NFL Preview 2019: Ranking AFC West rushing attacks before training camp

NFL Preview 2019: Ranking AFC West rushing attacks before training camp

Don't look now, but the NFL season is right around the corner.

The Raiders recently completed their rookie mini-camp. Next up is training camp, which begins later this month. It'll be Week 1 before you know it.

Oakland has had a busy offseason, to say the least, overhauling the roster with several new offensive weapons. The Raiders traded for Antonio Brown, signed Tyrell Williams, and used one of three first-round picks (No. 24 overall) on Josh Jacobs, the consensus top running back available in the draft.

Jacobs has yet to sign, but he'll be a focal point of the offense moving forward, and Oakland is counting on him to help elevate its rushing attack. Out of all the AFC West teams, the Raiders were the only one to rank in the bottom half of the league in total rushing yards last season.

There's a reason why Jacobs was the only running back taken in the first round. However, there are multiple Pro-Bowlers at his position within the division, meaning he's got his work cut out for him to become the top rusher in the AFC West.

With that in mind, here's how the AFC West rushing attacks stack up with training camp just weeks away:

1. Los Angeles Chargers

Only two running backs have recorded at least 12 total touchdowns in each of the last three seasons: the Rams' Todd Gurley and the Chargers' Melvin Gordon. In the last two seasons, only Gurley and the Saints' Alvin Kamara have combined for more scores among all skill position players. Considering Gordon missed four games last season and three more two years prior, that's pretty darn impressive.

He's coming off a 2018 campaign in which he averaged a career-best 5.1 yards per rush attempt, and caught 50 passes in just three-quarters of a season. Simply put, Gordon is a nightmare for opposing defenses, both before and after he gets the ball in his hands.

Perhaps the biggest knock against Gordon is his ability to stay healthy. However, with capable backups like Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson on the roster, the Chargers head into training camp with the top rushing unit in the division.

2. Denver Broncos

Here are all of the running backs that rushed for at least 1,000 yards and averaged at least 5.0 yards per attempt last season: New York's Saquon Barkley, Carolina's Christian McCaffrey and Denver's Phillip Lindsay.

Had it not been for Barkley, Lindsay might have been the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. An undrafted player, Lindsay far outperformed even the wildest of expectations, accounting for 1,278 total yards from scrimmage before fracturing his wrist against the Raiders on Christmas Eve. He was named to the Pro Bowl, and is expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp.

Lindsay is a dynamic, but slight player, and should form a potent rushing attack with last year's third-round pick Royce Freeman, health permitting.

3. Oakland Raiders

Jacobs has every quality you look for in a star running back. He's quick, powerful, elusive, and has the speed to break away from the pack.

Running back is typically the easiest position to transition from college to the NFL, and given that Jacobs is coming from a pro-pipeline at the University of Alabama, it's reasonable to expect he'll be a quick study. Still, it's a lot to ask a rookie to be a focal point of the offense, so the Raiders will surely need to spell him at times.

[RELATED: Check out how each Raiders rookie ranks in Madden NFL 20]

That's where Doug Martin and Jalen Richard come in. Martin was a pleasant surprise last season after re-signing in Oakland following Isaiah Crowell's Achilles injury. He appeared in all 16 games, but performed better later in the season, scoring four touchdowns over the final eight weeks (all starts). Richard is most effective as a receiver coming out of the backfield, and is coming off a season in which he tied for the team lead with a career-best 68 receptions.

It will be a three-headed monster of sorts, with Jacobs taking over a greater share of touches as the season wears on.

4. Kansas City Chiefs

Ironically enough, the Chiefs probably have the best offense in the division, but so much of that is based off their passing attack.

It looked as if Kansas City had its running back of the future in Kareem Hunt, but his off-the-field issues forced the Chiefs' hand. They waived Hunt after Week 11, and eventually handed the reins over to Damian Williams, who started the final three games of the regular season and both of the Chiefs' playoff games. Williams caught at least five passes and accounted for at least 96 total yards in four of those five contests, and enters training camp atop Kansas City's depth chart.

