twice as many receptions (157) as he does carries (72), and he’s averaged just a meager 2.9 yards per attempt over his career. That’s simply not worth the money he may command should he have another productive season. It’s a passing league and teams love to throw money at players who can be weapons in the passing game. Darren Sproles compiled 145 catches for 1271 yards from 2012-2013 the Saints, and turned it into a three-year, $10.5M deal with the Eagles. He was thirty when he signed that contract. If Riddick produces at the same rate as he did last year, he’ll beat the two-year numbers of Sproles, and he’ll also be just 25 when his contract expires. That being said, Riddick could earn an ever bigger payday than Sproles did. As much as I like Riddick, it simply isn’t worth paying a running back $3M+ a year to just catch passes.
Enter Dwayne Washington, the man who could fight to be Riddick’s replacement. Like Riddick – who was drafted 199th overall in 2013 – Washington is a converted receiver at the running back spot. At 6’2″, 226 lbs., he’s built like a receiver, too. Being relatively inexperienced at the position, he is not yet a polished runner. He was beleaguered by inconsistent play in college. I studied his game film against USC, Arizona (two games), and Oregon State, and he often demonstrated a lack of vision and patience. However, he is a big play-maker and is always a threat to go the distance. In his introductory press conference, Washington labeled himself as a “home-runner,” and that’s a very accurate statement. In three years for the Huskies, he posted at least one carry of 68-plus yards every season, in spite of being limited to rotational duties. He’s very dangerous when he gets to the second level or bounces it outside, as evidenced by his forty time (4.44) at his pro day. I never saw anybody chase him down once he got free.
Where Washington is most threatening is in the passing game. He’s a very good route runner out of the backfield, and was often motioned to the slot or outside to exploit man coverage against linebackers and some safeties. If he gets matched up one-on-one against a linebacker, he’s deadly. He’s not as shifty as Riddick is, but he doesn’t have to be because he’s much, much faster. He’s very quick in and out of his breaks and turns the gas on and leaves defenders in his wake. He also sheds arm tackles with ease.
Dwayne Washington has a real chance to make this team
If Washington can refine his game between the tackles and learn the nuances of the position, I think he has a chance to earn a role in the backfield as Riddick’s replacement in Detroit sooner rather than later. He’s much more athletic than Riddick and has a lot more upside as a runner because of his size-speed combination. I understand Riddick is very talented and plays his role very well, but Quinn is very principled and believes strongly in value. If he can save several million dollars from 2017-2019 by allowing Riddick to walk while utilizing Washington on his rookie contract, he’ll do it. For this reason, if Washington flashes the big play ability he had in college at training camp, he could wind up replacing Riddick as the team’s pass-catching back.