With Josh McDaniels in charge, Raiders’ running back approach could change game by game

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With Josh McDaniels running the offense in New England, the Patriots never had a true, go-to, bell-cow tailback. It’s likely that McDaniels will take the same approach to his offense in Las Vegas.

Vic Tafur of TheAthletic.com has taken a closer look at the tailback options for the Raiders. The new regime decided earlier this year to not exercise the fifth-year option on Josh Jacobs (pictured), a move that becomes less of a surprise when considering the way McDaniels uses running backs.

It’s often driven by matchups. It’s often driven by game plans. One week, one of the running backs becomes the focal point. Another week, it could be another guy. Some weeks, it could be a blend of two or more.

That approach will confound fantasy owners, obviously. And it will require maximum buy in from the various options at the position, as they put in the work and wait for their chances to come.

The top names on the depth chart are Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah, and rookie fourth-rounder Zamir White.

As Tafur notes, former coach Jon Gruden viewed Jacobs as a bell-cow back. For McDaniels, based on the approach with the Patriots, there’s no bell and there are interchangeable cows.

This approach keeps the labor costs low at the position, with no one becoming the kind of star player who will command big money. That’s important with so much money devoted to the passing game, where receiver Davante Adams has a market-level contract, receiver Hunter Renfrow recently signed a healthy extension, and tight end Darren Waller deserves a major upgrade.

McDaniels’s past practices with running backs, if applicable to the Raiders, also will place maximum value on inside information when it comes to knowing, for fantasy or wagering purposes, who’s likely to get the most opportunities in a given game.

Last year in New England, Damien Harris ended up with 202 rushing attempts, for 929 yards — and 15 touchdowns. Rhamondre Stevenson added 133 carries for 606 yards. Both players averaged 4.6 yards per attempt.

Bolden had only 44 rushing attempts, but he led all running backs with 41 receptions. (Stevenson had 18, and Harris had 14.)

In 2020, Harris had 137 rushes — matching Cam Newton’s 137. Sony Michel carried the ball 79 times, followed by 67 for Rex Burkhead. Only one of those four players was even on the roster in 2021.

While the running game clearly won’t be ignored by McDaniels, it definitely won’t be a one-man show. And there’s a chance that, from one year to the next, many of the names and faces will indeed change.

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