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FSM Presents: 2021 Raiders Position Preview- Running Backs

Franchise Sports Media

 

The second part of Franchise Sports Media’s breakdown of the 2021 Las Vegas Raiders positional groups shifts the focus to the running backs. Unlike the quarterbacks, which almost certainly will be unchanged, the backfield has the biggest addition to the offense in terms of the skill positions. But we will get to that in a second.

 

The Raiders Realist
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As it has been in the past three years, the major focus remains on the talented 2019 first-round pick, Josh Jacobs. While Jacobs made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career in 2020, I honestly believe he regressed a little bit from the dynamic production he gave the Raiders offense in his rookie year.

Despite starting and playing in two more games, catching 13 more passes, and having 31 more carries in 2020 than in 2019, Jacobs actually had fewer total scrimmage yards (1303 vs. 1316 in 2019). For whatever reason, he just did not seem as explosive as he had the year before, and that was reflected in his 3.9 yards per carry average and his longest run of the entire season being a mere 28 yards.

 

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That said, Jacobs showed a lot of toughness and durability running behind an inconsistent run-blocking offensive line and scoring 12 rushing touchdowns, a big jump from the seven in his rookie year. Although his carries per game are almost identical to his rookie year (18.2 in 2020 vs. 18.6 in 2019), I get the sense that Jon Gruden wanted someone capable of more than just spelling Jacobs to help share the load in 2021.

Enter Kenyan Drake, perhaps the most scrutinized of the Raiders free-agent acquisitions. While his talent and big-play potential, and ability are not in question, what did generate them was the size of his contract. I am not going to rehash the entirety of that debate. Still, I will say, for $11 million guaranteed, the Raiders are expecting more than the surprising positive production they received from Devontae Booker in 2020.

 

Personally, I think the Drake fit is a good one. I think Drake’s solid but not spectacular 2020 season in Arizona as their starting running back may have shown his best fit is as a compliment and big-play threat and not so much as an every-down back. His production in Miami came while never having more than 175 total combined touches as a runner and receiver. If the Raiders can get the 2017 or 2018 version of Drake, it would be money well spent.

 

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As far as the third back in this rotation, right now, it remains in the hands of one of the last remaining players from the Reggie McKenzie era, Jalen Richard. In terms of his ability to contribute to the team, that is not a great surprise. The reason why so many are a bit surprised that Richard has continued to stick is the $3.5 million due to him for the 2021 season.

Considering that Richard’s dead cap hit is only the $125,000 he received as a workout bonus, there is still the possibility that he could end up on the outside looking in before the season begins. You can never say anything for sure with Gruden’s tempestuous nature with roster building. However, I am hard-pressed to think someone else could step in and be ready the way Richard has shown the ability to do time and time again in the last five years.

That said, there are a few contenders, albeit all rather fringe, in my opinion. The first is veteran Theo Riddick. Riddick had a bit role in four total games in 2020, amassing just 57 combined rushing and receiving yards. To be perfectly honest, the only way I could see Riddick sticking initially would be if Richard falls on his face in training camp and then preseason and the Raiders front office deciding to use that cap space to sign a veteran. Otherwise, Riddick is more likely fighting for a veteran practice squad spot.

 

The other two players are undrafted rookies Trey Ragas and Garrett Groshek. Starting with Ragas, who is a bowling ball of a runner at 5’10” and around 230 pounds. Gruden loves runners with physicality and Ragas certainly does not lack that. What the rookie from Louisiana also has is great vision. If that carries over into the NFL, Ragas has a chance to surprise.

 

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He is not a burner by any stretch, but what he does do well is consistently get positive yards and patiently follow his linemen.

Groshek is a bit of a mystery. The Raiders gave him a guaranteed $65,000 upon signing him, not a small figure for an undrafted rookie free agent. What that says is that they had some level of priority for him, and to a certain extent, I can understand why. He strikes me as someone that would go all out on special teams and is a solid pass catcher, two traits that could only help his chances.

What holds him back is a lack of speed and ability to finish runs. His chance to make the team feels like a really long shot at best. Unless he happens to challenge the final person in this group for a different spot on the team.

 

Last but certainly not least, the incumbent fullback (yes, that position still matters people) is Alec Ingold. A fan favorite and by all accounts a stand-up guy in the Las Vegas community, Ingold nonetheless had struggled at times as a lead blocker for Raider runners in 2020. The hope is that it is an aberration as there appears to be no serious threat to his job going into 2021, assuming Groshek is not switched over from running back.

 

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The hope is not just for Ingold, but the Raiders running game, on the whole, is the return to the outside zone blocking scheme. It disappeared in 2020 due to injury and lack of athleticism on the offensive line, and a return should help kick start more chunk plays while also helping them become less predictable and minimize negative plays, something that plagued the team.

Knowing Jon Gruden’s history, the continuity of the offense will be predicated on the ability of the running backs to make plays in the run game. A return to form for Jacobs and a return to a familiar position for Drake combined with the return of a successful blocking scheme appears to be the Raiders best bet to help prevent another playoff mirage in the desert in 2021. Because the better this combination performs, the less pressure is not just on the passing game but also on the defense, which we should all be rooting for.

 

Next up on the FSM 2021 Raiders Positional Preview Joe Arrigo will have the wide receiver and tight end group.

 

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CJ Baldwin – Franchise Sports Media

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