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Should the Broncos bring back Theo Riddick?

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If he’s healthy, should the Broncos bring him back as the third down - pass catching back?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Theo Riddick did not take a single regular season snap while with a part of the Broncos in 2019. Theo Riddick spent the entire regular season on the IR.

The Broncos only used two halfbacks in 2019, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Devontae Booker had 26 offensive snaps on the year, fewer than either of the other two would get in most single games. Counting Andy Janovich and Andrew Beck, Bronco running backs were targeted 124 times in 2019 (98 of that was Lindsay and Freeman). Freeman was only tagged for two drops on his 50 targets. Lindsay had a team high, six, drops on his 48 targets. According to Pro-football-reference.com the team had 27 drops in 2019.

Player Pos G GS Tgt Rec Yds 1D 1D% YBC YBC/R YAC YAC/R BrkTkl Rec/Br Drop Drop%
Courtland Sutton* WR 16 14 124 72 1112 50 69% 760 10.6 352 4.9 12 6.0 5 4.0
Noah Fant TE 16 11 66 40 562 23 58% 232 5.8 330 8.3 3 13.3 5 7.6
DaeSean Hamilton wr 16 2 52 28 297 19 68% 169 6.0 128 4.6 2 14.0 4 7.7
Emmanuel Sanders wr 7 7 44 30 367 17 57% 249 8.3 118 3.9 2 15.0 0 0.0
Tim Patrick wr 8 2 31 16 218 14 88% 180 11.3 38 2.4 1 16.0 1 3.2
Royce Freeman RB 16 0 50 43 256 10 23% -3 -0.1 259 6 4 10.8 2 4.0
Phillip Lindsay RB 16 16 48 35 196 9 26% -47 -1.3 243 6.9 0 6 12.5
Jeff Heuerman TE 14 11 20 14 114 9 64% 72 5.1 42 3 1 14.0 0 0.0
Andrew Beck fb 16 6 12 9 90 6 67% 23 2.6 67 7.4 0 1 8.3
Fred Brown wr 13 1 3 2 21 1 50% 21 10.5 0 0 0 1 33.3
Diontae Spencer wr 16 2 8 6 31 1 17% -2 -0.3 33 5.5 0 1 12.5
Devontae Booker rb 16 0 9 6 57 1 17% 13 2.2 44 7.3 0 1 11.1
Troy Fumagalli te 11 5 9 6 38 1 17% 24 4.0 14 2.3 0 0 0.0
Andy Janovich fb 7 3 5 5 42 1 20% 9 1.8 33 6.6 0 0 0.0

Both Lindsay and Booker had a problem with drops in 2019 (although Booker’s sample size is very small). The YBC value is total yards the ball traveled in the air before the player caught their passes. You can see that Lindsay’s catches were very often behind the LOS (screen passes) or right at the LOS (flair passes) while Freeman was more often used as a receiver down the field so that his value is almost zero (-3) on his 43 catches while Lindsay has a value of -47 on his 35 catches. So we used our two running backs fairly differently in the passing game in 2019.

In 2018, Theo Riddick had a YBC value of 92 on his 61 catches, meaning that he was used as a receiver beyond the LOS much more often in the Lion’s offense in 2018 than Royce Freeman was used as a down-the-field receiver for the Broncos in 2019.

I’ve followed Riddick since his days as a short and thin slot receiver for the Irish. Riddick played his first three seasons at Notre Dame as a receiver and only moved into the backfield out of necessity in 2012 for the Irish. The 2011 Irish had two running backs leave for the NFL in Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood and Riddick was asked to move to RB from WR. Riddick caught 120 passes in his college career and has always been a very good receiver out of the backfield in the NFL. He has almost as many catches in his NFL career (285) as rushing attempts (288) and he was actually listed by PFR as a WR on the Lions roster - not a RB - in 2018. Riddick’s 285 catches have resulted in 103 first downs and 14 touchdowns.

Riddick would definitely be any upgrade over both Lindsay and Freeman as a receiver were he to be brought back in 2020. The Broncos paid Riddick Riddick $2.2MM in 2019. Most running backs, even really good ones, get fairly small contracts after their rookie deals expire. It is the nature of the NFL where the careers of running backs are quite short and production is usually easily replaceable with someone younger and cheaper (and possibly better).

Why the Broncos should not bring him back.

