Raiders Sign Roy Helu
The Raiders needed to find an experienced running mate to pair with Latavius Murray, and they found their guy on Tuesday. The Raiders signed Roy Helu to a two-year contract that is reportedly worth somewhere just over $4 million.
After the Raiders made no effort to re-sign Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, it made sense that they would target a back in free agency. Murray has upside and finished the year strong, but he comes with major question marks as a receiver out of the backfield.
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A veteran typically has a major advantage in pass protection, and Helu has been strong in pass protection for two straight seasons. He has allowed just 18 total pressures on 205 pass blocking snaps over this time span. Regardless of where the Raiders choose to go throughout the rest of free agency and the draft, it’s a safe bet to assume that Helu will get the vast majority of passing down snaps.
In 2014, Helu actually saw fewer total snaps and rushing attempts, albeit while playing in two fewer games, but he saw his targets, receptions, and receiving touchdowns increase from 2013. He had four more targets and turned them into 11 more receptions and two more touchdowns. This was surprising when you consider the fact that he ran 84 fewer pass routes in 2014.
Helu also finished 2014 with the second-best YPPR—yards per route run—for all backs who were targeted at least 30 times. With just nine total drops over 140 career targets, he has also done an excellent job of providing reliability in the passing game.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Helu’s 2014 season was his ability to avoid contact and to create yards after contact. Helu finished with a 108.6 elusive rating—an advanced metric used to distill the impact of a player with the ball independently of the blocking in front of him combined with how hard he is to bring down. Only Antone Smith bested Helu in this metric, and he had 46 fewer total touches. Helu finished the 2014 season with a 3.43 Yco/Att—yards after contact per attempt average—and he chipped in 26 forced missed tackles on just 82 total touches.
Given that the Raiders still have plenty of salary cap to work with, it’s difficult to predict whether or not they will make a run at DeMarco Murray or any other free agent running back. However, Murray seems less likely to take a deal in Oakland if the money is comparable, thanks to California’s awfully high state income tax.
The Raiders just added PFF’s third-best center from 2014, Rodney Hudson, and Derek Carr showed real signs of improvement down the stretch of last season. If you pair that with a defense that should provide the offense with more opportunities, then you have an underrated spot for a running back to step in to.
Early expectations are that Helu will serve as a passing-down and change-of-pace back behind Latavius Murray, but these expectations are based mostly in speculation. Murray flashed in 2014, but most of his yardage and hype came from one 90-yard touchdown run. He certainly has the physical tools, but his game is still very raw—specifically in pass protection. The Raiders coaches and management have also remained guarded in their support of Murray as the lead back this offseason.
Helu carries similar physical upside to Murray, and some might argue that he is the better athlete. You can check out their measurables back-to-back here and here. Helu may not have the explosion and strength that Murray has, but he has bigger hands and registered a significantly better agility score. Helu also has the NFL production and sample size edge over Murray as well.
If the Raiders choose not to add any more premium talent to their backfield this offseason, Helu will be an intriguing late-round fantasy target. In PPR leagues, he has the potential to flirt with high-end RB3 status as long as he is given the opportunity to be the primary passing down back.
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Dan Schneier is a staff writer at PFF Fantasy and he also covers the NFL for FOX Sports. You can find him on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL. You can also add him to your network on Google+ to find all of his past material.