How New Oakland Raiders Coaching Staff May Shake Up the Running Game

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Dec 28, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) talks with a coach during the second half against the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

With only Murray and Reece assured of returning, this leaves as many as four open slots on the roster for running backs next year, meaning Reggie McKenzie will likely need to bring in a bunch of new faces into the running back room ahead of training camp. While McKenzie isn’t fond of using free agency to bring in major pieces, he will likely rely on free agency to bring in potential backup running backs and camp legs, while using his draft picks to address more pressing needs for the team.

One likely free agent running back whom Raider fans have been salivating over is Oakland native and Cal Berkley alumn Marshawn Lynch, who is preparing to play in his second consecutive Super Bowl as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. Lynch, a perennial Pro Bowler since he arrived in Seattle, has posted four consecutive seasons of rushing for more than 1,200 yards and 11+ TD’s. He has scored 48 rushing TD’s in four years, and 56 total TD’s. Lynch has also had some of the most clutch runs in NFL playoff history, including this past week against the Green Bay Packers during Seattle’s epic NFC Championship comeback.

The 5’11”, 215 lb Lynch is one of the most physical and angry runners in the league, a downhill runner who enjoys contact but doesn’t necessarily have high-end speed. Lynch thrives on creating yards after contact and tends to do his best work late in games against worn-down defenses. Any offensive coordinator in the league would love to have him. But Lynch, even if Seattle does let him get to the open market, will likely not come home to Oakland.

While Lynch is old in running back years (he will be 29 in April and has played 7 NFL seasons as a running back, as well as having played in ten playoff games after the Super Bowl is played), he is also coming off a lot of very good years, and has missed only one game due to injury since 2009. He is one of the biggest names in the NFL despite his refusal to talk to the media and his lack of endorsements. Lynch will be the rare free agent running back who can still command a pretty penny in the 2015 NFL. Someone is going to want to pay Marshawn Lynch, and that someone will not be Reggie McKenzie. Of course, if a certain blogger is wrong and Lynch does come cheap in free agency, he might be exactly the kind of player that McKenzie snaps up on a short, cheap deal.

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  • The 2015 free agent market, as it stands right now, is loaded with young running back talent that can probably be had for cheap. It is a buyers market for running backs, especially in a league where the running back position is oversaturated and undervalued. The class of free agent RB’s for 2015 is headlined by DeMarco Murray, who will likely get the biggest RB contract in the league if he hits the open market, although there’s a good chance he doesn’t hit the open market. After Murray and Lynch, there are tons of names of solid young running backs who have been starters or at least major contributors on their teams in recent years: Ryan Mathews, Justin Forsett, Shane Vereen, Knowshon Moreno, etc. There are far too many viable names to discuss them all, but one name that looks interesting on the list is CJ Spiller of the Bills.

    With the Buffalo Bills organization in flux, Spiller is most likely not going to be re-signed after missing eight games last year and only managing 3.8 yards per carry running the ball. The dynamic Spiller, who was the #9 overall pick in the 2010 draft, was a Pro Bowler in 2012 after gaining over 1,700 yards from scrimmage, including 1,244 yards on the ground – his only 1,000 yard rushing season. Spiller has generally shared carries with Fred Jackson in Buffalo, and at 5’11” and 194 lbs. is not considered sturdy or strong enough to be an consistent between-the-tackles running back. With his speed, athleticism and general skills as a runner in space, however, he has been a versatile weapon for the Bills, amassing 1,100 or more all-purpose yards in four of his five seasons, having amassed nearly 1,800 return yards over the course of his career.

    Now, Spiller doesn’t necessarily fit the Bill Musgrave-Jack Del Rio running back “type.” But Latavius Murray does, as does Marcel Reece to an extent, and they could always retain Darren McFadden for cheap if they want another tall, physical back. Spiller, however, is a skilled “x-factor” type player who, despite being nearly 28, doesn’t have a whole lot of miles on him yet. His ability to produce as a runner, receiver and returner is reminiscent of Percy Harvin, who of course Musgrave had some substantial success with. Musgrave could use Spiller as a scat-back and a receiving option out of the backfield, putting him in space or getting him running out on the edge and letting him go. He could also be a huge factor on Brad Seely’s special teams, returning kickoffs and punts.

    While the Raiders could target any number of veteran free agent backs – or use the priority undrafted rookie signing period – to fill the roster at the running back position, it’s unlikely that Reggie McKenzie makes a big splash and signs a Marshawn Lynch or Demarco Murray. Latavius Murray ended 2014 as the Raiders feature back, and Bill Musgrave’s comments that he wanted to “tailor” the run game for Murray indicate that the new coaching staff has every intention of keeping him as the feature back. Reggie McKenzie is not fond of spending huge money on free agents, and spending on a veteran running back in free agency is unpopular for a reason: backs have notoriously short careers, and with the exception of that rare few, are easy to replace.

    Ultimately, don’t look for a dramatic move in the Raider backfield. Latavius Murray will likely be the feature running back to start the season, and if he can stay healthy, he can put up solid numbers in Bill Musgrave’s offense with Mike Tice’s o-line blocking ahead of him. Marcel Reece should play a bigger role in the offense, as Musgrave is a mad genius when it comes to getting uniquely skilled players involved. Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden will likely be gone in 2015, but the Raiders will add at least one or two new running backs in free agency to round out the roster. A big name may be unlikely, but look for Reggie McKenzie to shake things up a bit by adding a versatile player like Spiller to the mix if he can get a good deal.