Raiders

A Closer Look At The Las Vegas Raiders’ Backfield Platoon

The Las Vegas Raiders have the most crowded running back room they have ever had. Currently, there are seven running backs on the roster. Two fullbacks as well. Everyone can’t make the cut.

Running back by committee for the Raiders

General manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels have come a long way with the roster in a short amount of time. While many moves have been made, they were all done with a specific plan in mind. Unfortunately, in today’s pass-friendly NFL, the running back position has been devalued and deemphasized. Ziegler and McDaniels are proponents of a different application of running back talent. Instead of having a bell-cow back, they employ a committee-style approach.

Going to the hot hand is the smarter approach to maximizing the run game. Additionally, applying this approach means that there will always be fresh legs in the backfield. We’re going to break down the holdovers, the free agents, and the rookies, taking a look at money and productivity. At the end of that, we’ll prognosticate about who ends up where.

The Holdovers

Josh Jacobs – Contract year, $3.7M, 5’10”, 216

Jacobs is the best back on the roster and has been the backbone of the offense. As a rookie, he finished second in offensive rookie of the year voting to Kyler Murray in 2019. Jacobs made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2020. In 2021, for the first time in his career, Jacobs did not break the 1,000-yard mark. Early on in the season, things just weren’t working for the Raiders’ rushing attack at all. He finished the season with 217 carries, 872 yards, and nine touchdowns. In the last five games of the season, including the wild card game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Jacobs averaged 91.8 yards rushing. Was 2021 a “down year?”

Jacobs’ hard-running style has led to numerous injuries. He has played in three seasons and has yet to participate in 16 regular season games, let alone 17 games. Jacobs is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie deal since his fifth-year option wasn’t picked up. making 2022 a contract year for the 24-year-old running back. Will he continue to be the committee’s top dog? He has many challengers to his throne.

What is Drake’s future with the Raiders?

Kenyan Drake – $3.85M, 6’1″, 210

Drake is rehabbing a fractured ankle. He broke it on December 6. Prior to the injury, head coach Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s big idea was to use Drake to catch passes out of the backfield. In 12 games with the Raiders in 2021, Drake didn’t get fed. He ran 63 times for 254 yards and two touchdowns. He was previously with the Arizona Cardinals, where he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in 2020. What made it even more frustrating for Raiders fans was the fact that he looked ready to help carry the load for a struggling rushing attack but was never given the opportunity.

Drake’s contract is wild and he has more dead cap years than actual active years. Drake, who is nearing the end of a two-year, $11 million contract and is set to earn $3.85 million this year, has had three years of dead cap charges added to his contract. Where exactly he is in terms of his rehab remains to be seen, but with an influx of nearly $20 million on June 2, he may get an injury settlement if he is unable to go.

Free Agents

Brandon Bolden – 2 yrs./$5M, 5’11”, 225

At 32 years old, Bolden is an older back who is versed in McDaniel’s system. He also managed to reinvent himself in 2021. Bolden averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 44 carries and amassed 226 yards and a touchdown on the ground. While the 5.1 yards per carry is impressive, he caught 41 of 49 targets out of the backfield for 405 yards and two touchdowns.

At 225 pounds, he is the team’s heaviest back and the short-yardage specialist.

Ameer Abdullah – 1 yr./$1.04M, 5’09”, 205

Abdullah is most likely looking at making this team as a special teamer. He played for two teams in 2021, Carolina and Minnesota. Abdullah played in all 17 regular season games, but only started one. He carried the ball 51 times for 166 yards and caught 38 of 53 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown. Since leaving the Detroit Lions in 2018, he has yet to post a 200-yard rushing season.

The Raiders’ Rookies

Zamir ‘Zeus’ White – Unsigned, 6’0″, 217

White, was the Raiders’ surprise pick in the draft, but with the Raiders’ front office plan to decline Jacobs’ fifth year option, it was to be expected. White is bigger than Jacobs and much, much more explosive and flat out faster. He’s a national champion and was a two-year starter at the University of Georgia. He too plays with an edge and has many similarities to Jacobs. He produced back-to-back ten-touchdown seasons and maintained an average of 5.4 yards per carry.

It always remains to be seen what the transition from college to the pros is like from player to player. But if his game is able to transfer, he will have a huge fullback and a better run-blocking offensive line than what he had in Athens, GA. Perhaps he can carve out a prominent role for himself in this committee, maybe even make a play for the number one spot.

Brittain Brown – 4yrs./$3.73M, 6’1″ 208

If drafting White was a surprise, then selecting Brown was a shocker. Brown has incredible averages but has never seen 200 carries in a season. In Brown’s five-year college career, he never averaged less than 4.6 yards per carry. In fact, in his last two seasons at UCLA, he averaged 6.6 yards per carry in 2020 and 6.0 yards per carry in 2021. Supposedly, he is the best pass blocker of the rookie bunch brought in.

Brown is a platoon back, and as such, the committee approach is one that will suit him nicely.

Will McCormick get a shot in 2022?

Sincere McCormick – 3yrs./$2.56M, 5’9″, 205

McCormick, a UTSA Roadrunner, did just that in his three years in college. Ascending young talent is what Ziegler is looking for. McCormick scored 15 touchdowns in 2021 and ran for 1479 yards at a 5.0 yard per carry average. In 2020, he had 11 touchdowns and 1467 yards with a yard per carry average of 5.9. In his freshman season, he scored eight rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown, and ran for 983 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

Fullbacks

Jakob Johnson – 1 yr./$1.5M 6’3″, 255

Johnson is a glorified skull cracker. He’s not catching a ton of passes out of the backfield, and he certainly isn’t going to be fed the rock. In three years with the New England Patriots, Johnson never carried the football. His sole purpose on the football field is to be the lead blocker and engulf linebackers at the second level. He should be on the 53-man roster because he knows how the offense works and has a big body for a fullback.

Sutton Smith – 1 yr./$825K 6’0″, 232

Smith, more likely than not, will be a special teamer. A former two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year as well as being the MAC MVP in 2018, Smith’s best skills clearly were as a defender. However, as a pro, he is a fullback. Smith is another skull cracker and will be used by the Raiders as a human battering ram.

What to make of it?

The largest committee of running backs is usually only four deep. There are currently seven on the roster, and simple subtraction would suggest that three need to go. Johnson all but has his position assured. Smith will get the opportunity to compete, but it would take something miraculous to overtake Johnson. Bolden is a scheme fit, and that leaves the last spot. Jacobs is the best back on this team. White was drafted in the fourth round.

Will Drake be ready for training camp and/or the regular season and will Brown be allowed to get down? Will being a special teamer be enough to grant Abdullah a roster spot? Or will McCormick extend his sincere apologies to the rest of the backs for taking the last spot?

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*Top Photo: Chris Unger/Getty Images

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