NFL Preview 2019: Ranking AFC West rushing attacks before training camp originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com
Don’t look now, but the NFL season is right around the corner.
The Raiders recently completed their rookie mini-camp. Next up is training camp, which begins later this month. It’ll be Week 1 before you know it.
Oakland has had a busy offseason, to say the least, overhauling the roster with several new offensive weapons. The Raiders traded for Antonio Brown, signed Tyrell Williams, and used one of three first-round picks (No. 24 overall) on Josh Jacobs, the consensus top running back available in the draft.
Jacobs has yet to sign, but he’ll be a focal point of the offense moving forward, and Oakland is counting on him to help elevate its rushing attack. Out of all the AFC West teams, the Raiders were the only one to rank in the bottom half of the league in total rushing yards last season.
There’s a reason why Jacobs was the only running back taken in the first round. However, there are multiple Pro-Bowlers at his position within the division, meaning he’s got his work cut out for him to become the top rusher in the AFC West.
With that in mind, here’s how the AFC West rushing attacks stack up with training camp just weeks away:
Only two running backs have recorded at least 12 total touchdowns in each of the last three seasons: the Rams’ Todd Gurley and the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon. In the last two seasons, only Gurley and the Saints’ Alvin Kamara have combined for more scores among all skill position players. Considering Gordon missed four games last season and three more two years prior, that’s pretty darn impressive.
He’s coming off a 2018 campaign in which he averaged a career-best 5.1 yards per rush attempt, and caught 50 passes in just three-quarters of a season. Simply put, Gordon is a nightmare for opposing defenses, both before and after he gets the ball in his hands.
Perhaps the biggest knock against Gordon is his ability to stay healthy. However, with capable backups like Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson on the roster, the Chargers head into training camp with the top rushing unit in the division.
2. Denver Broncos
Here are all of the running backs that rushed for at least 1,000 yards and averaged at least 5.0 yards per attempt last season: New York’s Saquon Barkley, Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey and Denver’s Phillip Lindsay.
Had it not been for Barkley, Lindsay might have been the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. An undrafted player, Lindsay far outperformed even the wildest of expectations, accounting for 1,278 total yards from scrimmage before fracturing his wrist against the Raiders on Christmas Eve. He was named to the Pro Bowl, and is expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp.
Lindsay is a dynamic, but slight player, and should form a potent rushing attack with last year’s third-round pick Royce Freeman, health permitting.
Jacobs has every quality you look for in a star running back. He’s quick, powerful, elusive, and has the speed to break away from the pack.
Running back is typically the easiest position to transition from college to the NFL, and given that Jacobs is coming from a pro-pipeline at the University of Alabama, it’s reasonable to expect he’ll be a quick study. Still, it’s a lot to ask a rookie to be a focal point of the offense, so the Raiders will surely need to spell him at times.
That’s where Doug Martin and Jalen Richard come in. Martin was a pleasant surprise last season after re-signing in Oakland following Isaiah Crowell’s Achilles injury. He appeared in all 16 games, but performed better later in the season, scoring four touchdowns over the final eight weeks (all starts). Richard is most effective as a receiver coming out of the backfield, and is coming off a season in which he tied for the team lead with a career-best 68 receptions.
It will be a three-headed monster of sorts, with Jacobs taking over a greater share of touches as the season wears on.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
Ironically enough, the Chiefs probably have the best offense in the division, but so much of that is based off their passing attack.
It looked as if Kansas City had its running back of the future in Kareem Hunt, but his off-the-field issues forced the Chiefs’ hand. They waived Hunt after Week 11, and eventually handed the reins over to Damian Williams, who started the final three games of the regular season and both of the Chiefs’ playoff games. Williams caught at least five passes and accounted for at least 96 total yards in four of those five contests, and enters training camp atop Kansas City’s depth chart.
However, Williams has never had more than 50 rush attempts in any season throughout his five-year career, so he won’t be a bell cow. The Chiefs were very smart to sign Carlos Hyde — who is better suited to handle the rushes in between the tackles — with that in mind.