Riddick is an injury risk. He missed the entire 2019 season and he missed 6 games in the 2016 season. The former 6th round pick will be 29 next season and time (age) is not kind to running backs in the NFL. Pass catching running backs are not a rarity and the Broncos would be much better served in 2020 to either train Lindsay or Freeman to be better receivers, or to bring in a rookie RB who played in a pass-happy scheme in college and could easily fill this same role of 3rd down or pass-catching back in the 2020 Bronco offense.

Riddick has never been very good as runner in the NFL. While he’s about the same size as Lindsay (5-9, 200), he does not have the same burst or quickness. Riddick has only averaged 3.6 ypc during his NFL career meaning that he is not much of a threat as a runner when he’s lined up in the backfield. Of his 288 NFL carries, only 24 have gone for 10 or more yards while 70 have been stopped for no gain or negative yards. We can blame the stuffed runs on his OL if you want, but the lack of long runs is all on him. FWIW, of his 288 carries, 166 came on first down, 91 on second, 28 on third down and only 3 on 4th down.

Why the Broncos should bring him back.

Riddick is team player, which is evidenced both by his position switch as a college senior and his working his way into a primary role in the Lions’ offense. As a rookie Riddick predominately played on special teams (60% of the ST snaps).

One of Riddick’s biggest assets is his route running ability and this makes him a real threat out of the backfield or lined up in the slot in the redzone. Riddick has been targeted 43 times in the red zone in his career, catching all 43 passes - 13 of which resulted in touchdowns. The majority of those TD catches came on plays from inside the 10 - 10 of 13. Riddick is a huge mismatch if he’s covered by a LB anywhere on the field and that is easily turned into a touchdowns near the goal-line.

Pat Shurmur likes to use his running backs as receivers. Having a RB on the roster who is accomplished as an NFL receiver really opens up some mismatches for the offense. In 2015 Riddick caught 80 passes - putting him in the top 20 league-wide in catches. He and Danny Woodhead were the only RBs in the top 20. Riddick catches it if you throw it to him and owns a catch percentage of 77 percent for his career (285 catches on 369 targets).

Given his age and his injury risk, he should be able to be re-signed by the Broncos for relatively little money and I can see his benefit far outweighing his cap hit in 2020.

Riddick may not be as elusive as Phillip Lindsay, but he is still decent at breaking tackles. In 2018 he was credited with four broken tackles on his 40 carries and three broken tackles on his 61 catches. For comparison, Lindsay in 2019 was credited with 29 broken tackles on his 224 carries and only one broken tackle on his 35 catches. FWIW Lindsay finished the season 6th in broken tackles per rushing attempt.

Player Tm Pos G GS Att Yds 1D YBC YBC/Att YAC YAC/Att BrkTkl Att/Br
Alvin Kamara* NOR RB 14 9 171 797 32 396 2.3 401 2.3 29 5.9
Damien Williams KAN rb 11 6 111 498 22 141 1.3 357 3.2 15 7.4
Aaron Jones GNB RB 16 16 236 1084 55 569 2.4 515 2.2 32 7.4
Ronald Jones TAM RB 16 9 172 724 34 309 1.8 415 2.4 23 7.5
Devin Singletary BUF RB 12 8 151 775 37 413 2.7 362 2.4 20 7.6
Phillip Lindsay DEN RB 16 16 224 1011 38 603 2.7 408 1.8 29 7.7
David Montgomery CHI RB 16 8 242 889 50 496 2 393 1.6 28 8.6
Alexander Mattison MIN RB 13 0 100 462 19 267 2.7 195 2 11 9.1
Josh Jacobs OAK RB 13 13 242 1150 53 467 1.9 683 2.8 26 9.3
Nick Chubb* CLE RB 16 16 298 1494 62 612 2.1 882 3 32 9.3
Chris Carson SEA RB 15 15 278 1230 75 496 1.8 734 2.6 28 9.9
Derrick Henry* TEN RB 15 15 303 1540 73 572 1.9 968 3.2 29 10.4
Todd Gurley LAR RB 15 15 223 857 51 483 2.2 374 1.7 21 10.6
Austin Ekeler LAC RB 16 8 132 557 32 233 1.8 324 2.5 12 11.0
Carlos Hyde HOU RB 16 14 245 1070 55 525 2.1 545 2.2 22 11.1

Poll

Do you think the Broncos should bring Theo Riddick back in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    yes - of course
    (107 votes)
  • 51%
    yes - unless he wants much more money than he got in 2019
    (666 votes)
  • 40%
    no - his skills are easily replaced by a much cheaper rookie.
    (526 votes)
1299 votes total Vote Now