Stories can come from anywhere at any angle. That’s what’s so great about them. They can come through the straightforward “as we expected” route or through the underdog rags to riches route.
For Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard, his story comes as an underdog. Undrafted out of Southern Mississippi, Richard had to participate in a 3 day tryout just to even make it to Raiders training camp. All of this while competing with Dwayne Washington, Oakland’s 5th round pick.
Despite going through the preseason injured, #30 made enough of an impression that he had made the team. A terrific achievement, but how long would it last?
The unthinkable happened. Not only did it last the entire season, but Richard’s addition to the Raiders has actually made the offense better.
Despite being undrafted, he already looks like a high quality back after 1 year, and on an offense rich with talent. Mostly used as the return guy, Richard’s role was used increasingly as both a running and receiving back, And he quickly caught the attention of analysts such as Jon Gruden, Dan Fouts and Cris Collinsworth once his role was increased.
As a result of his breakthrough, the Raiders showed unbelievable depth at both the run and receiving game, helping them make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Richard finished his rookie season with 491 rushing yards (5.9 YPC) and a touchdown while putting up 29 receptions for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns. Richard is only the fourth player in NFL history (and the first since 1979) to rush for a 75-yard touchdown or longer in his first career game, running for an 84 yard touchdown on his first career carry.
It’s this kind of impressive play that has allowed the Raiders to explore new dimensions with an already explosive offense.
Richard’s size and play has given him comparisons to famed small back Darren Sproles, and in respect he does represent that role. Where as Latavius Murray is tall and sturdy, making him the workhorse back, Richard is small and nimble. He is also an intelligent player, allowing him to have a wide skill set for the Raiders to use him as an offensive weapon.
Richard’s nimbleness makes him an alarming threat in the running and receiving games. He is difficult to grasp not just because of his size, but also his athleticism. In the first GIF, He jumps on the screen pass from Derek Carr, and uses that jump to get a quick burst of acceleration. In the 2nd GIF, Richard shows outstanding vision and dodges an incoming tackler, creating space ahead of him to turn nothing into a 6 yard gain. The same field awareness is used in the 3rd GIF, where #30 uses an excellent outside jump cut to gain 7 yards while helping the offense move the chains.
These 3 GIFs are perfect for showing off how wide Jalen Richard’s skill set is because his thought process is prepared meticulously beforehand. He’s able to survey the field and instantly decide how to approach tacklers, angles and gaps, the sign of a quality back. So it goes without saying that Richard has this in spades.
In perhaps his best career game yet against the Colts, Richard showed outstanding vision and patience, helping him get 66 yards on 6 carries. In the first GIF, Richard makes an amazing cut across the field at the line of scrimmage for a massive gain. The Le’Veon Bell esque patience is shown in the 2nd GIF, where Richard is able to manage a claustrophobic gap to get a 9-yard gain out of it.
These next set of GIFs show Richard’s sturdiness despite his size. Here, he bursts through a small hole while jabbing his way from a tackler, who gets hands on him but can’t bring him down. The result is a 22-yard gain. The 2nd GIF shows Richard breaking 2 tackles, one with an up the middle jump cut and an outside cut.
Despite his small size, Richard is surprisingly tough to take down. It’s one thing to even get to him, but to wrap him up and take him down is another story. His burst and strength allow him to slip through tackles and go for longer gains after contact.
In this GIF from the playoff game against the Texans, not only did Richard (somehow) survived this hit, he also avoided getting brought down, bouncing off the tackle like a pinball and running for the races, giving Oakland excellent field position on the eventual scoring drive.
Football audiences gawk at flashy stats and performances, but to me, the ability to know how to approach the football and a situation is more impressive. This may seem obvious, it’s a trait certain players in the league lack. You’ll see guys lose precious yards in situational play because they’ll jump to conclusions and look to get more yards, or fail to see openings and useful opportunities.
For a player who had to participate in a 3-day tryout just to make it to training camp, much less go undrafted, to show off these traits and then some is sensational. The work Jalen Richard has put into his craft has made him a really good back, and his emergence has not only given the Raiders further depth at the running back position, but also another way to approach the field.
It’s difficult to conclude how Jalen Richard went undrafted, because his talent and football smarts indicate he’s a high quality starter and will be one for years to come.
(Featured image via justblogbaby.com)