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Raiders free agency 2022: A group solidified

Brandon Bolden, Jakob Johnson, Ameer Abdullah help reshape, round out Las Vegas’ backfield

NFL: AFC Wild Card Playoffs-New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Brandon Bolden’s addition brings a veteran presence who is equal parts pass catcher and pass protector in the Las Vegas Raiders backfield.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The acquisition of wide receiver Davante Adams is still reverberating across the NFL landscape — what a move it was by the Las Vegas Raiders — and revamps the Silver & Black receiving corp. But what can’t be ignored is general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels reshaping and solidifying the backfield, too.

Before Ziegler brought quarterback a familiar face in Adams, the Raiders personnel decision-maker gave McDaniels two players he’s very familiar with in veteran running back Brandon Bolden and fullback Jakob Johnson. Both were with Ziegler and McDaniels as New England Patriots and are once again back with the two men in the desert. Then came the under-the-radar signing of running back Ameer Abdullah to help round out the group.

At first glance, that’s two new tailbacks that join two incumbent ball carriers in Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake, creating quite the depth at the position. Jacobs appears entrenched as RB1, with Drake his backup with Bolden and Abdullah brining in the rear of the group. But don’t discount the additions of the latter two names.

Even at the ripe age of 32, Bolden offers plenty for the Raiders. Familiarity with the offensive scheme McDaniels is installing aside, at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, Bolden is a bigger back that adds equal parts power element and pass-catching ability. In McDaniels’ Patriots offense, Bolden was targeted 46 times catching 41 of those throws for 405 yards (a healthy 9.9 yards per catch average) and two touchdowns while playing 342 snaps (31 percent) of the offensive snaps in New England. Of those receptions, 21 were for first downs. The 83.7 percent catch rate was something rookie quarterback Mac Jones took advantage of aplenty.

Not only is Bolden a quality receiving option out of the backfield, he’s a dependable pass protector when he’s asked to stay in and block. That’s a key aspect of a third-down back — blocking incoming defenders seeking to wreck the quarterback’s day. The veteran is also a special teams contributor playing 278 snaps (63 percent) last season for the Patriots.

Flip it to Abdullah and the Raiders get another tailback accustomed to catching the rock out of the backfield. The 28-year old played for two teams last season (Carolina and Minnesota) and tallied 38 receptions for 289 yards (7.7 per catch average) and a touchdown Of those catches, 13 were for first downs. Abdullah played in 265 snaps (37 percent) of the Panthers offense and only 49 snaps (11 percent) with the Vikings. The former second-round pick is also a kick returner fielding a total of 29 boots in 2021 for a total of 484 yards (22 per return average).

Out of the trio of additions to the Raiders’ backfield, however, it’s Johnson who has the clearest path to starts and snaps.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
Jakob Johnson (47) paved the way for Patriots running backs the last three seasons. He reunites with Josh McDaniels in Las Vegas.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Once Las Vegas decided not to tender Alec Ingold (the fullback since signed with the Miami Dolphins) and New England did the same with Johnson, the most predicable common-sense prediction was the latter would rejoin McDaniels in the desert. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Johnson is bigger, more imposing and punishing than the Raiders’ prior fullback (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) and it’s that physicality which made Johnson the more appropriate option at the position.

Sparingly used as a pass-catching option (for his career 13 receptions for 83 yards and one touchdown, 43 of those yards and four of those catches coming last season), Johnson is a throwback sledgehammer blocker. The 27-year-old’s presence is felt in power formations or in the red zone as he uses his frame and weight to smash into defenders to negate them. He played 310 snaps (28 percent) of the Patriots offense in 2021 and 373 (37 percent) in 2020, proving the hilarious notion New England didn’t deploy a fullback incorrect.

There’s plenty of time in free agency and the draft to add even more bodies in the backfield, but as of now, McDaniels appears all set at both running back and fullback. The addition of two pass-catchers at halfback and a punisher at fullback rounds and solidfies the group.