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Chris Warren III rushing performance for the Raiders didn’t just come out of nowhere

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The story of undrafted free agent running back Chris Warren

NFL: Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

How does a football player come out of nowhere undrafted and ball in the NFL? The main reason is the draft is an inexact science that uses a player’s past to predict his future. His NFL Scouting Combine performance has a little something to do with it too. The size of the school he’s coming from and off-the-field life will also weigh in heavy.

It doesn’t take athletes in their early 20s long to get stronger and faster and develop their skills. So it’s easy to see how a player can seemingly ‘come out of nowhere’ and start balling after going undrafted.

Then there are those that don’t really come out of nowhere, they just caught a few bad breaks that led to their college careers not going according to plan. Chris Warren III is such a player.

Warren was a high school All-American running back, attending the University of Texas. There he set their single-game freshman rushing record with 276 yards and four touchdowns against Texas Tech late in 2015.

Performances like that set him up to share the backfield with eventual Houston Texans 2017 3rd-round pick D’Onta Foreman. But Warren would miss most of the following year with a knee injury so Foreman carried the whole load and rushed for over 2,000 yards.

With Foreman headed to the NFL, Warren was left to fill his shoes. But that was under the pretext of Charlie Strong remaining the head coach at Texas. Strong was fired and new head coach Tom Herman brought in running back recruits Toneil Carter and Daniel Young and moved Warren to tight end and H-back.

So, Warren entered this past offseason as a player without a real position to NFL personnel people. At 6’2”, 247 pounds with 25 bench reps, Warren ran an okay 4.69 40 at the combine and still off NFL draft radars. He improved his 40 time to 4.5 at his Pro Day but it wasn’t enough to get him drafted or even signed as a priority free agent.

Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie like his talent and his bloodlines as 3-time Pro Bowl running back Chris Warren is his father and gave him a tryout where Warren earned a contract.

BD Williams gave us the scouting report on him back in May. Williams notes Warren’s versatility to play fullback or H-back gives him a better shot at making the Raiders. However, it doesn’t give him enough credit for his speed to get outside and-or take it the distance. He has to show more but as a runner in the first preseason game, he looked better than any Raider RB not named Marshawn Lynch.

Gruden loves him because he loves big, physical RB’s as he had Mike Alstott in Tampa Bay. Running over Detroit Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis in a joint practice didn’t hurt either. And in the preseason game with the Lions, he showed that physicality with 3.6 yards per carry after contact according to Pro Football Focus to go along with that speed.

“I like that guy man, if you know anything about him his dad was one heck of a player at the Seattle Seahawks, Chris Warren, and he’s a big back, Gruden said after the first preseason game against the Lions. “You don’t know it but he’s 253 pounds and can run four-five. He’s a hammer, he can really thump you and he’s got breakaway speed. But he’s improving in the passing game, he’s become more and more of a running back instead of just a runner. He’s becoming a receiver, blitz pickup, all those little details are improving but he’s got a lot of talent.”

The Raiders have been aware of Warren for awhile now and it isn’t just because of his father. The Raiders obviously watched fellow running back DeAndre Washington’s 2015 tape at Texas Tech before taking him in the fifth round in 2016. And in that tape was the game against Texas in which the best football player on the field was Warren with his record setting Freshman performance.

Sure, a lot has happened and not happened since then but the talent is still there. He showed it against the Lions last week and if he’s healthy, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to do it again. If he does, the Raiders may have no choice but to keep him or someone else will gladly take him. There aren’t many 250-pound RB’s running a 4.5 that can pass protect as well as catch the ball.

He won’t be on the street long if the Raiders make the mistake of cutting him.