Raiders position analysis: Running Back

Much like a few other positions for the Raiders, the running back position had a resurgence in 2010. The Raider backfield was the bread and butter of the offense. When the running backs were not racking up rushing yards, they were catching passes out of the backfield.

It is no coincidence that the Raiders had their best season in eight years the same year they had the NFL’s second best rushing attack. And that is to say nothing of the big plays that were made in the receiving game. The Raiders also scored most of their points on the ground. They were second only to the Texans in Rushing touchdowns (19). The most shocking figure may be that the Raiders led the entire NFL in runs of over 20 yards (27) and 40 yards (6). In the 20+ run category, it wasn’t even close. The closest team to the Raiders’ 27 runs over 20 yards was the Giants with 23 and then the Eagles with 19.

Starters:

RB Darren McFadden

He came into his own this season in a big way. There was a noticeable difference in his running style — most notably in the way he finished off runs. He was fully healthy most of the season and that allowed him to show off some moves we have never seen. When he did get caught, he drove through the tackler to pick up a few more yards. Despite being out two games, McFadden still amassed 1157 rushing yards and 507 receiving yards to become the first 1000/500 Raider players since Marcus Allen in 1985. McFadden will be the Raiders starter until further notice. Unlike previous seasons, this time he earned it. 

The one big worry with DMac is whether he can stay healthy. We all saw how ineffective were his first two seasons in part due to lingering injuries. He has yet to go a season without missing at least two games with injury. The Raiders must have a capable backup to fill in for him when he inevitably gets hurt. Having two capable backs is common in today’s NFL.

FB Marcel Reece

He was the Raiders’ only fullback last year. Midway through the season he began to get recognition for the matchup problems he caused opposing defenses. As a fullback, his primary duty was blocking, of which he was more than capable. He also took a few handoffs in short yardage situations. Where he excelled was in the receiving game. He played wide receiver in college at Washington but went undrafted. The Raiders signed him with designs on converting him to tight end. But when the fullback position got thin, he was asked to change positions again. The Raiders realized quickly that they had struck gold — or silver as it were. Reece would often split out wide at receiver, at which point a linebacker was put on him. This matchup favored the speedy former receiver every time. He would also take swing passes and screens out of the backfield, which allowed him to show off his ability to accelerate very quickly. He is still young and has proven to be a valuable weapon as the starting fullback.

The one drawback here is Reece has no backup. They had Mr. Utility, Rock Cartwright, if they needed him, but he is in no way a prototypical fullback. The Raiders will need someone to come in and be that bruising fullback type — a player like a John Ritchie or a Lorenzo Neal. A guy to do the dirty work opening holes for the running backs. Reece did admirably well in that role last season but just about any team has both types of fullback and the Raiders should be no exception.

Depth:

Michael Bush is better than most backups in the NFL. Actually, he is better than a lot of starters. That may actually be to the Raiders detriment since he is set to become a free agent. Bush will very likely get an enticing contract offer from some NFL team to become their new starter. And facing the likelihood of playing in Darren McFadden’s shadow his entire career could prompt him to move on. That is, unless the Raiders slap the franchise tag on him, which seems unlikely. Should he decide to stay in Oakland, he and McFadden would make up arguably the most potent one-two punch in the NFL. The only team with more rushing yards last season was the Chiefs and their number two rusher was the aging Thomas Jones. Bush rushed for 655 yards last season while starting just three games. In those three games, he rushed for 137, 104, and 95 yards. He also had eight rushing touchdowns — one more than Darren McFadden. His rushing TD numbers are due in large part to him being featured in goal line situations. His 243 pound frame made for a shifty battering ram.

Rock Cartwright proved to be extremely valuable last season in many ways. The Raiders recognized his contributions and awarded him with the Commitment to Excellence Award. He earned his check by playing backup running back, backup fullback, reserve kick and punt returner, blocking on returns, and coverage on opposing returns. At the end of last season I named him as my Special Teams Player of the Year. Cartwright earned that by being a primary blocker on two of Jacoby Ford’s return touchdowns, making countless gunner tackles, and blocking a punt in the first win over the Chargers that was recovered for a touchdown. However, while he is extremely valuable for what he does, he is not a suitable number two back either at fullback or running back. If the Raiders lose Bush to free agency, they must look for a replacement either in free agency or the draft.

Michael Bennett played well enough in preseason to cause the Raiders to hold on to four running backs. He hardly saw the field in 2010 and I don’t foresee him being back.

Louis Rankin is back with the Raiders. The Raiders had to make a very difficult decision when they released him prior to the 2009 season and after he had torched the Seahawks in the preseason, Seattle didn’t hesitate to scoop him up off the waiver wire. He was eventually released again and will now have another shot to make the Raiders squad.

Position Breakdown:

The Raiders’ strength at running back all comes down to one thing: whether Michael Bush leaves in free agency. If he stays, the team is only in need of a good bruising fullback. If he leaves, they will have a major need to acquire a serviceable backup for McFadden. He will also have to be a player the Raiders can rely upon to be featured when McFadden goes down with injury.

Roster Status: Moderate

Also see Position Analyses:

Safety   I    Linebacker    I    Cornerback    I    Defensive End    I    Defensive Tackle    I    Special Teams

Quarterback   l   Wide Receiver   l   Tight End   l   Offensive Tackle   l   Guard/Center  

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About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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