The Oakland Raiders have made quite a habit of signing players on Friday. General manager Reggie McKenzie kept it up by inking running back Maurice Jones-Drew to a three-year deal, according to Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area.
Jones-Drew is 29 and coming off the worst season of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Raiders still brought him in to compete for the starting job. It worked for the Raiders last season when—after a bad year in Jacksonville—Rashad Jennings wrestled away the starting job from Darren McFadden.
The signing of Jones-Drew may not be exciting, but it is functional. The Raiders now have three running backs to compete for playing time and don’t need to invest any more resources at the position.
McKenzie has signed enough players so that he can now let the draft come to him. A running back now seems unlikely, but that’s only because the Raiders don’t have a glaring need.
For a team that started the offseason with needs across the entire roster, the Raiders now have so few needs that they can go in any direction in any round of the draft. That’s worth more than the pennies the Raiders will pay their stable of running backs.
It’s a pivotal year for McKenzie, so the ability to draft the “best players available” in a deep draft may prove valuable. While McKenzie’s moves may seem odd to some, they have all given him good short-term value and draft flexibility.
There is no longer pressure for McKenzie to draft starters at any position. Instead, McKenzie can target impact players. This is relevant because starting running backs can be found later in the draft, but impact players or key role players are sometimes much more difficult to identify.
Jones-Drew is also a decent candidate to have a bounce-back year. He is 29, healthy and has a chip on his shoulder.
Although he blamed an injury for his down year on his introductory conference call, Jones-Drew’s terrible offensive line last year likely contributed to his struggles as well. The Jaguars had the worst offensive line in football at blocking for the run, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
In Pro Football Focus’ seven-year history, it was the worst team run-blocking grade awarded by a large margin. The closest to Jacksonville's negative-108 grade was a negative-86.5 grade given to the 2007 St. Louis Rams.
|Comparing the Jaguars and Raiders Running Backs|
|Player||Year||Games||Yards From Srimmage||Yards/Carry||Yard/Carry After Contract||Missed Tackles|
Jones-Drew still forced 26 missed tackles in 15 games, per ProFootballFocus, which is just one less than Jennings and McFadden had combined. He averaged 2.2 yards per carry after contact, which was equal to Jamaal Charles, even if it wasn’t great.
With better blocking, Jones-Drew has a chance to regain the form that saw him average 4.6 yards per carry in his career. The Raiders have done a lot of work rebuilding their offensive line, so there is reason to believe there will be improved blocking for whoever wins the starting job.
Even coming off a down year, Jones-Drew surpassed 1,000 yards from scrimmage—more than Jennings had for the Raiders last season. Oakland will likely root its offense in play action, so the run just needs to be a credible threat.
|Grade Comparison 2013|
|Player||PFF Run Grade||PFF Pass Grade||PFF Block Grade|
Like McFadden, Jones-Drew hasn’t been both healthy and proactive for two seasons. Unlike McFadden, Jones-Drew is one of the best running backs in pass protection in the entire league. Last year, Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 7.0, the second highest in the league. McFadden’s grade was negative-4.7, putting him 53rd out of 55 running backs that played 25 percent of the time.
The Raiders have now run through the full gamut of running back options to collect four different types. They have a late-round draft pick, a player from the Canadian Football League, a talented bust with a long history of injuries and a veteran coming off the first down year of his career.
At least one option should pan out. Jones-Drew is the only one of the four with a long history of success. Even if he doesn’t rebound, Jones-Drew gives the Raiders welcome freedom to go in any direction in the draft, especially in the middle rounds.