With training camp for the Oakland Raiders just around the corner, here is a closer look at the battle for playing time at the running back position.
Training camp for the Oakland Raiders is set to begin next week, and one of the more intriguing position battles to watch will be for the backup job to Marshawn Lynch. Between 2016 rookies Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, the Raiders are in a good spot with their change-of-pace backs, but which one will be the secondary option to Beast Mode?
This offseason has been one remember for Raider Nation, between the heartbreaking news of the impending move to Las Vegas and re-signing of franchise quarterback Derek Carr. But arguably the news that drew the biggest reaction this offseason was the signing of Oakland native Marshawn Lynch, whose returning home has Raider fans in a frenzy. He currently leads the NFL in jersey sales, per NFLshop.com.
In 2016, the Raiders rushing offense ranked sixth in the league with 1,922 yards. Still, as impressive as the run game was, there was a sense that there was a lack of attitude and toughness in the running backs room. Reggie McKenzie opted to let former leading man Latavius Murray walk in free agency, and landed an upgrade in Lynch later in the offseason. Along with the addition of Lynch, the Raiders also used a seventh round draft pick on Elijah Hood, a power back who can eventually work as a nice complement to Richard and/or Washington.
Lynch will be the unquestioned leader among this very young group of backs. The Raiders will likely utilize a running back by committee approach, with Lynch getting the majority or slight majority of the work. It remains to be seen how large Marshawn’s role to be, but it’s reasonable to believe it’ll be similar to what Latavius’ role was in 2016. But if it is a bit less than that, it certainly would be understandable. Lynch is 31, and there are questions still needing to be answered about how much is left in the tank for Beast Mode.
With that being said, the battle for the backup role should be one of the more heated competitions to follow throughout training camp, as Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington both are coming off impressive rookie campaigns.
Richard and Washington offer similar skill sets to the offense — both are smaller backs with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield as well as run between the tackles. Looking at the numbers from 2016, Richard slightly out touched Washington 112 to 104. However, Washington was a healthy scratch on more than one occasion during the middle of the season.
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It’s probably safe to assume that offensive coordinator Todd Downing will go with the hot hand after Lynch. Richard may have the slight edge in that regard due to the fact that he is better in pass protection. Ultimately, expect very little change in the distribution of the work load.
Elijah Hood will likely be the odd man out. With three running backs already a lock to make the roster, Reggie McKenzie and Jack Del Rio will have a decision to make on how many running backs to carry on the 53-man roster. Although listed at full back, Jamize Olawale as well as Taiwan Jones are two potential road blocks for Hood. Olawale’s versatility as a runner, pass catcher and lead blocker make him a valuable asset to the team.
Taiwan Jones may not see much work with the offense but is a key member of the special teams unit and has excelled in that role. Hood will need to be very impressive in camp to earn a job. It may be wise to stash him on the practice squad in the event Marshawn misses time. Hood could be plugged into a goal line or short yardage role in Lynch’s absences.
There certainly is not a shortage of talent in the backfield. Getting everyone involved and maximizing their talents will be one of the challenges Todd Downing faces this season. Not to worry Raider Nation, this is a good problem to have.