Former Big Ten backs Abdullah, Gordon could be looking at feature roles
While 2014 was the year of the running back in the Big Ten, 2015 will be the year of the Big Ten rookie running back in the NFL. Six of the nation’s 19 leading runners came out of the conference, and all but Ezekiel Elliot will be playing on Sundays this year.
Here’s an update on each of the conference’s five NFL rookie running backs as they head into the preseason.
Melvin Gordon, San Diego
His mom won’t buy his jersey yet, but everyone else is buying into the Chargers’ top draft pick. The Heisman runner-up is the favorite to take the reins of the starting job, with Danny Woodhead behind him on the depth chart. Pass protection could determine what kind of back Gordon turns into. The Badgers didn’t feature a high-powered passing attack during his time in Madison, which could be his biggest transition to make in the NFL, much like the one Montee Ball has had to make with the Broncos. But with an aging Philip Rivers, San Diego could switch to a more run-oriented offense if Gordon emerges.
Ameer Abdullah, Detroit
With Reggie Bush gone to San Francisco, there’s no reason why Abdullah can’t take on the majority of the workload in Detroit. Reports out of camp have been positive, with some players going so far as to say that they can’t even tackle Abdullah. Lions assistant coach Curtis Modkins said the former Nebraska I-back has “a unique ability.” Joique Bell is still in Detroit, which means the chances of Abdullah being an every-down back right away aren’t great. But if he keeps turning heads in camp, the 22-year-old back will be earning more reps by the day.
Tevin Coleman, Atlanta
Perhaps the most underrated runner in the country was underrated in the draft, as well. The Falcons’ third-round selection got first-team reps in the early part of Falcons training camp but has been dealing with a Grade 1 hamstring strain. Perhaps that’s the result of ripping off 2,036 yards last year at Indiana. Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith will be Coleman’s biggest threat to the starting gig, if and when he can return to action.
Jeremy Langford, Chicago
Despite falling to the fourth round, Langford has a chance to be the Week 1 backup. All the reports out of camp are that the former Michigan State back has benefitted from playing alongside one of league’s best in Matt Forte. The 29-year-old dual threat won’t be around forever, which is why some believe Langford will eventually take over the starting job. The Bears’ new offensive scheme will have a heavy influence by new coach John Fox, who is no stranger to the two-back system dating back to his Carolina days. Langford should have every opportunity to make an immediate impact.
David Cobb, Tennessee
Even though Cobb wasn’t selected until the fifth round, he came into a favorable situation to not only see the field, but to start. Tennessee shuffled between former Iowa back Shonn Greene and rookie Bishop Sankey, neither of whom solidified themselves as a feature back. The early part of Cobb’s offseason was slowed by a quad injury, but he returned to fall camp healthy and ready to compete for the starting job. And if his 314 carries at Minnesota, which was third in the country, showed anything it’s that Cobb can handle a feature role.