By Mark Wilson
August 14, 2015

In his first pre-season game in Honolulu Blue and Silver, Lions’ running back Ameer Abdullah gave the Ford Field faithful a preview of coming attractions.

Abdullah, the second round pick out of Nebraska, grabbed a handoff— started right— bolted the other way and left the New York Jets’ Demario Davis in his dust and rolled 45 yards up the gut. It was just his third carry as a professional NFL RB.

I saw it. Big deal.

Abdullah did that ALL THE TIME for the Cornhuskers.

We saw that act during his four college football seasons in Lincoln. His last two seasons brought more than 16-hundred yards each with a combined total of 33 touchdowns.

In a conference that featured record-setters Jeremy Langford of Michigan State, Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin, David Cobb of Minnesota and Tevin Coleman from Indiana, Abdullah was the best of the bunch. It was arguably, one of the greatest seasons for running backs in Big Ten history.

Leading the pack was the kid from Homewood, Alabama.

Nick Saban kept quiet about “the one that got away” from Tuscaloosa.

Normally, the Lions don’t draft those kind of guys. You know— the kind of guys that are REALLY GOOD and have a chance to be extra special in the NFL.

Twice in Detroit pro football annals did the Lions, in fact, grab two running backs of high quality ilk. You know both of them; they each wore number 20.

Billy Sims and Barry Sanders.

First year Jets’ coach Todd Bowles even dared to use the “B” word when talking about Abdullah after the Lions’ 20-3 victory.

Bowles quickly added, “I’m not saying he is Barry Sanders but he’s got that kind of quickness.”


Nice save, Todd.

Since Barry booked at the end of the 1998 season by faxing his retirement to the famed “Wichita Eagle” newspaper (Yes kids, we faxed before the internet and I-phones) and leaving the league, the Lions have cried for a decent RB. The names have ranged from Greg Hill to Olandis Gary.

When Reggie Bush rushed for 1,006 yards in 2013 he became only the THIRD running back to hit the thousand mark since “Faxgate.” James Stewart (twice) and Kevin Jones are the other two.

That’s in 16 years. Not very good.

Bush, Stewart and Jones didn’t last that long in a Lions’ uniform.

Barring injury, Abdullah has a shot to change all that.

He was a workhorse for Bo Pelini at Nebraska. 813 carries in a little more than three years with that “N” on his helmet and another 73 receptions had Abdullah ready to take the next step.

The Lions got A.A. with the 54th overall selection; a potential second round STEAL.

Here’s the problem. Yes, there IS a problem.

Big Ten running backs suck in the NFL.

Sorry B1G, but that’s the way it is. History bears out what I’m slinging.

Check the all-time leading NFL rushing list and you won’t find a Big Ten RB there until you hit Eddie George’s name. With 10,441 yards, George from Ohio State ranks 26th. He’s the only B1G rusher in the exclusive “10,000 Club.”

25 names before George on that list attended college somewhere other than a Big Ten university.

What’s even worse is who is NEXT on the list from a B1G institution.

Mike Pruitt at number 54.


Yep, Pruitt is 54th and he’s the second Big Ten back on the NFL’s all-time rushing leaders’ list.

For those who might not be 50 years of age or older, Pruitt was a fine football player who toiled at Purdue. He mostly played for the Cleveland Browns during his 11 year pro career; finishing up with stints in Kansas City and Buffalo. He was done in 1986 with 7,378 yards.

So, leading the charge for our favorite conference are Eddie George and Mike Pruitt.


Why have Big Ten running backs fizzled when they play for pay?

No real answer to that.

Over the yeas, I’ve asked coaches and GM’s and other players the question and they fail to come up with a good enough response.

It’s not like we haven’t seen great college guys running the football.

Mike Alstott, Ron Dayne, Lorenzo White, Pete Johnson, Tyrone Wheatley, Ron Johnson, Darrell and Anthony Thompson, Mike Adamle and Anthony Davis all chose to run at Big Ten schools.

Dayne’s 7,125 is about 15-hundred more yards than the runner-up.

