The Las Vegas Raiders had a tumultuous 2021 season that saw head coach Jon Gruden fired midseason and wide receiver Henry Ruggs allegedly involved in fatal car crash that likely ended his career.
In the aftermath, the Raiders hired Josh McDaniels to be the new head coach. With a wealth of experience with the New England Patriots where the team routinely kept six or seven running backs on the roster, it may not bode well for Josh Jacobs, who was the clear lead back under Gruden. With veterans Kenyan Drake, Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah and some young talent behind him headed up by rookie Zamir White, there is a full RB room that may find roles for all of them.
Jacobs is the clear No. 1 guy and has earned that distinction heading into the final year of his rookie deal. In 43 games, he has rushed for more than 3,000 yards, caught more passes every year of his career (20-33-54) and scored 28 touchdowns. Those are the kind of fantasy numbers you look for in a RB1 or RB2. However, the Raiders have come to expect that he will miss time because of the beating he takes.
In his first two seasons, he had six games in each year where he rushed 20 or more times. That number dropped to three last season and, with McDaniels’ offensive philosophy now in place, could drop even more. But make no mistake, Jacobs is the featured back in this offense and barring significant injury, he should have twice as many carries (or more) than any other back in the offense.
Drake has never seemed to get a full opportunity to shine. In three and a half seasons in Miami, despite averaging 4.6 yards a carry, catching 116 passes, and scoring nine touchdowns in his final full season with the Dolphins. He finally received his chance in Arizona … briefly. In 23 games over a season and a half with the Cardinals, he rushed 362 times for 1,598 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. Yet, when he hit free agency, Arizona made no effort to re-sign him.
In his first season with the Raiders, he had just 63 carries and was used more as a receiving back (30 receptions) than a legitimate featured back in 12 games. A fractured ankle cut short his 2021 campaign and has him entering camp at less than 100 percent. That may change this season, because he has has the talent to carry a heavier workload when his number is called, and McDaniels has a storied history of utilizing multiple backs.
White fought for every yard he could at Georgia, where he played in a rotation. He has incredible athleticism and doesn’t have too many miles on his football odometer despite leading the Bulldogs in rushing the last two seasons. He was a value pick in the fourth round. While he has a lot of veterans to sift through to get his opportunity, White will eventually earn his shot to show what he can do if he can control his fumbling issues.
Brandon Bolden and Ameer Abdullah
A consummate role player and locker room leader, in 10 NFL seasons, Bolden has just 283 carries for 1,297 yards, has caught 100 passes for 902 yards and has scored 18 touchdowns. He has been durable, having missed just four games over the last seven seasons. What makes him an interesting fantasy player is that he spent almost his entire career with the Patriots (and most with McDaniels as his offensive coordinator). Bolden’s utilization may be minute on offense, though he could carve out role on special teams.
A second-round pick by Detroit in 2015, Abdullah never garnered the opportunity to be a full-time back. In seven seasons, he never had more than 165 carries and failed to rush for 600 yards in any season. His role with the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers was as much to be a kick returner as a featured back. He can find a role for himself as a receiving back – he had almost as many receptions (38) as rushes (51) last season. His role as a return man gives him the versatility to make the roster.
Fantasy football outlook
Jacobs is the primary back, but the realistic expectation that the Raiders will use multiple options. He has RB1 talent, but the offensive philosophy will likely drop him to RB2 status.
Drake is a solid handcuff for Jacobs and deserves to be a mid- to low-end RB3. Bolden and Abdullah don’t have fantasy value and could well be checker-jumped quickly by White, who would become a quick waiver wire pickup if either Jacobs or Drake gets injured.