The Oakland Raiders have had a proud tradition of producing some of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL. The Raiders have always showed a true “Commitment to Excellence” at the running back position with Clem Daniels and Marv Hubbard in the 60’s and 70’s, Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson in the 80’s and 90’s, and Napoleon Kaufmann and Charlie Garner in the early 2000’s.
The Raiders believed that they were continuing their proud tradition when Darren McFadden was drafted in 2008 out of Arkansas. McFadden possessed all of the tools to be the future for the Raiders, however was never able to stay on the field for a full season due to injury throughout his six years with the team. The Raiders have not officially stated that McFadden will or will not be returning in 2014, but he is a free agent, and may be in his best interest to move onto another franchise to try and re-start his career.
This begs the question: Who will the Raiders look to carry on the proud tradition at the running back position in 2014?
The first option may be to look to re-sign Rashad Jennings as the Raiders feature back in 2014. Jennings has the physical tools at 6’1 and 230lbs; but has never been a feature back as a professional. Jennings had a few solid games in 2013, but may be best suited as a back up or 3rd down back. Jennings will be 29 years old at the start of the season, and may be only offered a short-term one or two year deal.
The second option may be to look at free agency. There are several free agents at the running back position in 2014, and since the NFL has become a passing league, the running back position is not as highly paid or attended to as in years past. Here are a few possibilities that may be available at the running back position:
Maurice Jones-Drew: The former pro-bowler out of nearby De La Salle High School has been a solid producer for the Jaguars for over eight seasons, but is nearing the dreaded “30 year old” range for running backs. The last few seasons, Jones Drew has missed several games due to injury, which may be attributed to the Jaguars over usage early in his career. Jones-Drew is looking to prove that he still has gas left in the tank, and may be worth a short-term contract.
Toby Gerhart: The Stanford product, and Heisman Trophy runner up is aching to show what he can do as a starter in the NFL. Gerhart has mired in Minnesota as the back up to All-Pro Adrian Peterson for the past four seasons. Gerhart will be 27 years old when the season starts, and has never felt the rigors of being an every-down back throughout a full NFL season. Gerhart may be available at a reduced rate, and could be another short-term option for the Raiders.
LeGarrette Blount: Blount has all of the physical tools to be an every-down back in the NFL. At 6’0 and 250lbs, many have described his running style as “angry”, and that he enjoys making contact. He has talent, but also has had baggage with anger issues throughout his career. The Patriots took a chance on Blount in 2013, and it paid off with a solid season. Blount may be worth a one-year contract, ripe with performance incentives.
The 3rd option, and possibly best option, is to look towards the NFL draft to carry on the tradition. Here are a few options that will be available in the upcoming draft:
Tre Mason (Auburn): The standout running back burst into national prominence in 2013 with his dominating performance in the SEC championship game against the Missouri Tigers with 304 yards rushing on 46 carries. He broke former Raider Bo Jackson’s 18-year season rushing record for Auburn with 1,816 yards in 2013. He does not have the same blazing speed as McFadden did by posting a 4.5 40 yard dash time at the recent combine, but makes up for it with field awareness, and ability to break big plays. Mason may be worth a look in round two or three if he is still available.
Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona): The Pac-12 Player of the Year out of the University of Arizona is an intriguing option for the Raiders. Carey dominated at running back in Tucson, and showed flashes of brilliance on the national stage in the upset win over Oregon. Carey has all of the physical tools to be an every-down back, however he did not impress scouts at the combine with his sub-par 4.7 40-yard dash time. Carey also comes with character questions with regards to his domestic violence arrest while in Tucson. Carey would benefit being behind an established veteran, and has the physical tools to become a solid professional. The Raiders may be best suited to select him in the second or third round if he is still available.
Carlos Hyde (Ohio State): This fifth year senior is the ultimate in the North-South running style. Many scouts have said that he is a “bruiser in the backfield”, and that he is not afraid of contact. At 6’0 and 240lbs, he has solid speed with a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and has the physical tools to be an every-down back. Hyde does have a few character concerns, and may be best suited to learn from a veteran presence. Many draft experts are projecting Hyde to be selected no later than the third round.
One thing is for certain, the Raiders will have over $63 million available in cap space, and will be armed with seven draft picks in the upcoming draft. The Raiders and GM Reggie McKenzie will have a plethora of options on continuing the proud tradition at running back.