This past summer, Jalen Richard was just another undrafted rookie in the Raiders training camp. In July, the former Southern Mississippi running back was a long shot to make the opening-game roster.
Then, he injured his knee, slowing his progress.
But early on, Richard gave the Raiders a glimpse of something special. At just 5-foot-8, he showed coaches and teammates a terrific quickness and ability to make tacklers miss. He also proved that, even at his size, he was strong enough to play in the NFL.
When Richard’s knee healed and he was able to get back on the field for practice and the exhibition season, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was excited.
“For a while he was doing something spectacular each and every day in practice,” Musgrave told reporters in late August. “It’s good to have him back out there.”
Now 10 games into the regular season, Richard has been a revelation.
He’s been a playmaker out of the backfield as both a ballcarrier and receiver and has given the Raiders’ return game a breakaway threat.
On Monday night, he continued to play a big role for this 8-2 team, catching his first career touchdown pass, a 17-yarder from Derek Carr in the second quarter. Though the Raiders couldn’t get much going on the ground in their 27-20 victory over the Texans in Mexico City, Richard caught three passes for 50 yards, including one for 29, plus the TD.
In quantity of snaps, Richard hasn’t played a leading role. In quality of production, he’s been off-the-charts good.
He’s averaging 6.1 yards per carry as a running back, with a 75-yard TD run. He has 21 catches for an average of 8.2 per reception. He’s returned 21 punts an average of 10.3 yards, with a long return of 47 yards. He also has returned a kickoff 50 yards and is averaging 24.9 yards per return.
Richard, thrown into the mix with the team’s other offensive playmakers – such as Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Latavius Murray and Seth Roberts – has given the Raiders another exciting option, along with fellow rookie running back DeAndre Washington.
“I just try to come in every day and make an impact every game I can, and help the team (make) plays and to help the team win,” he told the media after Monday night’s victory. “It shows the confidence that the coaching staff has in me to put me in those situations to make plays and put me in the best situations that show my skill set. Any opportunity that I have, I have to make the best of them.”
The Raiders, now sole leaders of the AFC West, will play host to the 4-6 Carolina Panthers this Sunday at O.co Coliseum.