In the second edition of the 2021 positional review series, we take a look at the Raiders running backs. With a great amount of capital used on this group, great things were envisioned by the Raiders for their backfield. Let’s take a deep dive on how 2021 went for the Las Vegas ball carriers.
Starters: Josh Jacobs, Alec Ingold (FB)
Backups: Kenyan Drake, Jalen Richard, Peyton Barber, Sutton Smith (FB)
When the Raiders selected Alabama running back Josh Jacobs with the 24th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, he was expected to be the lead back for the offense. His first two years saw him be just that, averaging 1,309.5 yards of total offense and 9.5 touchdowns over his first two seasons. However, a slew of injuries would slow Jacobs down and cause him to miss the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career, rushing for 872 yards and nine touchdowns.
Despite the slow start, Jacobs would step up when the Raiders needed him most. As Las Vegas was fighting for a playoff spot and every game a must-win, Jacobs stepped up to become one of the team’s most reliable playmakers. Jacobs recorded his first 100-yard rushing game in a Week 16 victory over the Denver Broncos. Two weeks later against the Los Angeles Chargers, with a playoff spot on the line, Jacobs would have a career day, rushing for 132 yards and a touchdown while ripping off long runs in overtime to set the Raiders up for the game-winning field goal.
In the Week 18 postgame press conference, Josh Jacobs spoke about playing despite his injuries, “I would’ve felt like I let my team down if I went out there and let the pain get to me and give up. So many guys play with injuries on our team. So many guys have little things that are going on, I feel like they deserve my all. And I tried to come out there and give it to them today.”
Kenyan Drake, one of the prized free agent additions for the Raiders, was brought in to bring in more production for the Raiders running backs in the passing game. Though Drake wound up with only 30 receptions for 291 yards and a touchdown through the air, he had multiple targets in every game he played in except for one. That kind of volume showed that the team clearly wanted to include their big free agent acquisition in the game plan to add an extra wrinkle in the offense.
“I just try to make the most of my opportunities… Whenever my number is called. Whether it’s in the return game, the pass game, running game, whatever I’m here for. I came here to make plays so that’s what I hope to continue to do as the season goes on,” Drake would say in the post-game press conference following a Week 6 win over the Denver Broncos. Drake would score two total touchdowns in that game to help lift his team over the rival Broncos.
“I just got a nose for the endzone. I get there and I’m hungry for it.”
Sadly, an ankle injury during a Week 13 loss to the now Washington Commanders would cut Drake’s season short. Drake’s first season in Las Vegas would see him accumulate 545 total yards and three total touchdowns. While that is a far cry from the output he had while with the Arizona Cardinals in 2020, he showed that he can be a versatile asset to the offense when on the field and his production went beyond the stat sheet.
With Drake coming to the Raiders, that diminished the role of Jalen Richard, who had long been a valuable third down option for the team. Even with injuries to Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake, Richard’s impact on the team was minimal, barely cracking 100 yards of total offense and not scoring a touchdown all year long. Veteran Peyton Barber was picked up during training camp and even started a game while Josh Jacobs was on the shelf with an injury. Barber provided a spark to the Raiders running backs when he was called upon, rumbling for 212 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Veteran Alec Ingold was seen as a crucial piece of the offense going into last season. His leadership is seen as vital to a young Raiders team and his blocking is an important piece to the run game. However, an injury during the team’s Week 10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs would see Ingold’s season end prematurely. Sutton Smith, a three-year veteran, was signed and took Ingold’s place. Smith did a serviceable job as the team’s starting fullback but it was clear he was not near the caliber of Ingold.
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