Ranking the Running Game Pt. 31: Oakland Raiders

Jeff LittleSenior Writer IApril 6, 2008

One year after the biggest move the Raiders made was bringing in QB JaMarcus Russell aboard; the main job of this off-season is building a team around him. Russell’s contract holdout was the first setback, but Oakland had to move on and play with who was there while the negotiations were ongoing.

On the surface it might appear that the Raiders merely doubled their win total from the lost season of 2006. However, that wouldn’t be viewing the complete picture. Another huge move for Lane Kiffin and the team was bringing in offensive line coach Tom Cable who basically worked a miracle. 

The black cloud that existed over the franchise was lifted and the Raiders were in almost every game they played until they reached the “murderers' row” of games at the end of the season, playing four playoff participants—@ Green Bay, @ Jacksonville, home games against Indianapolis and San Diego. The Raiders could’ve easily had a 7-9 win-loss record which is respectable for a re-building team.

Despite a minimal amount of starts, JaMarcus Russell did get his feet wet toward the end of the season in a few uneven performances. Russell not signing until Week 2 showed when he finally got a chance to play with a limited playbook. A sign of his potential could be seen through the improvement from a bad game on the road in Jacksonville to an adequate home game against San Diego.

Under Head Coach Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable the Raiders had an offensive line considered by most the worst in the league. That same offensive line fueled a running game that went from last in the league in 2006 to sixth in the NFL in 2007.

The Raiders lost three games by a total of nine points and took a fourth quarter lead into seven of the first nine losses, which was a variation of a theme for a team that failed to finish games. 

The Raiders were finally competitive in the AFC West and learned how to finish games in their division, even though they should’ve swept both Denver and Kansas City.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do and Russell is ready to go,” said coach Kiffin. “Now we’ve got to work at surrounding him with good players.”

That process has already started in Oakland as the entire WR group has been revamped. James Lofton, a Hall of Fame WR and former Chargers’ receiver coach, was hired; in free agency the team lost Jerry Porter. The Raiders signed two veterans WRs, Javon Walker and Drew Carter, to add to a WR unit of Ronald Curry, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jonathan Holland, Will Buchanon, Todd Watkins, Drisan James, Chris McFoy, and John Madsen. 

Coach Kiffin’s statement also referred to the defense, which has brought in several new players previously discussed in other Raider stories by this writer.

As a team, the Raiders rushed for 130.4 yards per game.

  • Justin Fargas: 6’1” 220 lbs, 222 Att, 1,009 Yards, 4.5 YPC Avg, 4 TDs
  • Lamont Jordan: 5’10” 230 lbs, 144 Att, 549 Yards, 3.8 YPC Avg, 3 TDs
  • Dominic Rhodes: 5’9” 203 lbs, 75 Att, 302 Yards, 4.0 YPC Avg. 1 TD
  • Justin Griffith: 6’0” 235 lbs, 7 Att, 27 Yards, 3.9 YPC Avg.
  • Adimchinobe Echinmandu: 5’10” 225 lbs, 20 Att, 85 Yards, 4.2 YPC Avg.
  • Michael Bush: 6’1” 245 lbs. Second Yr. Player from UL on Injured Reserve ‘07
  • Reshard Lee: 5’10” 220 lbs. Fifth Yr. Player from Middle Tenn. State

Justin Fargas started training camp buried behind Jordan and Rhodes, didn’t start until Week 9, and missed the last two games with an MCL sprain. He still gained more than 1,000 yards to lead the rushing attack that was one of the bright spots of the season.

Fargas is one of the hardest runners in the NFL and prone to taking some vicious shots. He was re-signed by the team and will begin ’08 as the starter.

Griffith is a solid fullback and excellent receiver out of the backfield, but saw his time cut as the season went along by the rookie O’Neal, a punishing lead blocker who isn’t as much help as a receiver.

Jordan was among the NFL rushing leaders through three games. After a back injury in Week 4. he just wasn't the same; 2007 was supposed to be his year to finally show that he is an elite back in this  league. It appears that he will be traded or released before the start of the 2008 season.

While Rhodes was serving a four-game suspension, Fargas went past him on the depth chart. Finally given an opportunity when Fargas was hurt, Rhodes gained 237 yards in the last two games, which was his best back-to-back performance since breaking 1,000 yards as a rookie in 2001. 

The Raiders don’t have a need to draft a running back, but Al Davis could easily decide that Darren McFadden is a player he needs to have on his team. If the decision was mine, I would draft either DE/OLB Vernon Gholston or DT Sedrick Ellis with the fourth pick overall.

Oh, I didn’t mention Chris Long, Glen Dorsey, or Jake Long because my gut feeling is that they’ll all be drafted prior to the fourth overall selection. If the decision is to trade down and acquire more picks than I want to do so and still draft OLB Keith Rivers. 

The Raiders are in need of early-impact potential Pro Bowl or franchise players; all of the above fit in that category. It would be nice to see the Raiders find a late round steal like OLB Gary Guyton or DT Marcus Harrison. I still feel that Al Davis might engineer one more trade to acquire picks in the second or third round.

The Raider Nation has plenty of room for optimism in 2008. If the Raiders can stay healthy, this team will be ready to make noise in the AFC West. 

Questions for the Raiders: Will Darren McFadden be drafted or used to trade down? Will the Raiders go DT Sedrick Ellis or DE Vernon Gholston in the first round? Did the Raiders do enough this offseason to stop teams from attacking the middle of the defensive line?