Why Jon Gruden Says Raiders' Jalen Richard ‘might Be the MVP of Our Team'

BALTIMORE -- Jon Gruden has grand plans for Jalen Richard.

The Raiders' coach and chief play designer recognizes the young running back's ability to be dangerous out of the backfield and between the tackles, and he has created plays designed to maximize his skill set.

That's something Gruden has done a lot lately, while the skill players around him have changed due to trade or injury. He seems committed to using Richard particularly well.

"There have been plays added to help shape the team we have now," Richard said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. "Earlier, we had plays designed for what Amari [Cooper] was good at. Now, since I've come on some, we have plays to help me do what I do. …That's what a coach is supposed to do, and Gruden does that well.

"He looks at the personnel available and calls plays to help his guys against a specific opponent. We have been making tweaks to plays all year."

Expect Richard to be a feature player Sunday against the host Baltimore Ravens, as the Raiders try to exploit their talented runner frequently labeled a third-down back.

He has been to this point, with the stats to prove it. Richard has a career-high 51 receptions for 435 yards and, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus, he leads the league with 2.62 yards per route run. He's also averaging 4.1 yards per carry in 29 attempts.

[RELATED: Four Raiders players to watch vs. Ravens]

Richard has been the team's most consistent offensive player when accounting for production and health. That's why Gruden holds him in high esteem.

"Jalen Richard might be the MVP of our team," Gruden said. "He's a mean guy, tough guy when the game starts. He is always hard to tackle."

Richard appreciates the compliment, and the steady chances to produce. He just wishes all the yards came with a greater reward.

"It's encouraging to be in a place where you're used right," Richard said. "I feel really comfortable with what I'm being asked to do here. While I definitely appreciate what Coach Gruden has said, I just wish the compliments and increased production came with more wins. That's what I'm playing for. Personal things matter, but I'm big on trying to contribute to victories. That's my job. That's what I get paid to do."

Richard does it well these days working under Gruden. So well, in fact, that Gruden compared Richard to another back who did well under his tutelage.

"He is a Charlie Garner-type back," Gruden said. "He reminds me a lot of Garner, if you all remember him? He's a guy that I think someday could run for 1,000 yards and catch 1,000 yards worth of passes. He's a guy we can line up in the slot, we can line him up out wide.

"He might not be the biggest back, but he plays big. He's very quick and decisive, and he's got great vision."

Garner had 1,417 yards in total offense working with Gruden in 2001, and thrived under the system he left in Oakland after become Tampa Bay's head coach. The pair reunited for a year with the Bucs, and Gruden holds Garner in high esteem.

Gruden hasn't shown Garner tape, though the runner has seen plenty of Theo Riddick and Darren Sproles.

Richard believes he can execute well on passing downs, but he doesn't want to label himself strictly a third-down back.

"Being able to run the ball and catch it is key," Richard said. "I want to be a complete back. People try to label you as small, but I'm 210 pounds. I'm not small. I'm just short. I'm able to get in there and move the pile while still being quick."

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