What looked like a nicely crowded backfield for the Raiders last off-season, has now turned into a position of need. The three-headed monster of Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush didn't look so scary last season. McFadden struggled to find his place in the offense. He eventually found a home splitting out wide to throw in a wrinkle and create mismatches. And while Fargas and Bush were effective, there was very little in the spectacular variety.
Now Fargas has been released, which leaves just Michael Bush as the Raiders lone every down type back. And while he has shown flashes of great play in the past two seasons, he needs a change-up back to help carry the load.
This offseason, Al Davis' propensity for speed, the Raiders need for a speedy scat back, and the Raider youth movement all come together. So it seems logical that the Raiders will be looking at the workouts of a few running backs in the hopes of filling the void left by Justin Fargas and injecting some quick young talent to the Raider offense. Here are a few backs whose physical talents hold up to Raider standards.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
The best running back in this class by a large margin. He has all the tools. He runs like Chris Johnson of the Titans but he did it all season against ACC opponents at Clemson. He ran a 4.37 40 yard dash at the combine which was second best among running backs. He would be a dynamic choice but would have to be taken with the #8 pick if the Raiders want him. With many more glaring needs, choosing a running back that high should not be a priority. Although, we all thought the same thing when the Raiders chose Darren McFadden two years ago. The Raiders had a much more crowded backfield then than they do now. I would love to see Spiller in Silver and Black but not at the expense of another more dire position being filled.
Smart choice: No
Jahvid Best, RB, California
Best was a Heisman candidate going into last season but after injuries, he fell out of the race. He was originally projected as a second rounder but after he showed his legendary speed by running the fastest 40 yard dash AND the fastest 3 cone among running backs at the combine, he may jump into the first round. If he does fall into the second afterall, you can bet Al Davis will give him a serious look. At his pro day, after he ran the 40 for scouts he was quoted as saying "I think I showed them some Raider speed." Which sounded like a not-so-subtle hint dropped to Mr Davis to tell him he is very much interested in becoming a Raider. Then again, he could have just been trying to get chosen at number 8 overall. And after seeing the Raiders grab speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey at #7 overall, he thinks the Raiders might be his best chance at cashing in.
Smart choice: Maybe
Ryan Mathews, RB, Fresno State
By all indications, Ryan Mattews could be the perfect choice for the Raiders at running back. His running style is ideal for the zone blocking scheme, he ran a top five 40 yard dash at the combine, and he is a local talent after having gone to school at Fresno State. And hey, rushing for over 1800 yards in just 12 games last season doesn't hurt either. He is currently projected as a mid second round pick. He would be the most logical selection to replace Justin Fargas in the lineup. This team has bigger needs than running back but with his speed and running style, it would be hard to argue with choosing Mathews in the second round. And if by some miracle he fell to the third round, the Raiders would be foolish not to take him.
Smart Choice: Yes
Joe McKnight, RB, USC
First off he has ties to USC which is always a plus in Al's book. He also ran a top 5 40 yard dash at the combine. However, he is pretty much a Darren McFadden clone by all indications. He is more of a running back/receiver out of the backfield than a between-the-tackles guy. And running between the tackles is what the Raiders need right now. He is projected as a second rounder but would be a reach for the Raiders with their high second round pick.
Smart Choice: No
Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee
Hardesty has been rising on draft boards since season's end. Originally he was a mid to low round pick but after a great combine, he has jumped up to being a late round two or third round pick. He was sixth among running back in the 40 yard dash and was top five in the 3 cone drill. Many scouts believe that the 3 cone is the true test of an athletes speed on the field. I am in that same camp, especially when judging a running back. It judges their ability to change direction and pick up speed quickly. If Hardesty is still around in the third round, he could be one of the best picks in this draft for the team that nabs him.
Smart Choice: Yes
Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss
McCluster has been one of the more surprising prospects in this year's class. He was not in the picture until he showed some really nice talent in Senior Bowl practices. Since then he has been very much in the conversation. He has shown great speed and quickness. But he didn't quite live up to his sudden hype in his combine workouts. He had the best 20 yard shuttle but after that, his workouts were disappointing. His 4.58 40 yard dash was just barely good enough to crack the top ten and that is not quite Al Davis speed. He is also a tweener RB/WR and as I mentioned a moment ago, the Raiders already have one of those in Darren McFadden. The only wildcard with McCluster is his kick return ability. The Raiders could find some value in that but only if he were available in the fourth round or later.
Smart Choice: Maybe
Ben Tate, RB, Auburn
Tate could be the sleeper pick pf this draft. Although after besting the running backs with 26 reps on the bench press, posting the third fastest 40 yard dash (just under CJ Spiller and Jahvid Best) and the sixth fastest time in the 3 cone drill, he may be a sleeper no more. He was originally projected as a fourth or fifth round prospect but he may have jumped into the third or even second round. If he somehow was still available in the fourth round and the Raiders have not taken a running back yet, you can bet he would be a priority. And I would agree with that placement.
Smart Choice: Yes
James Starks, RB, Buffalo
Not many people were talking about James Starks coming into the offseason. Mostly because he played at the little heralded Buffalo. He came into the combine with a mission to open some eyes and he did. He was among the top 5 running backs in the 3 cone drill and was seventh in the 40 yard dash. He is at very least on the radar which means he went from an undrafted or seventh round pick to jumping into the sixth and possibly the fifth round. If he is available in the sixth when the Raiders choose, he would be worth a look. And hey, he certainly wouldn't be the first player the Raiders drafted in the sixth round out of Buffalo. Trevor Scott was taken out of Buffalo in the sixth round of the 2008 draft and he has turned out pretty well I would say.
Smart Choice: Maybe