Our focus turns to running backs for part nine of this 10-part feature breaking down the Raiders’ training camp roster.
Latavius Murray gave the Raiders their first 1,000-yard running back since Darren McFadden in 2010. But to say the Raiders had an effective running game last season would be inaccurate.
Oakland finished 28th in the league in rushing, with Murray’s 1,066 yards accounting for 73 percent of the Raiders attack. That’s not good. Also not good was that Murray only averaged 3.5 yards per carry over the final five games and 3.6 in the second half of games.
The Raiders improved their offensive line by adding Kelechi Osemele. That addition moves Gabe Jackson to the right side and gives Oakland a great interior push. It’s time to take advantage of that.
Murray’s first season as a starter should be viewed as a success. He played in all 16 games and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. It’s not his fault the team didn’t have a reliable backup to spell him and provide a change of pace.
Murray’s goal for 2016 should be to continue building on what he did. The Raiders didn’t have many opportunities to take a lead into the fourth quarter and salt it away on the ground. They hope to have more of those chances this year and Murray will be key in those situations.
If the Raiders have an ample backup, the other hope is that Murray stays fresher down the stretch. Consider his first half/second half splits. Through eight games, Murray had 132 carries for 630 yards, a 4.8 per attempt clip. His carries went up to 134 over the final eight, but he had just 436 yards, a 3.3 per attempt average.
Taiwan Jones figures to be on the roster for his special teams skills, if nothing else. This is his sixth NFL season and it’s been a weird ride for him. He was moved to cornerback in 2013, then injured for nearly all of 2014. He was back at running back last year and had his first career touchdown with this highlight reel 59-yard catch and run. Will he seize a chance this year to be a true reliable backup? Jury is out.
Roy Helu Jr. was disappointing last year, failing to become the third-down back the Raiders hoped he could be. He played in just nine games with 17 carries for 39 yards. He only had nine receptions for 75 yards as well. He had offseason surgery on his hips and starts camp on the PUP list. He’s looking at an uphill climb to make the roster.
Fifth-round pick DeAndre Washington will get a good shot at being the primary backup. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said “we’re putting him in different situations to get a feel for he’s strengths and how we can tailor plays, tailor situations so he can really flash for us. He’s going to be good in first, second or third down.”
NFL teams need at least two good running backs and a good year from Washington would help the Raiders tremendously.
The Raiders head to camp with two fullbacks in Jamize Olawale, who signed a three-year extension last season, and three-time Pro Bowler Marcel Reece, who is suspended for the first three games of the season.
The Raiders clearly have Olawale in their future plans and he was the team’s third-leading rusher last year. As for Reece, tough to say. Were it not for the suspension, he could be a candidate to get cut when the roster trims. He’s entering the final year of his contract and the Raiders aren’t using him much.
Reece was named to the Pro Bowl last year before his suspension, but that’s mostly because he’s a reputation guy at a position that’s rarely used now. While he had 30 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns last year, two of those scores came in the fourth quarter of the blowout season-opening loss to Cincinnati. He can practice and play the preseason until he has to serve his suspension and he won’t count against the 53-man roster while suspended. But three weeks into the season, the Raiders will have to make a decision.
If you count on Murray, Jones, Washington and Olawale all being on the roster to start the year, the Raiders could have an extra spot for another running back (or maybe a fourth tight end) with Reece suspended if Helu can’t earn a roster spot.
They enter camp with two backs looking to make a case. One is George Atkinson III, who played in five games in 2014 as a special teams player. He returned seven kickoffs for 134 yards. Ball security issues have hampered him and this could be his last run.
Jalen Richard was signed as an undrafted free agent from Southern Miss, where he rushed for 1,098 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. He’s one of those guys we could see quite a bit of in the preseason as the Raiders try to find out what they have him the 5-8, 207-pounder.