The Raiders devastating 2018 season is in the books. The coaching hire of Jon Gruden brought some excitement back to the fan base, then immediately framed the reality of needing to be patient. The 2018 season will be remembered for the sweeping personnel changes, trades and a long list of player transactions.
Gruden has begun to build for the future and with the power of acquiring valuable NFL draft picks and creating a healthy free agency cap situation. Former GM Reggie McKenzie has also been shown the door for an innovative talent evaluator to take over some of the reigns in Mike Mayock. Free agency is the first critical part of the off-season and you better believe the film is rolling on all the current personnel on the roster. As such, let’s take a look at an in-house talent from the backfield, Jalen Richard.
Running Back: Jalen Richard – 5-foot-8, 205 pounds
It’s been a hectic three seasons for Richard in Oakland. Richard has had three consecutive new offensive coordinators during his tenure. Seemingly his use schematically under Gruden’s system has led to his emergence as one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL in 2018. Richard’s role as a ball-carrier has declined in each of his three seasons. Although he still boasts an impressive 5.3 yards an attempt in his career, he hasn’t been used as a volume carry running back. Ironically, Richard’s receiving numbers have been on the incline in each of those three seasons, helping him find his positional niche.
Richard is something of the cliché term “third-down back” if you will. He’s valuable in hurry-up situations because he can stay on the field and always provide Derek Carr with an option underneath, while also picking-up pass protection assignments very well. Richard also creates a reliable option on third downs. Richard’s quickness and ability to change direction in space makes him hard to cover with a linebacker and that’s what he feasted on in 2018. Richard caught 68 passes for 607 yards in 2018 averaging 8.5 yards per reception.
Coach Gruden has sculpted Richard’s role as an effective passing outlet that can get open and win his matchup. The quick passing game of Gruden’s west coast hybrid system values the type of matchup issues Richard can present out the backfield. This was clearly something Carr valued breaking-in a new offensive system, while constantly under duress with two rookie starting offensive tackles. Richard’s biggest knock has largely been protecting the football. In 2017, his eight fumbles that included special teams issues as a returner were troubling. In 2018, with his role more definitive, he only saw three fumbles in 123 touches. Improvement in that area was critical to surviving under Gruden.
Richard checks all the boxes for re-signing in free agency for the Raiders. At 25 years old, Richard is entering his prime as a running back. He is still young and peaking, while not garnering a gigantic price tag in free agency. Richard has been a positive voice in the locker room and has always had a focused outlook amid disappointing circumstances.
You have to consider this is a former undrafted rookie free agent. Richard is a “Gruden Grinder” and his time has come to for a payday and to be an established piece in the backfield while the Raiders find the bruiser-type running back for him to compliment in the backfield.