As the Oakland Raiders look to improve on a three-win season, they are hoping to get a much better a performance out of their running game. The team doesn’t have an established No.1 rusher, and multiple players will be a part of their project at running back.
Through two games in the preseason, Latavius Murray sits atop the Raiders’ depth chart. He ranked second on the team in 2014, rushing for 424 yards. Murray totaled just 110 fewer yards than Darren McFadden, who is now with the Dallas Cowboys, even though he had 73 less carries.
Murray is expected to be an upgrade over McFadden, but expectations are not high considering Oakland’s recent history at running back. McFadden turned out to be a bust after being selected No.4 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, and he rushed for more than 707 yards in just one of seven seasons with the Raiders.
A sixth-round pick in 2013, Murray is the only running back Oakland has drafted since they took McFadden. He didn’t play at all in the season after he was drafted, but he’s shown signs that he can be productive as the No.1 rusher. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2014, and he’s been productive this preseason. Murray ran the ball six times for 35 yards in Oakland’s exhibition opener, and he added 20 yards on four carries this past weekend.
But the Raiders don’t have a lot invested in Murray, and they’ll give the ball to whomever gets the job done. Michael Dyer was not expected to make a big impact before training camp, but he could be earning himself regular season carries with his play in the preseason. Dyer got twice as many carries as any player on the team last weekend, rushing 12 times for 45 yards against the Minnesota Vikings.
“Michael runs hard and is very determined,” head coach Jack Del Rio said after the Raiders lost to the Vikings, 20-10, on Saturday. “He’s got a little juice to him, and he’s making people miss and accelerating through tackles.
“He’s come a long way since he first came here in the spring as a late addition.”
Dyer could potentially seize the No.2 spot on the depth chart from Trent Richardson. The former No.3 overall pick has more career carries than anyone on the roster, but he hasn’t done much to earn a lot of playing time. Richardson enters 2015 with 3.3 yards per carry in three seasons, and he’s run the ball 10 times for 23 yards in two preseason games.
The Raiders also added Roy Helu in the offseason. He's missed both preseason games with a hamstring injury, and he's rushed for less than 500 total yards since 2012.
Not having made the playoffs since 2002, the Raiders have done their best to upgrade their passing game. After drafting quarterback Derek Carr last season, they took wide receiver Amari Cooper with their No.1 pick this year and signed free agent Michael Crabtree. But the team has neglected the running back position for years, consistently giving them one of the NFL’s worst offenses.
Even though the NFL has become a passing league, teams that can’t run the ball often have trouble winning games. The Indianapolis Colts were the worst rushing team to win a playoff game last season, ranking 22nd in football.