The news that the Raiders have agreed to terms with veteran running back Maurice Jones-Drew could mean very little to the team’s chances in 2014.
Jones-Drew, after all, has missed 11 games over the past two seasons, is 29 and had the worst yards-per-carry average of his career in 2013, almost a yard and a half less than his 2012 and 2011 averages.
In those aspects, Jones-Drew is very much like Darren McFadden – a seemingly brittle back who has underperformed the past two years.
But unlike McFadden, Jones-Drew has a long history of performance and durability up to 2011. So, while the former Jaguars star may not be what he once was, he still might be a difference-maker in the Raiders offense. The three-time Pro Bowl back led the NFL in rushing in 2011 with 1,606 yards, his third straight season with 1,300 or more yards on the ground, and until he was injured in 2012, Jones-Drew had missed just three games in his first six NFL seasons.
Plus, Jones-Drew – the former Concord De La Salle standout who will be returning home – will sharpen the competition at running back for the Raiders and give them a depth and flexibility they haven’t had in recent seasons. With McFadden, second-year back Latavius Murray and Canadian Football League star Kory Sheets on the roster, offensive coordinator Greg Olsen has some different pieces to use in the offense. And if McFadden goes down, Jones-Drew could be the featured back.
For new quarterback Matt Schaub, Jones-Drew also provides a great third-down receiving option out of the backfield (along with fullback Marcel Reece).
Jones-Drew rushed for 803 yards in 2013 but also had 43 catches for 314 yards. Over his career he’s caught 40 or more passes six times.
Jones-Drew had reportedly met with the Steelers and the Jets before coming to terms with the Raiders Thursday night after a visit in Oakland.
If healthy, McFadden and Jones-Drew would give the Raiders a terrific 1-2 punch behind a much better offensive line re-made through free agency this offseason.
Jones-Drew becomes the latest boom-or-bust veteran signed by GM Reggie McKenzie. Three seasons ago, players such as Jones-Drew, defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley and Schaub would have been at or near the top of the list of players at their positions in the league. Now, the Raiders are hoping they can get a fresh start in a new home and recapture some of their magic.
If Jones-Drew can stay healthy, he could make the Raiders offense much more dynamic in 2014.