By Ashley Scoby
@AshleyScoby

Of all the players on the Lions’ injury report Wednesday (12 of them, including starting linebacker DeAndre Levy, starting safety James Ihedigbo, starting tight end Eric Ebron and starting running back Joique Bell), the most important might be Theo Riddick. He was limited in Wednesday’s practice with a groin injury.

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Riddick came into this season relatively unassuming: He was seen as a third-string type running back who had good hands.

But six games into the season – and with the Lions staring at a 1-5 record – Riddick has cemented himself as one of the most reliable pieces of a distinctly unreliable offense. His numbers aren’t All-Pro level, but Riddick does what he’s supposed to do, and has earned more and more targets. When the ball is thrown his way, he catches it, and he usually moves forward; this year, even those simple things are worthy of praise in Detroit.

With only nine rushing attempts for 38 yards, the danger of Riddick isn’t necessarily on the ground, but through the air. Although he’s listed as a running back, Riddick has functioned largely as a slot receiver at times this season. He’s the third-most targeted receiver on the team with 42 targets, behind Calvin Johnson (63) and Golden Tate (55).

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“It puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, who will take on Detroit for the second time this season on Sunday. “In a lot of ways, it’s like Reggie Bush. I’m not saying they’re the same guy, but it takes another guy out of your back end of coverage because you have to pay special attention to him. He’s extremely good in the option route-running that he does, he catches the ball good on the screens and some of the flares that they run when they’re blocking downfield for him.”

Riddick has seen his role in the offense grow, certainly as the Lions have struggled on that side of the ball. And as the Lions’ running back corps has been depleted (Joique Bell is missing more time because of an ankle injury, Ameer Abdullah had a “stinger” that, according to Caldwell, kept him from playing the second half against the Bears, and Zach Zenner is out for the season with broken ribs), Riddick has become even more important.

“He’s got ability, but his skillset is pretty wide-ranging,” said Lions head coach Jim Caldwell. “He’s a tough and physical guy in terms of blocking, he runs the ball well, he can run it inside out, he’s an extremely valuable guy in terms of special teams. We haven’t been playing him as much in that area recently because of the load he’s been carrying from the backfield doing the things we need him to do, but he’s a football player.”

After a rocky start, Detroit is tied for 10th in the league in total offense, but still tied for 26th in points per game. Riddick, meanwhile, has been consistent throughout the season and has been a favorite for quarterback Matthew Stafford. The running back out of Notre Dame has as many receiving touchdowns (two) as Johnson, Tate, Ebron and receiver Lance Moore all year.

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“A lot of times, that’s one of the best matchups on the field,” Stafford said. “He against a lot of linebackers is a good look for us and especially with the skill guys that we have outside, the attention that the safeties give those guys, lots of times, the back is the best one-on-one matchup we have and not only Theo, but Ameer, they do a great job out of the backfield. They both have a little different style of doing it, but they’re both extremely good at doing it.”