Oakland Raiders: Lynch Or Not, Team Still Needs To Draft A Running Back

Nov 25, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back D'Onta Forman (33) reacts against the Texas Christian Horned Frogs during the second half at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. TCU won 31-9. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 25, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back D'Onta Forman (33) reacts against the Texas Christian Horned Frogs during the second half at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. TCU won 31-9. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders find themselves with a gaping hole in their backfield – one that needs to be addressed through the draft.

Having let Latavius Murray walk away as a free agent, the Oakland Raiders find themselves with a gaping hole in their backfield. Murray was a key cog in the Raiders’ three-headed beast of a running attack – one that was the sixth-best in the league in 2016. And now – depending on who or what you believe – the Raiders may (or may not be) close to luring Marshawn Lynch out of retirement to don the Silver and Black.

Signing Lynch – should he be more like the Beast Mode of old than the banged up 2015 version – would be a very solid move. He could certainly bolster a running game and be a key cog in the machine – along with DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard – who helped Oakland’s ground game become one of the best in the league.

But Washington and Richard can’t carry the team’s ground game on their shoulders alone. They need some help. Which would make Lynch – if he still has something in the tank – a perfect candidate to replace Murray.

Whether or not they sign Lynch though, the Raiders are going to need to address the running back position during the upcoming Draft. Signing Lynch would be a stop-gap measure. A one or maybe two season addition to the running back committee – and the Raiders also need to think more long term.

While none of the guys considered the “premier” running backs in this year’s Draft – Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, or Christian McCaffrey – are likely to be on the board at number twenty-four, there are still some solid backs GM Reggie McKenzie could go after in the mid to late rounds.

Given that they have two smaller, quicker backs in Richard and Washington – guys who are lightning fast and elusive – they need a big bodied banger for running between the tackles and short yardage situations.

Jamize Olawale can certainly take some of those snaps, of course, but he has tremendous value as a lead blocker and will likely continue on in that role. Which means that the Raiders should be looking for somebody to fill the big bodied banger role vacated by Murray.

Oakland Raiders
Nov 15, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) stiff arms Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) during the first quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports /

Obviously, defensive tackle and inside linebacker need to take precedence with their early draft picks. The defense, an Achilles Heel for the team last season, needs to be upgraded. Which makes it very likely that McKenzie is going to use his first few picks on that side of the ball.

But McKenzie should still be able to find some solid value in the later rounds to fill that hole in the backfield. In particular, there are a few backs McKenzie should take a long, hard look at.

D’onta Foreman out of Texas could very capably step into Murray’s cleats and should be the back McKenzie looks at the hardest. At 6’3”, 233 pounds, Foreman is a combination of size, speed, and power. He’s very physical in pass protection – a largely overlooked part of Murray’s game – and he runs through contact. Arm tackles won’t bring Foreman down.

He’s a bit of a work in progress as there are a few components of his game that will need to be tightened up, but with good coaching, he could be a very valuable – and productive – part of Oakland’s running back rotation. Projected to be a fourth round pick, he could be a tremendous value pick up.

Second on McKenzie’s list of backs should be Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine. Not as celebrated – or notorious – as his backfield mate, Perine comes without the baggage Joe Mixon would bring. And for a team like the Raiders who avoid drama like the plague, that’s a good thing.

At 5’11”, 233 pounds, Perine is a compact and powerful back. He’s not the fastest guy on the field – he ran a 4.65 40 – but you don’t necessarily need to be fast when you can power through people like he can.

Perine ran for 1,060 yards, averaging a healthy 5.4 yards per carry over the course of the 2016 season. But because his touches were limited due to splitting time with Mixon, and he didn’t make quite the splash his backfield mate did, he could very well be available in round four – or later, perhaps. He might be a good one to keep an eye on as a potential replacement for Murray.

A third running back that McKenzie might want to take a closer look at is Pitt’s James Conner. He’s 6’1”, 233 pounds and although he didn’t have the best showing at the Combine, he’s a player McKenzie might want to roll the dice on in the later rounds. Conner is currently being projected to go anywhere between the fourth and sixth rounds – and accoridng to some, possibly going undrafted entirely.

A torn ACL ended his 2015 season, as well as a battle with cancer. Overcoming tremendous odds, Conner made it back to the field, though many have said he doesn’t look like the same player he was before his ACL injury.

Still, Conner has some skills, having run for 1,092 yards last season, averaging a healthy 5.1 yards a carry. He scored 16 rushing touchdowns and had another 21 catches out of the backfield for 302 yards and another four scores.

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Not bad production for a player virtually nobody seems to have on their draft board. And he’s precisely the type of hard working, high character player valued by the Raiders. He’s an inspirational story, but he’s also a quality back who, working with Richard and Washington, could help keep Oakland’s run game vital.

Even if a deal for Marshawn Lynch comes to fruition – and that seems to be far from a certainty at this point – McKenzie would be smart to have a solid, young, big bodied bruiser of a back on the roster. It would safeguard against the possibility that Lynch doesn’t actually have much left in the tank and is the second coming of Maurice Jones-Drew in a Raiders uniform.

Having somebody like one of the three backs listed above would keep the Raiders running game working. If Lynch came back and is the Beast Mode of old, all the better – that young back can sit back and learn from one of the league’s best.

Either way, Lynch or no Lynch, McKenzie would be wise to grab up a running back who can fill the Latavius Murray role in Oakland’s running game. The success of the offensive unit as a whole may depend upon it.