Best moves of the Detroit Lions offseason: Signing LeGarrette Blount

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: LeGarrette Blount #29 of the Philadelphia Eagles carries the ball against the New England Patriots in the first quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: LeGarrette Blount #29 of the Philadelphia Eagles carries the ball against the New England Patriots in the first quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions new running back LeGarrette Blount has not always been a great teammate. His late career paradigm shift makes him one of the best moves of the Lions 2018 offseason.

The Detroit Lions added a lot of players, as every team does in the build-up from a 53 man roster in December to a 90 man roster when training camp opens. Players like Christian JonesDeShawn Shead and Devon Kennard were brought in to fill roles in the revamped defense. The Lions identified the biggest deficiencies on their roster and attacked them in the draft where there were players available to do so. They didn’t reach to fill the needs, but their selections of Frank Ragnow, Kerryon Johnson and Tyrell Crosby set the tone for a change in the team’s future offensive make up.

The most important move they made, however, was picking up LeGarrette Blount. Last year the Lions lead back, Ameer Abdullah, was underperforming and complaining about his usage. The character guys in the locker room were at the bottom of the depth chart. It is natural for everyone in the locker room to want to be “the man” early in their career. They always have been, so the idea that someone else might be a better choice in certain situations can be a difficult pill to swallow. Particularly when that other person doesn’t get the desired results.

The Lions did not have anyone outside Theo Riddick that had the mental make-up to participate in a backfield committee. This is not a shot at Abdullah, but his reaction to not getting red zone snaps was unprofessional. He was frustrated, the team was frustrated due to their lack of success.

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Blount is the best pick up the Lions made for a few reasons. It is not that I expect him to come in and replicate his 2016 season. The 1161 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns are unlikely to reappear in a Lions uniform.

Blount has already gone through the transition from the college stud, to the jilted whiner, to the team first guy. He came into the league as the hot new back, flamed out with his first team, whined his way out of his second stop, and finally reinvented himself as a follower of “the patriot way.” In his second stint with New England, he was the personification of the slogan “do your job” that Matt Patricia is trying to establish with the Lions.

Rarely in New England was he used as a “bell cow” running back. He was even allowed to leave twice. He knows what the cost of being a less than perfect teammate is and he has learned from it. His time in New England was spent being put in the best position to be successful. Most importantly, he watched other people be used when their skill set better fit the situation than his. While a 2014 incident of Blount leaving the field before the game was over as a protest of his lack of playing time doesn’t speak well to who he was at that point, he appears to have changed.

Blount was replaced in the line up just last season. When the Eagles added Jay Ajayi before the trade deadline, Blount’s snaps inherently fell. The Eagles backfield was designed to be a committee from the start, and Blount’s experience in that role was why he was added. It was an injury to Darren Sproles in week three that had pushed Blount into a greater than expected role. Blount was averaging 4.67 yards per carry when the trade was made. He was on pace for just under 1000 yards rushing. 

After the trade Blount said “You can never have enough depth at any position. Obviously, he is someone that can contribute to our team and can help us a lot. So we’re going to welcome him with open arms.” Blount went on to praise the coaches for publicly supporting him, after a pair of poor games.

Those are the words of a man that understands being a teammate. He understands that the important thing is winning games and winning championships. At least he’s a man that knows the value in putting that face on in public.

Blount’s role was reduced to that of a short yardage back in the second half of the 2017 season. Ajayi came in and took the between the 20’s snaps for much of the second half of the year. That is not Blount’s specialty, despite appearances. Blount is a yardage churner between the tackles but has not had a great career in short yardage. Many point to his decreased productivity in the second half of the year as a sign of decline. That is not impossible, but I lean more toward the reduction in production as a product of that changed role.

Where Blount’s impact will be felt most in 2018 is on first down. On first down carries, Blount averaged 5.1 yards in 2017. The Lions averaged 3.3. Blount had 12 negative yardage runs on first down in 2017. Ameer Abdullah had 20 and Theo Riddick had 11. Blount had 93 first down carries while Abdullah had 112 and Riddick had only 52.

The relative offensive line play does factor in there. Blount had much better blocking in front of him, but he also did his part. Blount had only two losses of more than two yards. Abdullah had five losses of more than two yards and Riddick had six. There were a few plays where the blocking is solely to blame, but Abdullah’s biggest loss of the season is indicative of how he compounded the problem.

At the 14:46 mark of the fourth quarter in the Saints game, Abdullah took a handoff and was immediately met five yards deep by inside pressure. He avoided the traffic, but the price he paid to do so was to drop a full eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. In all, he broke three tackles to lose six yards on the play. His heroic effort cost the team time and lost them more yardage than just getting tackled. It was a poorly designed play. It was a poorly blocked play, but it was also a poorly executed play by Abdullah.

What Blount does in those situations is move heaven and earth to get back to the line. He will not always succeed in doing so, but he is not going to make the bad situation worse. All of the Lions running backs last season seemed to specialize in making bad situations worse. Blount will simply stop the bleeding and get on to the next down.

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On and off the field Blount is an example. His past shows young players what to avoid. His present shows them what they need to become. Blount was not always a decent teammate. He was not always a decent person. The fact that he appears to have become both of those things has value to the Lions running back room.