Jalen Richard Deserves More Touches for the Raiders

While Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch are the headline names in Oakland's backfield, Jalen Richard has quietly been very good in his first two seasons.

Training camp reports in late May should come with a "grain of salt" alert attached to each hopefully optimistic tweet.

In that vein, according to Vic Tafur of The Athletic, new Raiders' running back Doug Martin is going to make the Oakland backfield more competitive.

We are getting dangerously close to "best shape of his life" season.

Tafur's assessment is fair considering that Martin's direct competition is the previously-retired 32-year-old Marshawn Lynch as well as younger backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.

It's likely that the Raiders will use a running back committee, but who should be getting the majority of the touches?

Should Gruden Dig Doug?

Last summer, I wrote about Lynch being the most overvalued player in fantasy football based on his high average draft position (ADP) and his age. While I was correct that his ADP was too high, Lynch actually played well last season, surpassing my expectations. He finished 24th among running backs in PPR scoring. Martin was 64th among running backs during his injury-marred season.

Injuries aside, Martin was awfully inefficient with his touches.

In 2017, there were 47 running backs who accrued 100 or more rushing attempts. Of those 47 players, Martin ranked 44th in rushing efficiency, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. We also use a metric called Success Rate that measures how often a play results in positive NEP. Of these same 47 running backs, Martin ranked dead last in Success Rate with only 28.99% of his rushes ending with a positive outcome. Martin's rushing attempts were like episodes of Black Mirror, they rarely ended with you feeling good about what you had just watched.

Peyton Barber had 108 rushing attempts in that same Tampa offense in 2017 and was far more efficient that Martin.

Name Rushing NEP Per Carry Success Rate
Doug Martin -0.16 28.99%
Peyton Barber 0.01 45.37%

So Martin was a lot worse than his former teammate, but how did he compare with his new teammates last season?

Name Rushing Attempts Rushing NEP Per Carry Success Rate
Doug Martin 138 -0.16 28.99%
DeAndre Washington 57 -0.13 35.09%
Jalen Richard 56 0.13 37.50%
Marshawn Lynch 207 -0.01 40.10%

Richard got a lot less work than Martin -- or Lynch -- but he was more efficient with those touches, though Lynch's Success Rate was slightly better than Richard's.

Unfortunately for Martin, last season wasn't his first dance with disappointment. In recent years, his production has been subpar.

After his spectacular rookie campaign, Martin has seen his production falter. Over the past two seasons, it has fallen faster than Titus O'Neil entering the Greatest Royal Rumble.

Strike It Rich-ard

Martin's ugly numbers and career trajectory really make you wonder why the Raiders even signed him this off-season. On top of that, they're paying him more than twice as much as they are paying Richard, who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016.

Over these past two seasons, Martin has carried the ball 282 times. In that same timeframe, Richard has seen about half as many at 140 carries, but he has been far more efficient.

Name Rushes Rushing NEP Per Carry
Doug Martin 282 -0.18
Jalen Richard 150 0.05

Of course, more carries should mean a drop in efficiency, but a sample of 150 attempts is fairly significant, and Richard has shown out. For reference, the league average Rushing NEP per Rush in 2017 was -0.05, so Richard has been really good in his two seasons.

What about receiving efficiency?

Over the past two seasons, how have these new teammates compared as receivers?

NameTargetsReception NEP Per Target
Doug Martin340.27
Jalen Richard750.38
Marshawn Lynch310.22

Martin's receiving efficiency is slightly better than Lynch's, but Lynch was never really known for his receiving abilities. But that doesn't matter because the Raiders need to find a way to incorporate Richard in the passing game.

Richard has had more targets than both Lynch and Martin combined, and he was still more efficient. For reference, Martin had 70 targets during his monster rookie season with an average of 0.37 Reception NEP per Target. Richard has averaged 0.38 Reception NEP per Target on his 75 targets.

In 2017, 54 running backs had 30 or more targets. Richard ranked eighth among those 57 running backs when it came to his Reception NEP per Target average of 0.52.

Jalen for the Win

Martin is entering his age-29 season and is coming off of back-to-back lousy seasons. If you parlay that with a drug suspension and multiple injuries, it's tough to feel optimistic about him this season and beyond.

Lynch is going to be one of the oldest active running backs in the league, and his recent production has been impressive, but this league isn't very friendly to old running backs. Lynch could have another solid season, but he'll be bucking the odds to surpass 200 carries again. Running backs who were 32 years old or older have carried the ball more than 200 times in a season just 15 times since 2000. Three of those 15 seasons were completed by Frank Gore, who is a cyborg of some sort.

Richard should be given a shot at leading the Raiders in touches -- or at worst a more significant workload -- regardless of the resumes and the salaries of Lynch and Martin. His efficiency over the past two seasons -- as a runner and receiver -- has surpassed both players. Gruden and the Raiders have made plenty of head-scratching moves in recent months, but giving Richard a legitimate role would be a step in the right direction.