However, Williams has never had more than 50 rushing attempts in any season throughout his five-year career, so he won't be a bell cow. The Chiefs were very smart to sign Carlos Hyde -- who is better suited to handle the rushes in between the tackles -- with that in mind.

Raiders injury report: Josh Jacobs 'looked great' in limited practice


Raiders injury report: Josh Jacobs 'looked great' in limited practice

ALAMEDA -- Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was cleared to practice Wednesday, but coach Jon Gruden couldn’t guarantee the rookie would play in Sunday’s Oakland Coliseum finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jacobs had things to prove to both trainers and coaches during the practice week to gain final clearance. It seems it could be coming soon.

Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Jacobs looked great in his return to work after missing last week’s loss to the Tennessee Titans with a fractured shoulder suffered in Week 7.

“He looked great,” Olson said. “He’s been a pro, and obviously he’s shown that he can play with injuries. He’s had different nagging injuries throughout the season, but he’s a tough player, and again, that’s a part of the reason why we drafted him. ...

"We just feel good about him right now.”

The Raiders got another valued rookie back on the practice field, with wide receiver Hunter Renfrow working for the first time since injuring his ribs and lung in an away loss to the New York Jets.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be ready to go right away. A Week 16 meeting with the L.A. Chargers previously was designated as a return target and still might be the case after limited work Thursday.

“He was able to go through individuals today and routes,” Olson said. “Just no contact, but he looked great, so it’s good to have him out on the field. Brought a little juice to the offense. They’re excited to see him out there.”

[RELATED: How Guden's bond with Coliseum runs deep]

Right guard Gabe Jackson was a non-participant in Thursday’s work as he continues to battle through a knee injury that has negatively impacted consistently solid play. Right tackle Trent Brown remains out with a pectoral injury, without much to suggest he’ll be ready to play Sunday.

Brandon Parker will play for Brown, and Denzelle Good will step in if Jackson can’t go.

Raiders practice report

Did not practice
OT Trent Brown (pectoral)
LB Kyle Wilber (ankle)
RG Gabe Jackson (knee)
CB Daryl Worley (neck)
LB Marquel Lee (toe)

Limited practice
WR Hunter Renfrow (rib)
RB Josh Jacobs (shoulder)
C Rodney Hudson (ankle)
CB Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring)
WR Marcell Ateman (ribs)
S Erik Harris (hamstring)

How Jon Gruden's unique bond with Oakland Raiders fans runs deep

How Jon Gruden's unique bond with Oakland Raiders fans runs deep

OAKLAND -- Jon Gruden walked toward midfield with a tense Raiders victory finally secure, exchanging pleasantries with L.A. Chargers coaches he spent all week trying to beat. He worked that crowd with smiles, handshakes and bro hugs, spending most of his time looking for open space.

The Raiders head coach found some and quickly made a break for it.

Gruden doubled his pace, removed his jacket and headed straight for the Black Hole. The notorious fan section was ready and waiting for another moment with their man, one of their greatest champions.

Gruden got the Elvis treatment over 54 seconds walking Oakland Coliseum’s southern rail, borderline mobbed while trying to make personal connections with this devoted following. He accomplished that mission several times over, reveling in a Week 10 victory with people dressed like gorillas and fighter pilots and other creepy outfits only fit for the Coliseum and Halloween.

Gruden stood before the press a short while later, face paint smudging his cheek and spilled beer on his shoulder, his jacket and visor given away in the crowd.

He was asked, clearly by a reporter unfamiliar with his disposition, if those Black Hole trips were getting a little too rough to repeat.

“No, I never think that,” Gruden said. “Every win, I’m going down there. I get face paint all over me. I get to see some costumes I have not seen before at any football games. It’s awesome.”

Gruden’s bond with the fan base runs deep. That’s especially true in Oakland, still the capital of Raider Nation.

“There’s something about these people,” Gruden said. “They’re nuts. They’re the closest thing to me that I’ve ever seen. We have that in common.”

