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Raiders training camp: Running back rumble

Training camp, preseason will settle pecking order and give insight on Vegas’ approach at the position in 2022

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
Josh Jacobs garnered the bulk of the workload at running back for the Raiders ever since he was drafted in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Bell-cow or by committee? That is the question when it comes to the Las Vegas Raiders offense and, namely, running backs. The previous Silver & Black regime tried it’s best to level the carries but ineffectiveness and injury negated the timeshare.

Since his arrival to the Raiders as a 2019 first-round pick, Josh Jacobs has burdened the brunt of the workload at running back. The Alabama-product produced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons before a career-low 872 yards this past season, and has found the end zone an impressive 28 times during his three years in the league thus far.

Curiously enough, the new brain trust of general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels didn’t see it fit to exercise Jacobs’ fifth-year option. Is that a tell of what the new Raiders regime has in store? Or merely fiscal responsibility?

Running back Rumble

Let’s take a look at the current crop of Raider running backs: Jacobs (24 years old, 4th year); Kenyan Drake (28, 7th); Zamir White (22, Rookie); Brandon Bolden (32, 10th); Ameer Abdullah (29, 8th); Brittain Brown (24, Rookie).

Starting role and snaps will be determined by competition. Both McDaniels and Ziegler harped on the iron sharpens iron — one person sharpens another — mindset and believe the team will be better if jobs are earned and not given. The lead back role should be open for the taking as is the all-important third-down back role.

White could make noise for early-down carries along with Jacobs. The rookie has a no-nonsense running style where he’ll jump cut, plow through defenders, and leave everyone in the dust. Think Jacobs’ style but with intriguing long speed.

Meanwhile, Bolden’s experience in the McDaniels’ system and reliability as ball carrier, pass catcher, and pass protector may gave him the edge for snaps, specifically third-down back. Don’t count out Drake vying for the gig too. His speed is umatched and he’s shown the ability to carry the rock out of the backfield or run routes and catch passes, too. If it weren’t for his lackluster pass protection last season, he would’ve lasted in the role longer, however, it went to Jalen Richard instead.

If nothing else, a tailback who doesn’t get substantial opportunities to be a mainstay on offense will be afforded the chance to be a special team’s maven.

The Committee Approach

History suggests this may be imminent. McDaniels and Ziegler cut their teeth with the New England Patriots and a timeshare at the tailback position is a Foxboro staple. Giving opportunities to multiple running backs not only keeps opposing defenses on their toes but allows the team to take a relatively cheap approach to the position in terms of payroll percentage.

McDaniels noted he’s not trying to create Patriots West and is starting something new in the desert, so perhaps he won’t take the same approach he was accustomed to as the Patriots offensive coordinator. However, in the long run, a timeshare may be the best approach. Spreading the wealth in terms of carries or snaps is the proper course. Each offers distinct traits and qualities and leveraging them gives the Raiders a potent balance.

Preservation: For as productive as Jacobs has been in his three seasons, he’s missed eight games in his young career. His aggressive and physical running style batters the opposition but it also takes a toll on Jacobs’ body. A timeshare not only helps keep Jacobs or any other running back fresh but acts as a preservation method. Fresh legs can make a big difference especially in the fourth quarter.

Maximizing Output: Jacobs is never going to have the home run speed Drake has at his disposal. But mixing in Drake, White and Bolden into the mix gives opposing defenses different style of backs to defend. White in a good mix of power and speed while Bolden’s pocket awareness and pass-catching skills make him an intriguing third-down back type. The Raiders could deploy a thunder & lightning combination in Jacobs’ power and Drake’s speed while sprinkling in White and Bolden. The possibilities are endless this early into training camp and will be sorted out in the next few weeks.

Las Vegas Raiders Mandatory Minicamp
Don’t be surprised if Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels deploys a timeshare-like running back by committee system in Las Vegas.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images