It sure looked like it was going to be a running back by committee approach for Josh McDaniels’ Las Vegas Raiders last offseason, didn’t it?
A number of instances made it appear a timeshare was on the horizon in the Silver & Black backfield. General manager Dave Ziegler declined to exercise bell cow back Josh Jacobs’ fifth-year option. Then Ziegler selected Georgia running back Zamir White with the 122nd overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft (fourth round) and UCLA tailback Brittain Brown with the 250th selection (seventh round). The two NFL neophytes joined veterans Brandon Bolden and Ameer Abdullah in a crowded running back room in Las Vegas.
But Jacobs altered the plans — drastically.
The 24th overall pick of the 2019 draft galloped to the league rushing title this past season by churning out 1,653 yards and 12 touchdowns on 340 carries (starting all 17 games for the Raiders). His average of 97.2 yards per game paced the NFL as did his total touches of 393 and 2,053 total yards from scrimmage.
Jacobs’ domination was so thorough, no other Raiders running back got more than 17 totes or gained 70 or more yards on the ground — total. White got 17 carries for 70 yards and Bolden earned 17 attempts for 66 yards.
Yet, Jacobs isn’t present at OTAs or even mandatory minicamp because he’s going through a contract impasse with the Raiders. Las Vegas gambled and Jacobs is going to be the benefactor of a handsome pay day — in Silver & Black, most likely, but potentially elsewhere, too. The Raiders franchise tagged the 25-year-old Alabama product and Jacobs hasn’t inked the tender. Thus, he’s not under contract and precluded.
That leaves the door wide open for White, Brown, and other running backs to earn valuable snaps during team activities.
“I mean look, we always we always talk about your role is what you make it, and I think there’s there hasn’t been a greater opportunity the one in the running back room for those young players like Zamir and Brittain,” Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi said of the White and Brown during a post minicamp media session last week. “So, they’ve gotten a lot of reps, they’ve gotten a lot exposure, they’ve learned a lot, so there’s no hiding anymore. There’s a lot of a lot of reps that they get that maybe Josh would have had or somebody else would have had, but they’re getting them, which is great for them.”
White’s opportunities were limited in Year 1 and the moments were fleeting when given the rock. He played in 14 games (inactive for a trio) with his biggest output coming in Week 4 (two carries for 24 yards) and Week 11 (two carries for 28 yards). In total White played 40 snaps on offense (four percent of the Raiders offensive total). Brown fared much worse as he was inactive for of but six games his rookie season. He received zero snaps on offense and 61 on special teams (37 percent of the units total snap count).
Year 2 begins anew, but Lombardi shed additional light on why White didn’t get any more carries. A large part of it was being a rookie and making the jump to the pro game at the position can be steep. And the game tape showcased a rookie who has plenty of speed and power, but not necessarily the vision and patience to find a crease or a hole and dart through it. There were plenty of teachable moments for White in his rookie year and what Lombardi wants to see from him and other tailbacks is the ability to grow from them.
“The young players, they sometimes need to learn how to fail to succeed, and I think it’s really what you’re seeing — and look I’m not saying Zamir White and Brittain Brown go out there and mess up every play, I’m not saying that at all,” Lombardi began, “But look just like you do anything new, you go out there and you learn from your mistakes. And being able to do that and fix their mistakes I think is what they’re able to do this spring and they’re doing a great job of that.”
Progressive development from the younger running backs is paramount, especially considering Jacobs’ absence because there’s snaps to be hand. Things could eventually work themselves out with Jacobs signing the franchise tender — which pays him $10.1 million — or the tailback and Raiders agree to a long-term deal. But until Jacobs is back in the fold, it only helps the running back room to spread the snaps out as the only way to improve is by learning. And getting the miscues and highlights on tape for film review sessions is one of the best ways to develop.