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Time for Raiders to see if Jalen Richard has what it takes to be bell-cow back

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With Marshawn Lynch suspended this week, we’ll see if this former undrafted free agent can be a bell-cow running back.

NFL: New York Jets at Oakland Raiders Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Coming out of Southern Miss, few knew who Jalen Richard was when he first went to the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He quickly changed that with a 75-yard run in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints.

From there, Richard would continue to flash big-play ability as a scat-back. The Raiders ran him on traps, draws and quick tosses while throwing him screens and other short passes to take advantage of his ability to run in space. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry as a rookie. He also showed an ability to pick up good yards after contact.

“I know they call me like a little guy,” Richard told Raiders media this week. “But I weigh a good amount and I’m strong in my weight and I believe that I can break tackles and make people miss, so that yards after contact is big. I think that’s somewhat overlooked in my game. That yards after contact it doesn’t have to be like you run a guy smack over. You can give him half your body, make him slip off and that’s yards after contact, so I definitely have that in my game.”

So far this year, Richard is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and is second on the team in carries (35) and yards (158) with a good chunk of those yards coming on one 52-yard touchdown run in week two against the Jets.

Breaking a long one when no one is really checking for you is one thing. But it’s an entirely different thing when the defense knows you are the focal point of the running game. And with Marshawn Lynch suspended for the Raiders game in Buffalo this Sunday, Richard will get a chance to see what he can do under such circumstances.

“It’s gonna hurt, obviously, with the type of runner he is,” Richard said of being without Lynch this week. “We’re different runners. When we get in those situations that Marshawn might have gotten four [yards], sometimes DWash and I might get two. Just the type of runner he is and how strong he is. In that [regard] he’ll be missed. . . we’re gonna miss him but it’s the ‘next man up’ mentality.”

With the small sample size Richard has had, he’s shown he can make guys miss and take it the distance when he has that space. He’s already the third-down back as he catches the ball out of the backfield well. But he hasn’t shown that he can grind out the tough three yards when there’s nothing there or convert a 3rd-and-1 or 3rd-and-goal. That’s an important ingredient that every bell-cow back has.

Head coach Jack Del Rio believes in Richard and DeAndre Washington, saying this week, “Those guys give you more than a change of pace.”

If Richard wants to be a bell-cow, however, he has to show he can do so against the Buffalo Bills Sunday. What he does will have a profound impact on how the Raiders use him the rest of the year as well as who they sign or draft next year.

Editor’s note: Levi Damien contributed to this article.