Jalen Richard went undrafted in 2016 out of Southern Mississippi. All 32 teams passed on the 5-foot-8 running back.
Yet three years after signing with the Raiders in May of that year, Richard continues to show the NFL he belongs. In fact, Richard has proven himself as a versatile playmaker and change-of-pace back who gives the Raiders plenty of options when he’s lined up in the backfield.
The three-year deal Richard, now 25, signed in 2016 came to an end after this past season, and Richard could leave as a restricted free agent. But it seems likely that head coach Jon Gruden and new general manager Mike Mayock will keep him in the offense as a complementary piece.
In 2018, Richard produced a career-high 866 yards from scrimmage, averaging seven yards every time he touched the ball.
Richard averaged 4.7 yards on 55 rushing attempts, for 259 yards and a touchdown, but it was as a receiver that he excelled. He had 68 catches for 607 yards, an 8.9-yard average, and had a catch rate of 84 percent on the 81 passes thrown in his direction. Previously, his season high in catches was 29, as a rookie in 2016.
The analytic website Pro Football Focus graded Richard as the eighth-best pass-receiving running back in the NFL in 2018. His yards per route run ranked No. 2 in the NFL, noted Pro Football Focus.
Richard has thrived as a receiver in Gruden’s West Coast scheme, where short routes are the norm in a ball-control passing game. Gruden has called Richard “a satellite,” a receiver out of the backfield who can float in space and be ready to bail out Carr when he’s under pressure or deeper routes are covered. Richard loves the role.
“I’ve got to think like D.C. (Carr),” Richard said this season. “I have to read coverages like he would read them. When D.C. drops back, where does he want me? I don’t always have a specific area where I’m supposed to be. There are sit-down areas based on where he is and I need to know what he’s thinking.”
In 2018, Richard and Carr obviously were reading each other’s minds, because Richard ended the season tied with tight end Jared Cook as the team’s reception leader (68).
In 2019, the Raiders will again need their satellite.