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Raiders face difficult decisions at running back

Updated August 16, 2022 - 6:36 am

A good problem is emerging for the Raiders after two preseason games.

They have rushed for 299 yards, a reflection of the emphasis they have put on developing a run game and the depth at the running back position.

“I really like the group,” coach Josh McDaniels said.

The problem is, how to fit what looks to be a handful of NFL-worthy running backs onto the 53-man roster. The Raiders will reluctantly have to get rid of a talented player, either through cuts or a trade.

They have used six running backs in the two games, with only veteran Brandon Bolden and fullback Jakob Johnson either not playing or getting a carry. Both figure to make the 53-man roster, leaving a decision among Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Ameer Abdullah, Zamir White, Brittain Brown and Austin Walter.

“I like what they’re doing. They push one another, they help one another, they work really hard together,” McDaniels said. “We’ve got a lot of maturity in that room that continues to try to pull guys along, especially the young guys.”

Jacobs looks to be a lock to make the final roster, along with White, a fourth-round pick from Georgia and the potential heir apparent to Jacobs. Abdullah was considered a long shot to make the club, but an impressive camp has thrust him into consideration as a change of pace option as a runner and pass catcher.

Of course, that’s the role Drake is expected to play. So if the Raiders keep Abdullah, where does that leave Drake? And did McDaniels tip his hand by playing Drake on Sunday while sitting Abdullah in a 26-20 victory over the Vikings at Allegiant Stadium?

Is it a sign that Drake is falling out of favor, or is it keeping in line with McDaniels’ promise not only to open various positions to competition but also to give candidates ample time to prove their worth?

“We have some guys that are kind of multifaceted in terms of what they do and bring,” McDaniels said. “We’ve tried to give them all different opportunities here in the first few games to try to do some of those things.”

The Raiders kept three to four running backs and a fullback throughout last season. With so many other roster needs, it’s hard to imagine them carrying more than four backs and a fullback, which means they face some difficult decisions.

Jacobs, Drake, Bolden and White would represent a competent final group. But all three of Abdullah, Brown and Walters have fared well when given the chance, so there is time for them to make their case. Brown and Walters could be options to be cut but signed to the practice squad.

McDaniels doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to make any decisions, and with running back being such a volatile position, it behooves the Raiders to keep as many as possible until the final cuts on Aug. 30.

“I’ve always been a big believer in having as many good backs as you can have on your team because, like I’ve said before, they get the ball more than anybody else,” McDaniels said. “They have it more than any other player, other than the quarterback, and usually they’re taking hits and getting contact when they have it. So there’s a chance for nicks and bumps and bruises and injuries. You just don’t ever want to get caught short in that area.”

If the Raiders ponder the trade route, Drake is a marketable commodity. He has recovered from the ankle injury he suffered last season and is a proven player capable of excelling as a runner and pass catcher. His $2.75 million salary for this season makes him easy to move.

As for compensation, a fifth-round pick would be a legitimate get for the Raiders. They could also use him as a potential chip to address an area of need, such as the offensive line.

That’s a question for down the line. For now, the Raiders have a good problem brewing.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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