Why Oakland Raiders Should Give Marcel Reece More Carries in 2015

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2015

Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece, left, runs through pads during practice at an NFL football facility in Alameda, Calif., Tuesday, June 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Why isn't Marcel Reece getting more carries? It’s the most frequently asked question when surveying the comment section of any Oakland Raiders article pertaining to optimizing the offense.

It’s a good question without a good answer.

Logically thinking, last season would have been the most appropriate time to tinker with the offense a bit. Running back Darren McFadden was Oakland’s lead back with 534 rushing yards, averaging 3.4 yards per carry on 155 attempts. As a team, the Raiders ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing yards (1,280).

Former offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s play-calling was part of the problem. Oakland also ranked dead last in rushing attempts per game (21.1), which placed an enormous amount of pressure on a rookie quarterback. It wasn’t as if blowouts dictated a pass-heavy offense; seven of the Raiders games were decided by seven points or less

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26: Running back Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders loses the ball as he is tackled during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Raiders 23-13. (Phot
Jason Miller/Getty Images

In 2014, McFadden had another poor season, Maurice Jones-Drew was ineffective and Latavius Murray didn’t see the field extensively until Week 14 against the San Francisco 49ers.

Keep in mind Murray only had four carries in the breakout Week 12 performance against the Kansas City Chiefs. He missed the following game against the St. Louis Rams due to a concussion. Reece deserved a chance, and he didn’t get it.

In the offseason, the Raiders signed Trent Richardson and Roy Helu Jr. to revitalize the rushing attack. Richardson has taken a hard tumble from a promising prospect to underachiever attempting to save his career in Oakland. Helu was a backup runng back with the Washington Redskins. Both running backs have the opportunity to become solid contributors, but why is Reece overlooked yet again?

Reece has a small sample of success handling a good portion of the load, but a small sample hasn’t hindered Murray’s chances of emerging as the featured running back in the upcoming season:

When Marcel Reece Gets More Than 12 Carries
Year/WeekCarriesYardsYards Per Carry
2012 Week 1013483.7
2012 Week 11191035.4
2012 Week 1215744.9
2013 Week 14191236.5

The Raiders fullback has attempted more than 12 carries in only four career games. In each of those games, he has put together a decent performance. It’s unrealistic to expect 20-plus carries with an array of talent at the position but 10 to 15 carries seems adequate in comparison to previous fullbacks who have performed well when receiving a healthy dose of carries: 

Fullbacks Transitioning to Halfbacks
PlayerTeamYearYardsYPCTDsAverage Carries Per Game
Mike AlstottTampa Bay Buccaneers19988463.9813.4
Mike AlstottTampa Bay Buccaneers19999493.9715.1
T.J. DuckettAtlanta Falcons20037794.01112.3
Mike TolbertSan Diego Chargers20107354.01112.1

Carolina's Mike Tolbert is the most recent example. Now-retired Buccaneer Mike Alstott is the most accomplished example of fullbacks running wild on defenses since 2000. It’s important to note each fullback listed above carried the ball about 12 to 15 times per game and were major contributors to the their team’s rushing attack.

This still leaves a good portion of the carries open for Murray as the quicker, long-distance rusher.

Head coach Jack Del Rio has been open about wanting to instill some physicality back into the Raiders identity, per Sirius XM NFL Radio (h/t CSNBayarea.com reporter Scott Bair):

I was asked the other day about the Raiders mystique. Let me tell you what the mystique was. It was people knowing they were going to get pounded when they played the Raiders. There was fear developed through physical play of this football team. We want to bring that physicality back.

This is the reason behind signing Richardson—hoping he can return to form reminiscent of his days breaking tackles in a Cleveland Browns uniform. He was the seventh-most elusive running back that year, which indicates a high level of difficulty to tackle, per Pro Football Focus.

What if Richardson cannot revive his career in Oakland? What if he does way too much dancing around instead of resembling the north-south runner who hits the hole with a purpose? Helu could fill that void, but Reece provides that physicality Del Rio desires for his offense.

At 6’1”, 250 pounds, he’s a tough ball-carrier to bring down, which is evident in his yards-per-carry averages listed in chronological order from 2010 to 2014: 4.1, 6.6, 4.6, 4.7, 4.0.

The three-time Pro Bowler wouldn’t be the first power running back to find success in the backfield for the Silver and Black:

Raiders Using Power-Running Schemes
PlayerMeasurementsYearAverage carries per GameRushing YardsAverage YPCTDs
Rashad Jennings6'1", 234 lbs201310.97334.56
Michael Bush6'2", 243 lbs201116.09773.87
Tyrone Wheatley6', 235 lbs200016.61,0464.59

Although, Rashad Jennings, Michael Bush and Tyrone Wheatley weren’t sustainable at the position, it’s more proof it can be an effective approach when the rushing attack struggles.

Del Rio wants to add more grit to his high-flying passing offense; what’s grittier than a hard-nose H-back/fullback running downhill picking up yards in chunks and racking up yards after contact?

It's true the fullback position will become obsolete in offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s offense, which could be a good sign for Reece, per ESPN’s Adam Caplan (h/t ESPN reporter Bill Williamson):

The Raiders will use a faster, no-huddle approach often. ESPN's Adam Caplan reported recently that the Raiders are not going to use a fullback this season. They were one of the few teams that had a lot of fullback looks last year. What sees that mean for Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece?

Caplan reported that Reece will be on the move a lot and will be used more as an H-back or F-back. Is this change good for Reece? Yes, says ESPN scout Matt Williamson. He loves it for Reece.

"Reece is perfect for such a role," Williamson said. "I think he hasn't been utilized nearly enough as a move player/pass catcher of late and I have no doubt he can do it. He has great hands and is an accomplished route runner. I could see him developing into a similar player in this offense as Charles Clay in Miami." 

If Richardson flops and Helu remains a pass-catching running back, Reece could be a busy man through the air and on the ground. Rookie tight end Clive Walford is expected to make significant contributions at the position. Mychal Rivera is still a viable receiving target in two-tight end sets.

The lack of opportunities at tight end may push Reece to take on more ball-carrier opportunities pending Richardson’s ability to add toughness to Musgrave’s finesse offense.

You can follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for the latest on the Raiders and NFL chatter.

Advanced statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.comPro Football Focus, Teamrankings.com and ESPN.com.

Player Measurements provided by Raiders.com.


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