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Ameer Abdullah is low-risk, high-reward depth for Vikings

Ameer Abdullah became the newest member of the Minnesota Vikings this week when the team claimed him off waivers off of the division-rival Detroit Lions to add depth to their running back position. In the corresponding move to get him onto the roster, they waived undrafted rookie Roc Thomas, who was a rusher that had showed promise in the preseason and could certainly still return to the team’s practice squad.

The move for Abdullah, who was a second-round pick of the Lions back in the 2015 NFL Draft, never quite found his footing in Detroit, which Lions on 247Sports writer/analyst Max DeMara says can be summed up by not taking his chance to redeem a stagnant Detroit backfield.

“Abdullah’s tenure in Detroit was marred mostly by missed opportunities. The Lions picked him up in the second round and wanted him to change the narrative about their sagging ground game, but the pressure was on him from the beginning, and he probably was over-drafted by the team and previous general manager Martin Mayhew,” DeMara said. “Every time Abdullah had a chance to make a statement in a role, he fell flat and disappointed.

“When injuries and fumbles began to pile up, Abdullah had nowhere else to turn, and the pressure swallowed him up, as he was never able to take the reigns as a lead dog back. The Lions never seemed to figure out that Abdullah was better as a specialist back in a committee, which is something they already had in Theo Riddick. To this end, the fit in the Motor City was always clunky for the former college star.”

His use of “specialist back” is the key word here, and that is exactly what makes him a fit for what the Vikings are looking for in their running back down the stretch here. He was never much of a fit in Detroit because he does exactly what Riddick does for their offense, but Riddick is better at it. With the Vikings, Thomas and fellow undrafted rookie Mike Boone have been serviceable when given opportunities, but they have been few and far between, even with Dalvin Cook dealing with injuries this season.

Cook appears healthy (for now) and ready to make a huge impact the rest of this season and is a back that brings both strong running and pass catching ability, making him the all-around back that can be used dynamically. Latavius Murray is more than capable of shouldering any load, and can catch the ball out of the backfield, but he is more of a physical, power runner. Abdullah can be used in a third-down and change-of-pace role that gives the Vikings a bit more of an athletic and dynamic back than what the alternatives are when Cook is off the field.

Part of the reason that the Vikings were still able to have so much success last season running the football even after Cook tore his ACL had to do with their ability to create a Frankenstein monster of a backfield to fill the void. Murray was the tough runner and Jerick McKinnon was the change of pace guy, and it worked spectacularly. It is not hard to imagine something similar like that taking place in Minnesota, albeit to a lesser extent. The hope is that Cook stays healthy, and Abdullah probably is not as good of a player as McKinnon was, but the overall picture should look somewhat similar.

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Abdullah’s fumbling problem is certainly concern, especially seeing as the Vikings offense has been turnover prone at times. Do not expect him to get a hefty chunk of snaps on offense, but his upside is that he is more of a proven commodity over Boone and also has value as a kick and punt returner, which has been another area of concern for the Vikings. There is not much risk involved in this move, but there could be a solid return from it.

Abdullah’s time coming to an end in Detroit had been in writing on the wall for awhile with it becoming a numbers game. This offseason, the Lions added LeGarrette Blount in free agency and drafted another promising young back in Kerryon Johnson, who through the first eight games of his rookie season has shown more upside and has been more productive than Abdullah ever was. They tried to trade him, then give him a role and he never really ran with it. That led to the move that was made earlier this week and the Vikings decided he was worth kicking the tires on.

He now has some time to get acclimated with the team and the playbook with the Vikings on the bye in Week 10 before they return for two-straight NFC North Sunday Night Football games at Chicago and at home against Green Bay in Weeks 11 and 12.

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