Since being drafted in the fourth round out of Nebraska in 2011, running back Roy Helu has started just five NFL games in four seasons.
He’s never rushed for more than the 640 yards he collected his rookie season when he was named to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team. Since that season, he’s been a supporting player.
But when the Raiders signed Helu last week, after he had finished out his four-year rookie deal with Washington, Oakland added a player who could have a big impact in new coordinator Bill Musgrave’s offense in 2015.
Helu is a role player – but a very good one. The 6-foot, 216-pounder is a great third-down back with change-of-pace speed and fine receiving skills out of the backfield, something the Raiders have lacked in recent seasons.
Last season, for instance, Helu carried the ball just 40 times, but picked up 216 yards – a 5.4-yard average. And, over his four NFL seasons, he has a 4.4-yard average. And as a receiver, he’s a good-hands playmaker. Last season he caught 42 passes on 47 targets for 477 yards, a terrific 11.4-yard average. On 129 receptions over his pro career, he has an 8.9-yard average.
It’s believed that in Musgrave’s re-imagined offensive scheme, the Raiders will be a more up-tempo, often no-huddle unit, with elements of the spread – a perfect system to employ the pass-catching and third-down abilities of Helu.
Chris Burke, who covers the NFL for Sports Illustrated, wrote when Helu signed with Oakland that it was a good move by GM Reggie McKenzie.
“Been driving the Helu bandwagon,” he tweeted. “Underrated player.”
Helu, originally from Danville (where he played at San Ramon Valley High), is coming home to the Bay Area on a two-year deal that will pay him a reported $4 million, according to Adam Caplan of NFL.com.
If Musgrave is intent on opening up the offense with screens and short passes to running backs out of the backfield in 2015 – giving quarterback Derek Carr some safety routes as needed -- then Helu could be an impact player. As John Keim of ESPN.com noted, Helu was the second-best running back in the NFL in 2014 on screen passes, averaging 14 yards per screen reception.
“Helu has skills that teams should desire if they want a third-down back and a guy who can help in a pinch,” wrote Keim.
That seems the ideal job description for a guy expected to complement Latavius Murray.