On Tuesday afternoon it was reported and confirmed that the Oakland Raiders worked out a CFL player as part of their continued efforts to get players on the roster for 2014 Training Camp.
What was newsworthy was that it wasn’t just any CFL player, it was arguably the best talent in the league last season in Grey Cup MVP running back Kory Sheets.
The small and versatile running back has been a journeyman like most CFL players. Finishing his college career at Purdue, Sheets bounced around the NFL in stops at San Francisco, Miami and Carolina before heading north of the border to the Saskarchewan Roughriders of the Canadian league where he has made quite a name for himself as one of the more explosive runners the league has had in some time.
In the three down, pass heavy CFL Sheets has still managed to put up numbers that have forced the NFL to take notice. In his first season in 2012 Sheets rushed for 1,277 yards in 18 games for an average of 5.6 yards a carry to put himself on the CFL map as one of the league’s best running backs in a season in which the Roughriders lost in the West Division Semi-Finals to the Calgary Stampeders.
That would lead up to a 2013 where Sheets took his late bloomer status to a whole new level during the Roughriders Grey Cup run. With the pressure on to deliver a championship with the team hosting the 101st Grey Cup, Sheets worked hard in the offseason and was on pace for 2,000 yards, rushing for over 100 yards in the first six games of the CFL season no small feat in a league where each set of downs has one less play.
A minor injury and rest from the Roughriders coaching staff stunted Sheets final totals, but he once again finished second in the league in rushing with 1,598 yards rushing in just 15 games. Saving his best for the playoffs.
During the Roughriders run to the Grey Cup, Sheets was a main factor during the second half as he was all season. Helping the Riders conserve leads in wins against the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders, getting the last laugh over league leading rusher Jon Cornish while lifting the Riders to the Grey Cup where he would be one of the stars of the Riders magical win at home.
Sheets rushed for 197 yards, which is of course a Grey Cup game record to be named the MVP. Sheets showed his versatility in the performance, breaking long first down runs down the middle and to the edge. He also showed his ability to finish inside of the redzone with two touchdowns.
His body of work earned him a workout with the Colts in January and now the Raiders have paid interest, giving Oakland the opportunity to bring in a veteran guy who has been the feature back on a Championship team and is currently playing the best football of his life.
Sheets has his limitations and the CFL has the reputation of being a second class league. However recently Brandon Browner, Jerrell Freeman, and Cameron Wake have all made the most of their opportunity to play professionally in Canada before becoming every down players. Sheets is in a different position as an offensive player, and he is a late bloomer who turns 29 this year (always a concern) but there is history here in former Roughrider Kenton Keith who made the jump from Saskatchewan to the Indianapolis Colts during the Manning era.
Signing Sheets would likely come with the commitment of a signing bonus and a promise of a fair shot, but with Darren McFadden leaving the picture the Oakland Raiders backfield currently consists of Rashad Jennings (who may leave) and a return from knee injury rookie in Latavius Murray from UCF. That gives Oakland the chance to give an overlooked and hungry running back in Sheets a fair shot at a platoon role, a guy who can catch passes and run to the edge or down the middle it would be an error for Reggie McKenzie to not commit a cheap cost of a signing bonus on a guy who will be happy to just get a shot to prove what he can do in the NFL.
With the cheap contracts of CFL players and the championship pedigree of Sheets, this move makes sense and missing out on Sheets would be a loss for the Raiders who are bringing in journeyman from all directions for training camp anyways. Not using one of those spots on a player who has been getting consistent and important snaps for two years could be an overlooked mistake from the Oakland front office.
Featured image credit: rodpedersen.com