Marshawn Lynch is nearing the end of his career. Doug Martin may or may not have anything left after years of injuries and poor play. DeAndre Washington has regressed since his rookie year and has not been effective in any role he actually excelled at Texas Tech. Jalen Richard was inconsistent with fumbling & drop issues. Neither of these backs are the long-term starter once Lynch & Martin hang up their cleats. The Raiders need a running back to push Martin and spell Lynch in a worst-case scenario of Richard or Washington not producing.
Rashaad Penny: San Diego State
By far one of the most dynamic, multi-purpose running backs in the draft, Penny’s value is priceless as a change of pace and third down back provides security on special teams. His ability is unquestioned on kick returns & averaging seven yards a carry in a 2,000-yard season. Penny could be the future long after Lynch & Martin & already has three down back potential.
Kalen Ballage: Arizona State
Ballage is a big back with major speed for his size. (4.46 40 at combine) Due to the complexity of former Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham’s spread offense, ASU running backs had to be able to run routes like a receiver, catch out the backfield, pass block and play special teams. Ballage had experience playing in the slot as a receiver and as a wildcat quarterback.
Ballage tied the NCAA single game touchdown record with eight (seven rushing, one receiving) against Texas Tech his junior year. He is not ready to be a day one starter but he can what former Raider Michael Bush never materialized as in a power back with some game-breaking ability. He has experience as a dangerous kick returner with a 96-yard kick return touchdown in the Sun Bowl his freshman year. With his versatile skill set, Ballage can fill multiple roles, develop into a third down back, and create mismatches in the passing game. With a deep running back class, Ballage could be available between the third to sixth rounds. He might be the best fit if Penny is off the board.
Royce Freeman: Oregon
He is not the flashiest or physical runner but Freeman is one of the most efficient runners in the draft. Freeman still finished his career as Oregon’s all-time leading rusher & seventh all-time in NCAA history. He is an incredibly consistent & tenacious runner. Freeman is well rounded & protects the football. With his natural running style & vision, trying him out at punt and kick returner might produce surprising results for the Raiders. It would be shocking if he lasted until the fifth round.
Nyheim Hines: North Carolina State
With 4.38 speed, Hines ran the fastest time among all running backs at the NFL draft. He’d be the perfect complement to Lynch because of his ability running off tackle. He also excels in the short passing game and on punt and kick returns. His brilliance on special teams is that the junior scored a special teams touchdown every year of his college career. He had four scoring lays of at least 40 yards.
Hines scored kick return touchdowns his first two seasons and ended his junior year with a punt return touchdown. Hines could be just as effective as Darren Sproles/Tarik Cohen. For a running back, he averaged 10 yards per catch for his college career. However, he will need to improve his natural catching ability and blocking but he fills a void. Hines could fall to the fifth round based on his niche talent.
Philip Lindsey: Colorado
Although snubbed from the NFL combine invitation, Lindsey was the epitome of the little engine that could and did power the Colorado Buffaloes offense. After running an unofficial 4.39 at the Colorado Pro Day, the Buffaloes’ all-time leader in all-purpose yardage put to bed any questions about his athletic ability. He was one of the toughest inside runners during his time in college. In addition, he served as a reliable receiver, blocker, and kick returner. Lindsey is also the programs second all-time leading rusher. One of the unquestioned leaders on that team. As a result, Lindsey was the only three-time team captain in school history. He could be a pleasant find in the sixth or seventh round & based off his tenacity as a player, might be the ideal Gruden Grinder.