There is grit and determination, a ferocious bark and bite in Gruden and his followers. And, of course, they share an unwavering devotion to all things Raiders. They are like family in that they can be at times mad with Gruden’s performance while still wishing him well.

That kinship always will stay with Gruden, even as the Raiders transition to Las Vegas in 2020. Relocation’s right around the bend, with but one game left at Oakland Coliseum. That comes Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which he hopes to punctuate with one more celebration in the Black Hole.

“That’s what I coach for,” Gruden said. “I love people. I love football and they love it more than anybody. People can make fun of me and say whatever they want, but when we win, I’m going down there. And when we lose, usually I stick around the parking lot, hang out with the guys and try to get them ready for the next home game. I like to share my joy with some joyous Raiders fans as much as possible.”

That’s Gruden’s way of saying thank you for ardent support during his days as a 30-something head coach. It’s a thank you for keeping him in high esteem after he got traded to Tampa Bay – the 2002 Super Bowl and a 2004 return to the Coliseum are rare exceptions – and eventually moved into broadcasting. It’s a thank you for patience while he rebuilds the Raiders roster during his return to the Silver and Black.

Gruden earned loyalty from a fanbase starving for a return to greatness. The Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995, after 13 seasons and a Super Bowl win in Los Angeles. The second East Bay stint started with three subpar seasons under two head coaches before Al Davis hired Philadelphia’s 35-year old offensive coordinator in 1998.

Gruden entered with a plan and started to execute it well, following two 8-8 seasons with an AFC West title and a trip to the conference championship game.

“Success makes you exciting,” said former Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman, who worked under Gruden from 1998-2000 before retiring to become a pastor. “Him coming in with a new attitude and passion and all those facial expressions made him a popular figure. During that short period of time, there was a lot of winning and overall excitement surrounding the team. Raiders fans were so hungry to win, and he was the face of that new movement.”

Kaufman’s right. Gruden’s personality was an important part of that package. All the dramatic facial expressions and raised eyebrows, all the yelling and the four-letter words let fans know he was giving ‘em hell on their behalf. His commitment to the craft became legend, with the entire East Bay aware he was getting up at 3:17 a.m. to help the Raiders win.

“He brought what I would I refer to as a zest and a zeal that had been missing,” former Raiders CEO Amy Trask said. “He was also just so expressive that fans likened him to Chucky and he embraced that, and it really took off. …The popularity of Jon Gruden grew and grew among Raiders fans.”

That was especially true in 2001, when Gruden won another division crown and was controversially felled by the NFL’s tuck rule in New England. Fans stayed true even after he was traded from Oakland to Tampa Bay for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million. They obviously were upset after he beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, but time healed that wound.

That was clear when he came back to Oakland Coliseum to broadcast an NFL preseason game between the Raiders and Cowboys. Gruden rarely, if ever, left the press level when covering games, but took a lap before that 2012 exhibition that went just like recent his trips to the Black Hole. Fans lined the rails waiting for a moment of his time or an autograph, proof that their adoration never died.

Neither has Gruden’s connection to this region. He certainly hoped to give it another shot at glory this season but couldn’t keep a midseason hot streak going long enough to remain in the playoff hunt. That sets up an Oakland Coliseum finale that carries few football ramifications but plenty of emotion for Gruden, his family and everyone in the stands.

[RELATED: Carr shares special connection with Coliseum, where QB came of age]

Gruden hasn’t been nostalgic heading into this game, choosing to focus on the preparation required to give these Raiders fans one more win to end this Oakland era. It’s one more chance to salute an area that means so much to him.

“In a lot of ways I was raised here, you know what I mean?” Gruden said. “It was the beginning of my NFL coaching career, at least my head coaching career. I just love it here. I had my first son here and I have a lot of history here. And some of my friends, a lot of my friends are in the Black Hole. A lot of my only friends are here. (laughter) I don’t have a lot of friends except the guys in the Black Hole. I only get to see them six or seven times, and I get emotional talking about it.

“Look, we’re excited about the future in Las Vegas. I don’t want to underestimate that either, but we’re also very respectful of where we come from.”