One of the key ingredients of nearly every great running team is the fullback.
They lead the way and open up lanes while the halfback runs to daylight and glory. More often than not, fullbacks go unnoticed until they are gone and needed.
First and foremost the most important skill a fullback must possess is the ability to block, both in pass protection and coming out of the backfield. Next, though not nearly as important as blocking, are short yardage ball carrying and receiving skills.
In his prime, LaDainian Tomlinson had Lorenzo Neal; at the turn of the century the Raiders had Jon Ritchie and Zack Crockett; and more recently the Ravens had Le'Ron McClain.
Last year the Raiders suffered injuries and suspension, among other things, that hampered the fullback position and ultimately hurt the run game.
At one point the Raiders had a beast of a fullback named Oren O'Neal. At 5'11" and 245 lbs, some described him as a bowling ball knocking over linebackers like pins. But season-ending injuries two years in a row prompted the team to release him.
Now there is an entire fleet of fullbacks competing for the job. Here's a look at the Raiders potential future fullbacks.
Last year Lawton stepped up admirably in place of O'Neal, for a backup at least. He started three games and played in 13 while sharing playing time with Gary Russell. He was suspended four games for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
He had seven receptions for 31 yards and no carries on the season.
Marcel Reece is a former WR/HB from Washington. He spent the last two years on the Raiders practice squad developing his fullback skills.
Last year he was activated for the final two games of the season following Lawton's suspension. In those last two games he lined up at FB, HB, TE, and KR.
He had two receptions for 20 yards.
Out of the group, Reece has the best hands and playmaking ability, though his blocking skills may be lacking.
Cartwright is wearing Justin Fargas' old number. Being the smallest out of the group he could see time at halfback or in a hybrid role.
At only 5'8", his low center of gravity gives him an advantage blocking and in short yard situations.
Manase Tonga is a rookie out of BYU and seems to be the fan favorite to make the team.
His senior year at BYU he had 40 rushing attempts for 148 yards and four TDs and 30 receptions for 271 yards and four more TDs.
He has been effective as a short yardage back and catching the ball out of the backfield.
While blocking, he showed tremendous effort and non-stop motor but had raw, sloppy technique that sometimes resulted in missed blocks.
Another rookie, Chane Moline comes out of UCLA and weighs in at 250 pounds—the biggest in the bunch.
His final year at UCLA he had 60 attempts for 229 yards and five TDs as well as 29 receptions for 247 yards and one TD.
Though he lacks playmaking ability, he has good hands. He is effective as a short yardage back and is a tremendous blocker.