Jon Gruden typically spreads the love among his running backs. There’s never a true split – his primary back has exceeded 180 carries in all 11 of his seasons as head coach – but his backups have received 90-plus carries six times. Multiple backs have averages 650-plus all-purpose yards eight times under Gruden.
That wasn’t the case last season, with Marshawn Lynch did most of the damage. The Raiders haven’t diversified their rushing attack much (save 2016) in recent seasons, a trend that will change under Gruden.
Lynch remains the bell cow, but Doug Martin could play a significant role in this offense.
Don’t forget about the fullbacks, a rarely used position revived under Gruden. That’s good news for Keith Smith, who should be heavily involved offensively, especially in the passing game.
The blocking scheme will vary, with multiple zone concepts and the good, ol’ fashioned power the offensive line’s built for. There should be carries to go around in this group, though Lynch will get the lion’s share.
RB Marshawn Lynch, RB Doug Martin, RB DeAndre Washington, RB Jalen Richard, RB Chris Warren, FB Keith Smith, FB Ryan Yurachek
Best Of The Bunch: Lynch
Most professional rushers fall off the map at 30 years old. All the hits, working hard over so many yards can take a toll. Lynch didn’t show such wear in last season’s second half.
This generation’s toughest takedown ran strong late in the year, improving on a slow start to 2017. Lynch didn’t meld with the Raiders system right away, but showed resolve down the stretch following a one-game suspension for his role in a brawl with Kansas City. He should fare better with new offensive line coach Tom Cable, who ran the blocking scheme during his salad days in Seattle.
He might not produce the 1,339 yards he averaged from 2011-14, but Lynch will still be primary battering ram in Gruden’s offense. Even at 32 years old, Lynch should still produce.
Top Camp Battle: Washington vs. Richard
This pair turned pro in 2016, with both members making an impact as rookies and second-year pros. One problem: They ran the same. Coaches were asked time and again to differentiate the two, without many evident separations. Both guys are smaller in stature. Both guys can slash and sprint and catch passes out of the backfield. Both guys return punts and kicks. Both fit in Gruden’s offense, but both could be considered complimentary pieces.
Another problem: Gruden probably doesn’t need two guys for one role, especially with Lynch and Martin expected to assume large roles and fullback Keith Smith in an important offensive role. That might make for an intense camp battle this summer and one tough cut for an NFL-caliber back.
The undrafted rookie from Texas is an intriguing prospect, a bulldozer at 6-foot-2, 246 pounds. His power and size means he could be a hybrid back capable of blocks and carries from the backfield. Roster spots are hard to come by in this position group, but a strong summer (and quality special teams play) could put him in the mix for a surprise roster spot. Some practice squad seasoning might help, and prep him for an injury-related promotion.
We haven’t talked enough about Martin yet. That changes now. The 29-year old Stockton native impressed this spring – we know, pads weren’t on yet – and showed great burst. This might be Martin’s last chance to revive his career after two down years. He seems hell bent on maximizing it.
Don’t sleep on him earning a larger-than-expected role in the offense.