The Oakland Raiders enter the off season with a ton of holes due both to expiring contracts and positions desperately in need of an upgrade. But on the scale of desperate need to no need, the running back position falls somewhere awkwardly in the middle.
The Raiders had three running backs see significant time last season in Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece and Rashad Jennings. McFadden was the Raiders first round draft pick back in 2008 and has been mostly a disappointment ever since. Not because he cannot play at this level, but because he cannot stay healthy at this level. With his contract expiring this season, there is not a very large chance that the Raiders bring him back.
Marcel Reece is the only back who is still under contract after receiving an extension last off season. But despite the fact that Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie recognized Reece’s value for the team, they have still failed to get him involved on offense on a regular basis. He does a great job blocking, but could be more of a weapon if the Raiders could just find a way to get him the ball more often.
And then there is Rashad Jennings. Ever since Michael Bush left in free agency, the Raiders have been looking for a quality back up to step in when McFadden inevitably got hurt. They finally found that in Jennings, but may have made a mistake in only signing him to a one year deal. Jennings had a very good year filling in for McFadden and showed that he is capable of being a number one back in the NFL. The problem is, he played so well that he will be one of, if not the top running back in the free agency class. The Raiders will certainly do their best to bring him back, but McKenzie will not overpay and there is a good chance someone on the open market will, assuming Jennings sees the market.
The Raiders also have second year player Latavius Murray, a sixth round pick out of the University of Central Florida. With a unique combination of size and speed that Greg Papa said reminded him of Bo Jackson, Raiders fans were excited to see what he could do. Until he got injured and spent his rookie season on the injured reserve list. Murray represents hope but also the unknown. He could be huge for the Raiders or could prove why he was taken so late in the draft.
If the Raiders can bring back Jennings, they may not need to sign any other running backs in free agency or take any through the draft. In addition to these guys, they have solid depth with Jeremy Stewart. He is nothing flashy but is not bad to have on the roster as deep depth. But, if they are not able to re-sign Jennings, they could find themselves in somewhat of a pickle trying to decide how much faith to put in Murray when looking at other backs to bring in.
The safe bet would be to sign Jennings before free agency begins, solidifying the position and giving McKenzie one less position to worry about during an off season that will already have him running around like a chicken with his head cut off.