When Maurice Jones-Drew hit the free agent market, he expected to get a lot more attention. Coming off of back-to-back poor seasons due to injuries and rapidly approaching the 30-year-old running back expiration date, not many had confidence that MJD had anything left in the tank. Even he considered retiring before deciding he still had the fire to play in the NFL.
But two preseason games into the 2014 campaign and it appears as though MJD may still have something to offer his hometown team. His rushing stats haven’t been very impressive — eight runs for 22 yards, a paltry 2.75 yards per carry. But much of that has been due to the poor play from the interior of the offensive line. On two of his carries, one quarter of his preseason touches, he ran for 16 of his 22 yards and looked good doing so. He has also played well in the passing game, catching three passes on four targets for 36 yards.
When Jones-Drew has had the opportunity to get out in the open and run, he has looked good. He appears to have his burst back and isn’t showing any signs of lingering effects from his 2012 foot injury, something that couldn’t be said last season. Vision has always been a strength for the shifty back who moves easily through tight spaces. In Friday’s game against the Detroit Lions, Jones-Drew showed he still has good vision when he got out on a screen pass and picked up 22 yards. He was patient and read his blockers, using them to cut a path through Lions defenders as he made his way down the field.
He has not shown that he is still capable of handling the load of a starting NFL running back, but that’s not what the Raiders need. Darren McFadden, who is having a good preseason himself, will also receive his fair share of touches (while healthy, that is). The Raiders also have second year back Latavius Murray, who the coaching staff really likes. A big back with lots of speed, Murray has shown why this preseason picking up 41 yards on nine touches and averaging just over 4.5 yards per carry. Then there is Kory Sheets, who’s making a push for the team to keep four backs with his 45 yards on 10 touches this preseason.
When they signed MJD the hope was that a running back by committee design would help alleviate concerns about both veteran running backs. Though it’s early in the preseason, the Raiders’ gamble on the running back position is looking like it just may pan out.