Raiders Sign Maurice Jones-Drew
Adding to a backfield that already includes an injury-plagued Darren McFadden, the Oakland Raiders have inked Maurice Jones-Drew to a three-year contract. The veteran running back is coming off his worst statistical season of what has been a stellar career, putting up just 803 yards on the ground and averaging a pedestrian 3.4 yards per attempt.
McFadden and Jones-Drew teaming up together say five seasons ago would have been one of the best running back tandems in recent NFL history. Unfortunately for the Raiders and those who might rely on one of these two for fantasy production in 2014, five years is a lifetime for running backs.
In the 21 games since leading the NFL in rushing back in 2011, Jones-Drew has put up a total of 1,217 rushing yards and six touchdowns. That’s an average of 57.95 yards and 0.285 touchdowns per game. To put that into perspective, a marginal fantasy running back such as Chris Ivory is averaging 50 yards and 0.238 touchdowns per game during that span. Once you start comparing Jones-Drew to someone of Ivory’s level, there are some major issues.
In terms of advanced fantasy stats, Jones-Drew was downright atrocious in 2013. He ranked behind Jordan Todman and right ahead of Jacquizz Rodgers in points per snap. In fact, the only regular running back to finish below Jones-Drew in this category was Ray Rice. In terms of points per opportunity, Jones-Drew put up the fifth-lowest total in the NFL among running backs with 150-plus touches.
Now take into account the presence of one Darren McFadden and you have the makings for a miserable fantasy season from Jones-Drew, who is averaging one touchdown per 53.9 touches over the past two seasons.
Some Jones-Drew’ apologists might want to conclude that he didn’t have much help from the Jaguars disturbingly horrific passing game over the past two seasons. While that’s a decent point, it isn’t like the Raiders are destroying opposing defenses through the air. No, the addition of Matt Schaub really doesn’t change that too much.
Jacksonville graded out as our worst passing offense in 2013 at -50.9. The Houston Texans finished 27th in that very same category, while Oakland graded out at No. 26. Even if we attempt to put the best spin on this, Oakland’s passing game isn’t exactly going to force defenses to go to nickel packages and take seven plus out of the box.
When looking at touches, it gets rather tricky. We cannot rely on McFadden, who has missed 40 percent of his games over the past three seasons, to be healthy for anywhere near a full season. In fact, McFadden has never played more than 13 games in a single season since Oakland made him a top-five selection back in 2008. The interesting dynamic here is that Oakland’s incumbent does average 16 touches per game when on the field. If healthy, he’s going to take touches away from Jones-Drew.
Last season saw the Jaguars actually go away from riding Jones-Drew hard on the ground. Some of this might have had to do with playing catch up, therefore needing to pass the ball, but the evidence is right there in the statistics. The aforementioned Todman averaged nearly seven touches per game. That was the largest total for a backup running back in Jacksonville since Jones-Drew joined the team back in 2006.
It’s hard to come to a final conclusion here because of the factors I listed above. If McFadden’s history tells us anything, he will miss about five games this upcoming season. Utilizing that as a barometer, it makes sense to look at Jones-Drew as a decent bench option who could come off the bench in specific situations to be an average FLEX guy, depending on matchups.
That’s about it. Don’t expect more than 700 yards and about four touchdowns from Jones-Drew unless he becomes Oakland’s true starting running back. At this point, he’s a late-round option that provides some upside due to McFadden’s injury history.