The Las Vegas Raiders' new front office declined to pick up the fifth-year option for Josh Jacobs. The former Alabama running back has dealt with many injuries during his career. The regime didn’t think it was worth the guaranteed money.
On Saturday, the vision became more apparent as the Raiders traded up to draft Zamir White from Georgia. The final draft pick of the night was Brittain Brown from UCLA, which raised eyebrows from the media and fans about Jacobs's future.
While it may be a slight on Jacobs, fresh legs are the key to all of this. The players they draft for the position come from committees historically. The Patriots recently drafted Damien Harris and Sony Michel. As college football players, they had shared the backfield with other high draft picks.
It all comes back to a quote from Josh McDaniels on the running back position from his press conference at the owner's meeting.
“That’s a position that’s hard to stay healthy, it just is. They touch the ball more than everybody but the quarterback, and they get hit more than anybody. We have a couple guys that are rehabbing now and so to have depth in that room is important because if you don’t have quality depth in the running back room today in the NFL, a lot of times you’re going to run into some issues and some injuries you know, and then you get caught in trying to make a quick transaction during the middle of the season.
The wear and tear on Jacobs make him not dependable from week to week. McDaniels decided to add insurance plans in the draft just in case of inevitable.
The Raiders now have seven running backs in the room, which will be dwindled to four by opening day. The backs are slightly different in their own right, with a few fitting gap schemes and others primarily zone. It signals the versatility of this offensive running game and what it could become going forward.
A good reason for all of these backs is McDaniels use of 21 personnel as his base offense. Since 2017 his offense has used 21 personnel 25 percent of the time, which is second in the NFL in that span. The Raiders will have two running backs in the backfield often, and it will not be just with a fullback.
McDaniels does like to run out of this formation with a fullback. The team ran for 4.4 YPC out of this grouping since 2017 while second in the NFL in attempts. The passing aspect is where we can see them use the running back corps in their correct roles.
With Kenyan Drake primarily having a future as a pass-catcher, it gives the opportunity to spread teams out and get him one on ones out of shotgun sets. The perfect example is below in a play called pinwheel in Erhardt Perkins language. The wheel route comes from one running back next to the quarterback while the other stays in for pass protection.
Zamir White is a player who displayed the ability to pass block in his career. Even though he wasn’t on passing downs often, he can play a role in 21 personnel sets vs. specific teams while Drake or Jacobs run routes.
The running backs come from all different flavors. Jacobs is a wide/mid zone running back who excels in reading blocks and being decisive. Drake, White, and Brown specialize as gap scheme backs who are more patient, letting blocks development from pulling guards.
McDaniels himself believes in the power game. According to PFF, he called gap runs 79 percent of the time in 2021. That would be the complete opposite of where Jacobs fits. Using TDL charting, Jacobs had 45 carries in the gap, averaging 3.2 yards per carry. On his other 172 carries in the zone, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
The secret here is the new running back coach Kennedy Polamalu. Polamalu comes from the Kubiak tree of the wide zone descended from Alex Gibbs and was made famous by the Shanahan family. It is a system where Dalvin Cook has shined for seasons and Jacobs dominated the Chargers on these types of run calls.
We could see diversity from week to week based on the defensive front. Jacobs might get the heavy load for that Sunday with a more extensive front with less ability to move laterally. Also, they could pound the rock using gap schemes against a smaller front focused on rushing the passer.
The flexibility for the offense is critical for McDaniels. He wants to keep defenses on their toes, and a diverse running back room plus scheme allows him to accomplish that goal.