It wasn’t that long ago that the Oakland Raiders’ running back corps was a patchwork quilt of mediocrity.
In 2014, the often-injured Darren McFadden led the team with 534 yards rushing while averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. Behind him were an untested Latavius Murray, an over-the-hill Maurice Jones-Drew and standout fullback Marcel Reece, who was occasionally forced into the running back role.
Now, as the Raiders veterans prepare to report later this week for training camp, the Raiders’ rushing attack is one of the best in the NFL, powered by a formidable offensive line and a deep group of talented backs. In 2016, the Raiders ranked sixth in the NFL, averaging 120.1 rushing yards per game, led by Latavius Murray and two rookies, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.
This season, the group could be significantly better even with the departure of Murray.
In fact, John Kosko of the analytic website Pro Football Focus Tuesday released his rankings of all 32 backfields in the NFL, and he put the Raiders at No. 8, but noted the team could be much higher if things fall into place as the team hopes.
“If Marshawn Lynch returns to his tackle-breaking form after taking a year off, this unit could top the list by the end of the season,” wrote Kosko. “In his last two fully healthy seasons (2013 and 2014) with Seattle, Lynch racked up a monstrous 214 forced missed tackles on the ground and an additional 24 as a receiver.
“It’s hard to fathom he’ll put up numbers like that again, but his presence can’t be ignored. Add to the mix the returning No. 1 elusive back in 2016 in Jalen Richard, a solid change-of-pace back in DeAndre Washington and … Elijah Hood, and the Raiders have a full and complete backfield.”
Hood, a seventh-round pick from North Carolina, is more of a power back than Washington and Richard, at 5-foot-11½ and 232 pounds. For the Tar Heels over three seasons, he rushed for 29 touchdowns and 2,580 yards. He could be a capable backup to Lynch or be a strong fill-in should Lynch suffer an injury.
Pre-training camp already has begun for the Raiders, with the full squad due to report Thursday.