THAT runner-up happens to be the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner ever— Archie Griffin. Archie ended up playing seven, mostly mediocre, seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hell, I even asked Griffin once about the lack of great RB’s from the conference in the NFL and he was speechless. Archie is rarely without words but even that had him thinking.

When I bust out that George is the best EVER from the B1G, I get a rousing, “NOOOO way!” They figure there has to be someone else.


No one else.

Along comes Abdullah, fresh from the Nebraska cornfields, wearing number 21 now for the Lions and a good six or seven seasons of thousand yard campaigns and he can pass Pruitt for number two on the list for Big Ten rushers. Add a couple more, and he goes past George.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s a long way from a 45-yard dash in a pre-season opener to knocking on the door of the Hall of Fame.

But anyone that has seen Abdullah do his thing in Lincoln the past half decade knows he has the skill, ability and moxie to do it.

He’s a good kid, well-spoken and well-liked. He is a fitness freak and takes care of his pricey body. This Lions’ group, with Jim Caldwell at the helm, will give him the offensive line he needs to be successful.

Problem number two on the road to Canton.

Abdullah plays in a pass-first offense.

Matthew Stafford is only 27 NOW and has broken pretty much ALL quarterback records in Lions’ history. He isn’t about to stop throwing in Joe Lombardi’s system any time soon. Stafford is relying on Abdullah to take some of the pressure off him like he hoped Bush would.

Bush missed too many games and didn’t really put fear in defenses to be that helpful. Joique Bell, when healthy, can do it a bit but he’s not a “rushers’ rusher” for the long haul.

Abdullah has superstar written all over him.

Last year, I debated all college season who was better; Abdullah or the Spartans’ Langford. I did that even though Gordon was blowing through Badgers’ records like Dayne didn’t even exist.

I finally came with it and said… “Abdullah.”

He simply looks like a back who would have played at Florida, FSU, Bama or Auburn; not a guy who plays games against Northwestern, Rutgers, Michigan and Maryland.


Yeah, until we SEE the Harbaugh Wolverines, I still see the Rodriguez/Hoke Wolverines.

For clarification, I did NOT say the same thing about two more recent flashes in the pan. I didn’t say it about Javid Best or Mikel Leshoure. Leshoure was a fine runner at Illinois but fell victim to the curse or whatever it is that makes Big Ten running backs crappy in the pros. Best, sadly, was simply a concussion waiting to happen.

The Lions used high picks for those two players. It slowed their progress in the backfield for Stafford and it stayed that way until Bush was signed as a free agent.

Caldwell and GM Martin Mayhew are banking on Abdullah changing the revolving door at the position.

Basically it has been that way since Sanders went bye-bye.

Lions’ fans want Abdullah to have the longevity of an Adrian Peterson or LaDanian Tomlinson. No one is expecting he become Emmitt Smith or Walter Payton and certainly NOT “you-know-who.”

Thanks again to Todd Bowles for correcting his comparison of Abdullah to Sanders.

Luckily that number 20 is finally out of commission so there was no temptation from team president Tom Lewand or anyone else to hand that 20 to Abdullah.

Ameer didn’t care about a number since he wore “8” in college.

He wasn’t about to wear “8” as a Lion.

His career will be most interesting to follow. It continues in a week at Washington with pre-season game deuce. The regular season doesn’t begin until September 13th in San Diego. This is no longer the Lions we got used too under Matt Millen.

Caldwell had an 11-win rookie season. Unheard of in Motown. He almost won a playoff game!!

We expect more from this group than we have in the last 15 years.

58 years and counting since the last championship. I almost feel obliged to bring that up just to bring us all back to earth with those crazy Lions.

How Abdullah’s career ends up is for another day.

If he’s even a SHADOW of Eddie George, the Lions have a real winner behind Stafford. He can be the guy that breaks the mold of the typical running back from the B1G. It’ll translate to the “W” column and standings in the NFC North. He can be a feared piece on the offensive side of the ball; something the Lions need with the loss of Ndamukong Suh on the defensive side.

Calvin Johnson and Ameer Abdullah. The Lions have something there; a winning combo.

I haven’t said it very often (if ever) the past two decades but the Lions got this one right.

Double-A can be THAT special.