Running back Kory Sheets (No. 1) starred in Canada with the Roughriders. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Kory Sheets has gone from Rider Nation to Raider Nation, and couldn’t be happier about it.
The running back, who helped the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League win the 2013 Grey Cup, signed last week with Oakland as a free agent after spending two seasons in Canada.
So what are the Raiders getting in Sheets?
Sheets, who is 5-foot-11 and 208 pounds, rushed for 1,598 and 1,277 yards in his two seasons for the Roughriders, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. And, in the Grey Cup championship game, he rushed for 197 yards and was named Most Valuable Player.
But his success in Canada came after failed stints with the 49ers, Dolphins and Panthers, in which he only got to play in two NFL games. Those came with Miami in 2009, when he had just one carry for 5 yards.
Now 28, Sheets says he was able to earn a starting job in Saskatchewan by becoming a better all-around player.
“I’m a more complete player,” Sheets told 95.7 The Game in an interview after signing, talking about his previous time in the NFL. “I’m a lot more patient runner and a lot better blocker.”
Though he’s not a big running back, Sheets said he can run the ball on any type of play.
“I can run through a guy or shake them,” he said.
Signing Sheets gives the Raiders a bit of depth at running back ahead of free agency and the draft. The Raiders seemingly would like to retain Rashad Jennings, who played well in 2013, and have Latavius Murray, who was drafted last season but didn’t play because of injury. Starting running back Darren McFadden, however, is expected to leave in free agency.
Sheets said the Raiders have only promised him an opportunity to earn a spot, and that’s all he wants.
“They didn’t say anything about (being) a featured guy yet but they did say I’d have a chance to compete for a position,” he told The Game, adding: “This is a perfect place for me. I’m happy.”
Sheets played four sold seasons at Purdue, rushing for 3,341 yards and 48 touchdowns. His best season was 2008, his senior season, when he rushed for 1,131 yards for 16 TDs and had 37 catches for 253 yards. He had 108 catches at Purdue.
He was signed by the 49ers as a free agent and spent time on their practice squad before being picked up by the Dolpins. He was injured and eventually waived by the Dolphins, the signed by the Panthers to their practice squad in 2011. After being released, he signed with Saskatchewan.
In his MVP performance in the Grey Cup, Sheets broke the rushing record for the Canadian championship game (169 yards) that had stood since 1956.
Sheets’ breakthrough in Canada proved what he had always believed, that he could be a standout, every-down back. In the NFL, he never really got the chance to show his skills. When he was with the Dolphins, Miami brought in Ricky Williams and Reggie Bush, but Sheets was determined to be the team’s No. 1 back.
“I don’t care who they bring in,” he told the Miami Herald in August of 2011. “I don’t care who they draft. In my head, they’re going to be the No. 2 back. And I’m going to be the starter.”
He was also talked about as a change-of-pace running back, but Sheets believed he should be a starter.
“Everybody wants to label me as a third-down back,” he told the Herald. “That’s not who I am. I’m an every-down back. There’s not one person in this league that can tell me I’m just going to play on third down.”
Sheets had to go to Canada to prove his worth. Now, he’s getting one more shot at the NFL.Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com, who covers the Raiders, considers the signing a no-lose propositon for the team.
Wrote Gutierrez: "If nothing else, the CFL's Grey Cup MVP is going to be very hungry to prove he belongs in the NFL after starring up north. As as such, he's going to provide some competition at running back."