Carney column: Theo Riddick is a perfect security blanket for Joe Flacco, Denver Broncos
For all the flak Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has caught over the years from myself and various other media members for his struggles to identify the right quarterback for the franchise moving forward, one thing he’s been pretty darn good at is identifying good talent at running back.
Elway struck again Thursday morning, adding veteran Theo Riddick to the roster after the Detroit Lions cut the Notre Dame product in a salary cap move less than a week ago.
Some will look at the addition of Riddick to the Broncos’ running back room as an unnecessary move, but the former Lion was much-needed to provide balance to a young room from a receiving standpoint.
Through six seasons and 84 games in the NFL, Riddick has nearly as many receptions out of the backfield as he does carries. During his time in Detroit, the Lions were very innovative with Riddick, splitting him out wide, putting him in the slot, and getting him on the field in two-running back sets with guys like LeGarrette Blount, Ameer Abdullah, and Joique Bell, allowing the Lions to utilize his receiving skills all over the field.
That’s likely how he’ll fit into the system with the Broncos as guys like Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman will be the main workhorses on the ground. What the Broncos don’t have at this time is an elite receiving back for Joe Flacco work with. During Flacco’s tenure with the Ravens from 2008 to 2018, the former University of Delaware quarterback with a big arm had a propensity for checking it down to running backs out of the backfield, rather than taking shots down the field. That tendency led to the moniker “Checkdown Joe” as Flacco appeared more comfortable dumping the ball off to guys like Ray Rice, Justin Forsett, Danny Woodhead and Javorius Allen out of the backfield over the years. In fact, in Flacco’s 10 years with Baltimore, a running back sat in the top 4 on the team in receptions each year, including two years in which Rice led the Ravens in receptions in 2012 and 2013. Flacco loves his running backs as receiving options.
Coming to the Broncos, though, Flacco didn’t have that security blanket out of the backfield to work with. Don’t get me wrong: Freeman and Lindsay are adequate pass-catching running backs. Freeman was very productive at Oregon as a pass catcher, as was Lindsay at Colorado, but the duo combined for just 67 catches last season as rookies, averaging just over 6 yards per catch. Where Riddick makes the Broncos better in 2019 is in the pass-catching area of the game, giving the improving Broncos offense another talented weapon to work with.
During his time in Detroit, Riddick averaged nearly 8 yards per reception thanks to his speed and ability to make defenders miss after the catch. That will be a significant upgrade to the Broncos’ backfield as a receiving option. I’d like to see offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello implement Riddick’s pass-catching talents into scheme quickly, simply because Riddick provides an element of versatility at running back that the Broncos sorely lacked.
Should guys like Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton and DeSean Hamilton struggle to get open out wide, and tight ends Noah Fant and Jeff Heuerman can’t seem to shake loose in the middle of the field consistently, Riddick will be there to provide the Broncos with security through the air.
While Riddick’s addition to the roster is a major boon for Denver, considering Elway beat out Sean Payton and the Saints for the highly-productive back, this likely means Devontae Booker’s time with Denver is coming to a quick end. Denver won’t — and shouldn’t — carry four running backs on the 53-man roster in the regular season, so Booker finds himself in a numbers crunch. Lindsay and Freeman are certain locks for the roster, and it’s probably safe to include Riddick as a lock, considering the hoops the Broncos had to jump through to sign him. Therefore, Booker is trade fodder.
Expect to see quite a bit of Booker on the field early in the preseason to try and prop him up for other teams to see while hoping to drive his trade value skyward. Expect to see quite a bit of Riddick, too, once he’s acclimated to the team and the offensive system. If the veteran running back is going to be productive for the Broncos this season, he’ll need to be part of the game plan right away.
Riddick was a great late-summer addition by Elway, one that could help determine if the Broncos have a high-end offense or not in 2019.
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