When the Oakland Raiders brought in CFL superstar Kory Sheets some fans didn’t know what to expect out of a veteran running back who couldn’t catch on with the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers before becoming one of the best running backs in recent Canadian league history during two short seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
A long list of CFL players have came from the three down league to stardom in the NFL, including quarterbacks Warren Moon and Doug Flutie before more recent defensive players such as Miami’s Cameron Wake (BC Lions) and Indianapolis Colts’ linebacker Jerrell Freeman (Roughriders) have became productive starters on NFL defenses.
Still running backs have never achieve the same translation, with former Colts running back Kenton Keith being a rare exception in going from the CFL to a NFL backfield after successful seasons with the Roughriders. That lack of success may be understandable as the CFL is most known for its passing, having one less down to use their running game to chew up yardage.
Sheets in Saskatchewan was an exception as Roughrider head coach Corey Chamblin rode Sheets as a workhorse back, allowing the former Purdue Boilermaker to amass two straight 1,000 yard seasons and as many Raiders fans may know by now a record setting performance in the 2013 Grey Cup in which he was the MVP.
The team brought Sheets in as a proven producer with Rashad Jennings leaving to the New York Giants, but after Reggie McKenzie acquired Maurice Jones-Drew from Jacksonville the veteran Sheets was placed in a much stiffer competition to make the team with the likes of Latavius Murray and Jeremy Stewart along with UDFA George Atkinson III with one less roster spot up for grabs.
In the team’s first padded practice Sheets took it upon himself to prove that he belongs on a field with NFL players, breaking out for a long gain. Something that the rookie Atkinson matched, but allowed Sheets to stand out in a position battle that will require the CFL star to make plays that he made with the Roughriders against NFL competition in order to earn a spot in the offense.
Kory Sheets and George Atkinson III have broken nice gains, but hard to know what that means even in pads. Pads not same as ‘live’
— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) July 28, 2014
Raiders insider took the Sheets presence on step further, adding that the Raiders like his pass catching ability and that he expects Sheets and the rookie Murray to get the majority of the preseason reps at running back while veterans MJD and Darren McFadden don’t pick up any extra mileage before the season.
#Raiders like Sheets pass-catching ability, I think he and Murray get most of preseason carries to keep Jones-Drew and McFadden fresh
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) July 27, 2014
It will be interesting to see where Sheets fits in, a veteran who had productive years as a feature back in the CFL his pass catching along with his experience makes him an intriguing third down option. Still with Murray having added upside as a second year player he will have to prove his talent to command a roster spot on the 53 man roster come the end of the preseason, but don’t be surprised if the man with the Marcus Allen-like performance in the “Canadian Super Bowl” puts on enough of a show in the preseason to command a spot on the team.