At first glance, the signing of Matt Asiata would suggest a redundancy at running back in Detroit. After all, Asiata, who spent the past five seasons with the Vikings, offers a skill set similar to that of Zach Zenner. The release of fullback Michael Burton, however, allows room for both power runners on the roster. Jim Caldwell dismissed any rumors of playing Asiata at fullback. In fact, Caldwell dismissed the fullback position entirely from his plans for 2017.
Ameer Abdullah remains the unquestioned starter, but the Lions now have more options on the ground. With himself, Theo Riddick, Zenner, and now Asiata, Detroit can boast adequate depth when the season unfolds. And while the Lions hope for the best from Abdullah, his dreaded injury history could once again rear its ugly head.
Asiata is no stranger to a muddy running back situation. Although the Minnesota Vikings had Adrian Peterson for the past decade, the future Hall-of-Famer missed most of 2014 and 2016. During those seasons, Minnesota’s backfield resembled that of their division rivals in Michigan last year. And in that time, Asiata rushed for 972 yards and fifteen touchdowns while splitting time with Jerick McKinnon.
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After the Eagles won the LeGarrette Blount sweepstakes, an underwhelming group of free agent running backs remained. However, the Lions got exactly what they needed in Asiata: red-zone production. This offseason featured an emphasis on scoring points for the coming year. First, Bob Quinn drafted Kenny Golladay and Michael Roberts, twin towers for Matthew Stafford in the end zone. Then he signed a player that specializes in hitting paydirt.
Asiata rushed for six touchdowns last season, only three less than all of the Lions combined. He has an unreal eighteen career touchdowns on just 361 carries. Basically, for every twenty carries, the Utah alum would find the end zone. Coupling that production with a team-friendly deal, the Lions may have gotten one hell of a bargain. Even if Abdullah starts for this offense, Asiata will play an important role in 2017.