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What's Going to Happen in the Oakland Backfield? - Footballguys

The Footballguys staff offers thoughts on the Oakland running back situation

Oakland has one of many backfields where the roles are not clearly defined. Since running back is one of the most important positions in fantasy football, it's wise to get as clear a picture as possible on every backfield.

Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement in 2017 and performed well down the stretch. The arrival of Jon Gruden also brought Doug Martin. Is Martin clearly behind Lynch, or are their roles similar? Do Jalen Richard and/or Deandre Washington have any value here?

Wood: The Raiders are one of my picks for worst teams in football. I expect the Gruden era to get off to a horrific start and the offense to struggle for fantasy relevance. Greg Olson has a long and storied history of being a horrible offensive coordinator. Gruden hiring him in this role is one of an ever-increasing string of questionable decisions he’s made since his return from the broadcasting booth. I expect both Lynch and Martin will be unusable in most weeks because the team won’t be in a game script supportive of a ground attack.

Tefertiller: Martin is the only back I want to roster from this group. If Lynch or Martin get injured, this appears to be a great landing spot for DeMarco Murray.

Simpkins: I trust Lynch to provide one more great year of value for owners. Gruden and company have expressed that they want to have a run-heavy identity and have multiple fullbacks on the roster, including Ryan Yuracheck and Keith Smith. Doug Martin offers redundancy in case of a Lynch injury. I don’t see DeAndre Washington or Jalen Richard being factors with the kind of smashmouth style that Gruden is advocating. The guy to watch for the long-term is Chris Warren III. Of the guys behind Lynch, he has the most potential to be his replacement. If he can stick on the practice squad, I’ll be very encouraged.

Alexander: The lack of positive game scripts to boost Oakland's running game are a concern, but not because anything is wrong with their offense. Oakland had the 29th-ranked defense a season ago (DVOA) due mostly to a pitiful secondary and lack of help for Khalil Mack on the defensive line. Unless Gruden can fix things in a hurry, he won't have a chance to make good on his vow to "fix football by recapturing its past".

To Gruden's credit, he turned over the team's defensive backfield this off-season, but any chance for a major improvement will hinge on the development of second-year players (Gareon Conley, Obi Melifonwu) and the chance last year's career year by free-agent acquisition (and former journeyman) Rashaan Melvin is the new norm moving forward. Former Lion Tahir Whitehead is a shot in the arm to the Raiders beleaguered linebacking corps, but they're still missing help up front for Mack after drafting offensive tackles with two of their first three picks.

Oakland's defense is clearly a work in progress, but we shouldn't rule out their offense being strong enough to compensate for it.

  • The Raiders averaged over 25 points per game during Derek Carr's MVP-caliber 2016 season. Carr broke his leg in Week 16 that year, barely recovered in time to start Week 1 in 2017, then fractured three bones in his back in Week 4. Maybe we saw Carr's ceiling in 2016, but maybe it just stinks to play football with a broken back.
  • Oakland's offensive line remains one of the better units in the league. They currently rank 10th in our Matt Bitonti's offensive lines rankings for the upcoming season.
  • Greg Olson was an uninspiring hire, but it would be difficult for the Raiders play-calling to get less imaginative than it was last year under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing.

Whether or not the offense rebounds or continues its decline on Gruden's watch, Lynch is going to be the primary back. It's impossible to read these quotes from Gruden and come to any other conclusion. Lynch proved over the final eight games of last season he's still capable of posting mid-RB1 numbers when given adequate workloads, which Gruden won't hesitate to provide if given the opportunity. Lynch is currently being drafted in RB3-territory, well below his floor.

Parsons: My strongest takes on the Raiders backfield for 2018 are:

The second one is more of a hot take than the first I would imagine. Lynch is firmly in RB3-territory of cost and Martin in the RB4/5 zone. Lynch has been an anomaly at the position, taking a break in 2016 before reemerging in 2017 at 31 years old to post 4.3 yards-per-rush and log more than 225 touches. Despite being three years younger, Martin has eroded quickly over the past two campaigns and is now on the NFL roster fringe, on a one-year deal with no dead money if Oakland moves on before the season.

The more overarching take is I do not trust the Oakland franchise at all with the new Jon Gruden iteration and bringing in plenty of shaky veterans. Derek Carr and Amari Cooper should survive on the other side of this experiment, but the rest of the pieces, I doubt it.

In terms of running back depth, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are functional change-of-pace NFL options but are limited to 1B or 2A roles if pressed into greater usage.

Hicks: The Oakland running game is one of the more intriguing situations heading into the 2018 season. Both of the lead candidates in Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin are well into the veteran stage of their careers. It appeared as if Lynch was sparingly used last year with only 207 carries, although he did appear to warm into the season with 135 of them coming in the second half of the year. He was productive and durable, with a missing season appearing to have worked well for him. At age 32 and with a new coach, it remains to be seen how that impacts 2018.

Doug Martin is an enigma, with only two good years out of six. They were great years though and if you believe in cycles, then he is due, with his previous great years being 2012 and 2015. Coming back to earth though, he has run poorly in all other years and can be best described as drafting for the stars, but expecting it to fall back to earth with a thud. The other backs such as DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are depth options only and they have produced when required. The only true fantasy back will come from Lynch or Martin and both could just as easily bust as be reliable fantasy options.

Howe: My interest in Marshawn Lynch is position-based only. If my draft strategy has adapted by Round 7 into one that requires I target running backs on the spot, I give him a look. He was productive down the 2017 stretch, and I trust him more than several of his ADP-mates. But I'm not assigning him much upside, nor am I considering him any higher than Round 7.

The real value lies in the rest of the backfield. Doug Martin is not a starting-caliber NFL back - he's lost much of his college athleticism and is one of the league's worst receivers out of the backfield. But is he really a much longer shot than 32-year-old Lynch, with all of his idiosyncrasies? He comes to fantasy drafters roughly seven or eight rounds later, and would carry similar upside if he found himself in the lineup; that makes him a prototypical value arbitrage.

The other backs have deep-league and speculative appeal, too. Perhaps Jon Gruden's calling card from the 2000s was his love of receiving backs, and we saw Michael Pittman and Charlie Garner post bloated catch totals under him. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have quietly caught 107 passes over their two seasons, an impressive total in such a crowded backfield. If Gruden falls for one of these guys in camp, they won't be far from usable fantasy value.

Henry: I'm not enamored by the Raiders backfield as I was last year at this time. By deduction, though, I've found myself with some shares of Marshawn Lynch in leagues where I've taken a wide receiver-heavy approach earlier in the draft. Scooping up Lynch at or near his ADP seems like a reasonably safe play, albeit one that may not have as much upside as you'd like in that portion of the draft.

The deduction process has me effectively treating Doug Martin as a shiny object. I'm not taking that bait. We've seen him bounce back before, but I'm just not chasing him even in those drafts where I took Lynch and could handcuff him cheaply. I'd rather go with Hines/Wilkins combo, or draft someone like Breida or Wilkins if I'm planting a flag on a backup with high potential to yield a return.

I'm also not sold on Lynch being washed up. He was very effective over the last two months of the season last year. His main concern is - and has been - the build of injuries and beatings that he takes given the punishment he administers and receives due to his fun and bruising style.

The backup play is not cleanly slanted towards Martin because I think Richard may still be the better change-of-pace option behind Lynch. He's certainly more explosive if nothing else.