The lead back Jon Gruden historically leans upon is not on the Oakland Raiders roster.
With all due respect to Marshawn Lynch. On the contrary, I believe Beast Mode (891 yards and 7 touchdowns on 209 carries this past season) is a valuable piece of the Gruden attack if both the Raiders and the player green light a 2018 campaign. Best deployed as an early and late/finish-him battering ram, Lynch showed he has plenty of pep in his step. NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling unearthed this fine nugget: Lynch was the fourth-best running back in the league from Week 13-17 (434 yards, 2 TDs)
Nevertheless, giving the 32-year-old running back the lead back role again is not a sustainable investment. Lynch’s highest tote of the season was 26 in Week 12. Not to mention, a 25-carry evening in Week 16 was the only other instance he broke the 20-carry plateau.
As you have probably gathered, I do not mean DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, or Elijah Hood when I say younger backs. Washington and Richard excel as spot/relief runners who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Hood is the unknown commodity but has the makings of a bruiser like Lynch.
That leaves the Raiders with free agency and the draft to find a bellcow/workhorse type tailback. Someone who can fill the Garner role. What do I mean by that? Back in 2001 and 2002, Gruden dialed up plays for lead back Charlie Garner and steamroller Tyrone Wheatley. In ‘01, Garner galloped for 839 yards with a TD and produced 578 more through the air. Wheatley, on the other hand, rumbled for 276 yards and five scores. The duo was more productive in 2002 as Garner ran for 962 yards (7 TDs) and generated 941 yards as a receiving option. Wheatley powered for 419 yards (two scores).
Garner was the speedy and agile back compared to the violent physical runner Wheatley was. The Raiders need to go find the modern version of Garner. Not necessarily pure speed or agile back, but one that cannot handle the load. One that Gruden himself openly wondered if Oakland had during his introductory press conference.
Here is a glance look at ball carriers available in free agency and the draft:
Le’Veon Bell. The 26-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers feature back is the prototype back for a Gruden offense. He will not escape the Steel City.
Carlos Hyde and Jerick McKinnon. Hyde is the older of the two at 27 (McKinnon is 25), but both can handle the workload running and catching.
- Keep an eye on: Isaiah Crowell and Jeremy Hill. With that said, Crowell could sign for a bargain.
Saquon Barkley The elite prospect is the lead horse in a deep stable of draftable tailbacks. Vision, power, speed, and soft hands. That is a Gruden-type back if there ever was one.
Derrius Guice and Kerryon Johnson. These stud prospects are Day 2 types, but have a chance to go on the first day of the draft. Both were team-engine types in college (LSU and Auburn).
- Keep an eye on Penny, Kelly, Freeman, Michel, and Chubb.