Editor's note: Here is the second installment of a five-part series on the organization’s top offseason priorities.
Latavius Murray made the Pro Bowl for last season’s efforts.
His 1,066 rushing yards ranked sixth in the NFL and was the Raiders’ first quadruple-digit effort in five years, but the 6-foot-3 slasher walked away disappointed in his effort. His team's ground game was a cause of frustration. The Raiders ranked No. 28 with just 91.1 rushing yards per game.
It’s hard to blame Murray for that total. He left yards on the field, but was the team’s only productive rusher. The Raiders’ No. 2 rusher was quarterback Derek Carr, with 138 yards. Jamize Olawale’s 100 yards was second-best among backs, a paltry sum in these modern times.
Even feature backs need reliable backups, a service Roy Helu Jr. did not provide. Last year’s free agent pickup was lauded as a quality third-down back, but production never materialized. Helu was a healthy scratch far too often, leaving Murray to carry the lion’s share. Speedster Taiwan Jones was another backup option, but ball security issues and injuries limited his opportunities.
[BAIR: Raiders desperately need a secondary overhaul]
Fullback Marcel Reece has been a productive rusher in years past, but had just 10 carries in 2015. Even if he was an option, Reece will miss the first three games for violating the league’s PED policy.
While they have several backs under contract, the Raiders need an upgrade to pair with Murray. The 2013 sixth-round pick stands tall but is more slasher than bruiser, and importing someone to accent those talents could help the Raiders' ground game. It faltered too often last year, making the Raiders offense one dimensional and at times unproductive.
The Raiders have options when it comes to improving the ground game. Quality running backs have come later in the NFL draft –- Murray came at the end of 2013’s selection -– or in the middle rounds. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has the Raiders taking a rusher far earlier, using the 14th pick on Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott.
The Raiders could also go with a veteran option on a shorter-term contract. They have the cash to pay a bigger name like Arizona’s Chris Johnson, New Orleans’ Tim Hightower or Chicago’s Matt Forte, though free-agent rushers are a gamble to be sure. Green Bay’s James Starks could be a quality option, and Denver’s Ronnie Hillman might offer upside given he’s just 24 years old.
The Raiders need a compliment to Murray, but finding the right accent piece will be key. It might not be the biggest or most expensive player available.