Similar to their wide receivers, the Oakland Raiders running backs were one of the brightspots on a 4-12 team. When I say the running backs though, I mostly mean Rashad Jennings and Marcel Reece, who were two of the most talented members of the offense.
Darren McFadden was injured, and ineffective when on the field. Jeremy Stewart, who got 25 carries his rookie season, was left on the bench. Promising rookie Latavius Murray was injured in the preseason.
Jennings saw a lot more carries once McFadden hit an injury bug, and went on to put up good yards. He should have been resigned, but he was let go and signed up with the New York Giants. Surprisingly, the Raiders brought back McFadden, who felt he had something to prove to the Raider Nation.
To replace Jennings, they signed the guy he used to back up in Jacksonville, Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew is the electric back he used to be, but he still grinds out tough yards and can catch and block. Essentially he is an older and stockier version of Jennings. He still can break tackles in the open field, but no longer has the long speed to outrun defenses.
McFadden is what he is. It’s debatable if he still has long speed in him. He cannot break even the easiest of tackles. He runs high and has no wiggle to his style at all. And at times, just has awful vision as a runner.
He only came back on a one-year deal, and if all goes according to plan, he will be a slightly used backup in 2014.
Murray is the most intriguing option of the backfield. a second year runner, he stands 6’2, 230 lbs, and has 4.38 type speed. He has been compared to McFadden when McFadden came out of Arkansas, but that shouldn’t be a good thing. He spent his rookie year on IR in a redshirt type fashion, and has never seen an NFL snap. Its questionable if he is even a pro-ready runner, but the coaching staff wants a serious look at him to see if he can contribute down the line.
Behind them are Jeremy Stewart and Kory Sheets. Stewart was pressed into action his rookie season in 2012, and averaged a decent 4 yards per carry. However he only received two carries this past season, and was kept on special teams. Sheets has spent the past two seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, where he rushed for almost 3,000 yards, 28 touchdowns, and helped the Roughriders win the Grey Cup. While Sheets isn’t guaranteed to produce similarly in the NFL, he is worth a look for the Raiders.
At fullback, the Raiders have one of the most creative offense players in football, Marcel Reece. He isn’t a bruising fullback like Vonta Leach, but he helps in so many ways. While he can run block, he is at his best with the ball in his hands. Although he only plays about half the snaps, he is one of the top receivers on Oakland’s roster. He has lined up at tailback, fullback, H-Back, tight end, and wide receiver, and has the speed to make plays from all those spots. He can also run the ball well on a limited basis and is an outstanding pass blocker.
However that snap count is near criminal under-usage. Despite no real playmakers, the Raiders neglect to try to get the ball to Reece frequently. Giving him five touches a game is horrible. While he may not be suited for a workhorse role, seven carries and five catches per game should help open up the offense.
Also on the roster is Jamize Olawale, who is the customary strict blocking fullback and special teamer the Raiders have kept. His job is not guaranteed.
Outside of Jones-Drew, Reece, and possibly McFadden, the running back group is not set in stone. A good back could fall to them in the mid to late rounds that they draft. Someone like D’Anthony Thomas or Dri Archer would be a great pickup to use as an offensive weapon and return man. Also, a better fullback to upgrade on Olawale as the true blocker would help even McFadden gain yardage.
the running backs of the Oakland Raiders as the potential to carry the team, especially if Matt Schaub is the expected starter. However, it can’t get any worse than 2012 and the failed zone blocking experiment.