Detroit Lions: Rashad Jennings would be solid veteran addition

Fresh off winning ‘Dancing With the Stars’, Rashad Jennings is still looking for a new NFL team, and the Detroit Lions could make use of his talents.

The Detroit Lions are prepared to enter the 2017 season with a young and skilled backfield. With Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and Zach Zenner in the mix, general manager Bob Quinn has assembled a trio of players he is comfortable placing his trust in. While all three of these men are uniquely talented and possess many valuable tangible abilities, they are lacking one very essential component of success: experience.

It is for this very reason that the Lions were rumored to have interest in former New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, prior to his recent signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. While the free agent market at tailback is largely picked over at this time of the offseason, there is still one unsigned player who could provide a combination of reliability, versatility, and veteran leadership to this fledgling rotation.

Enter Rashad Jennings.

Coming into his ninth NFL season, Jennings has always been somewhat underrated. It could be because he was a seventh-round pick in 2009 and started his career playing behind electric Jacksonville Jaguars runner Maurice Jones-Drew. It could be because he has been subject to various nicks and ailments throughout his first eight years in the league. It might even be because he’s never secured that elusive 1,000 rushing yard season that seems to be the generally accepted measuring stick of running back success.

However, a quick glance at his career numbers shows that this is a solid football player who has often been productive as a professional in spite of a glaring lack of opportunity. While Jennings has never received 200 carries in a season, more often than not, he’s made the most of what he’s been given. In fact, over the course of his career, he has averaged a solid 4.1 yards per carry and an even more impressive 7.7 yards per reception.

Without question, his most productive season came in 2015, when at age 30, he played in all 16 games for the New York Giants and was finally given a fair opportunity at a reasonably large workload. Jennings responded with 195 carries for a career-high 863 rushing yards (4.4 YPC), three rushing touchdowns, 29 receptions, and a receiving score.

Many of Jennings’ critics will point to the fact that he averaged an abysmal 3.3 yards per carry in 2016 with the Giants. While that number is certainly alarming, his lack of success shouldn’t come as an enormous surprise given the state of the team’s offensive line last season. In spite of his struggles between the tackles, he still contributed 35 receptions in only 13 games and was immensely successful in pass-protection, one of the most important aspects of earning a role as a running back in today’s NFL.

In fact, Jennings was the most efficient pass-blocking back in the entire league in 2016, per Pro Football Focus:

While there may be some concern about how much he can offer a team at 32, it’s important to understand that despite his age, his legs remain reasonably fresh. In fact, Jennings has only accumulated 930 regular season carries — a mere 22 totes more than 25-year old Le’Veon Bell. It’s reasonable to assume that he still has plenty left in the tank.

Of course, many football fans are aware that Jennings just won the latest season of Dancing With the Stars alongside his professional partner, Emma Slater. It was an impressive showing for the free agent runner, and one that certainly caught the eye of many viewers unfamiliar with his football career, as was the case with Lions all-timer Calvin Johnson a season ago.

In theory, the added visibility that came with being associated with the program should have proved beneficial to his career, but things haven’t worked out that way as of yet. In fact, there is a school of thought that suggests Jennings’ decision to appear on the hit ABC show is the reason he remains unsigned today, with the implication being that it has sidetracked him from his athletic pursuits.

News that he is set to join the DWTS tour likely won’t do any thing to change this perception, but Jennings makes it clear that he is intent on continuing his NFL career (per ET Online):

“I am super excited to be heading on tour with Dancing with the Stars Live. While the NFL is my #1 priority, I can think of no better way to stay in shape, combined with my intensive football training, until that team calls,” said Jennings in a statement after the announcement was made during the DWTS finale on Tuesday night.

Arguments that Jennings isn’t taking his football future seriously miss the mark, or at least somewhat do. Yes, teams would rather he avoid any potential distractions during the offseason, but at the same time, he is getting older (in NFL years, that is). There is absolutely no reason that he shouldn’t be considering his post-retirement options, and his newfound celebrity could open many doors for him after he walks away from the game.

Put simply, Jennings’ sudden media-friendliness isn’t a reason for franchises to avoid him altogether, and at the very least, the Lions could bring him in and let him compete. No one is suggesting that Jennings should start for the team, or even play a significant role in the gameplan. Abdullah, Riddick, and Zenner should all receive a larger share of the workload as these are the players the organization intends to build around.

With sophomore back Dwayne Washington, undrafted rookie Tion Green, and veteran runner Mike James all in the mix, there is no guarantee that Jennings would even crack the final 53-man roster. Still, his experience and versatility should earn him an opportunity, and at this late stage of the offseason, he would likely come at a bargain price.

By all accounts, Jennings appears to be a high-character individual, having embraced a role mentoring Paul Perkins with the Giants last season, while thriving as a pass-blocker and chipping in a few carries and catches of his own. There is absolutely no reason why he couldn’t do the same for the Lions.

Rashad Jennings still has a lot to offer an NFL franchise. As a ninth-year pro, he has the knowledge of a long-term veteran, but the fresh legs of a much younger man. The Detroit Lions backfield is heavy on potential, but light on experience. The opportunity is there for the team to add Jennings to the mix as an occasional contributor, while securing solid veteran leadership in the process. It would be a logical move for both sides, and with Lions organized team activities officially underway, the time for such a deal to come together is now.

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