What was supposed to be an offseason devoted almost exclusively to defensive improvement turned decidedly offensive for the Raiders. By the time the dust settled, a rebuilt offensive line was in place and star running back Josh Jacobs had a new high-priced sidekick in Kenyan Drake.
Given the Raiders had the 10th-best offense in the NFL last year, the moves seemed a bit curious. In Drake’s case, some wondered if the two-year, $11 million contract he received was a case of throwing money at a position of strength.
For all the points the Raiders scored, though, things were hardly perfect. They ranked 23rd in a 32-team league in red zone touchdown efficiency at 54.24 percent, and Pro Football Focus ranked them 26th in run blocking and 17th in pass blocking. Meanwhile, the 4.2 yards they averaged on run attempts was 23rd.
The obvious flaws made duplicating the 2020 point total and improving the red zone touchdown efficiency a dubious proposition. Hence the changes along the offensive line that leave the Raiders much thinner on experience but potentially more durable, athletic and powerful.
As for Drake, the plan is to tap into his versatility as a runner and receiver to create more favorable matchups across the field. Through the first three weeks of the on-field portion of OTAs, it’s obvious Jon Gruden and the Raiders plan to utilize him in multiple ways.
“Just adding another playmaker that the defense will have to worry (about),” Drake said. “Creating those mismatches out the backfield or lining up out wide. Getting those coverage indicators, whether it’s man or zone. Just being another playmaker, another weapon. When you have a multitude of guys to cover on the field, it stretches the defense real thin.”
In a more narrow sense, the Raiders are counting on his skill set being a big factor in turning more red-zone visits into touchdowns. In addition to the healthy 4.5 yards Drake has averaged over the 695 carries and 3,130 yards he’s accumulated, he also has 169 receptions for 1,244 yards and caught 50 or more passes twice over the past three seasons.
Both attributes will come in handy at a point of the field where the Raiders have struggled in the past two years.
“Statistically speaking, the honest answer is we need to be better in the red zone,” said tight end Foster Moreau, now completely healthy and also a prominent target in the red zone during OTAs.
“We need to get better on third down in the red zone. It’s been a big point of emphasis this year. Gruden’s been calling them four-point plays. Third down, tight red zone, being able to score a touchdown rather than sending out the field goal unit.”
Enter Drake, who can line up in the backfield when the Raiders play power football in close quarters or, when they spread it out near the goal line, operate alongside Darren Waller, Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow and Jacobs and force opposing defenses to make difficult decisions on where to direct their attention.
“It’s almost like a pick-your-poison type of situation,” Drake said.
As for any awkwardness Drake might create playing a co-starring role alongside Jacobs, that should be mitigated by the Alabama connection they share and the relationship they have built over the years.
Keep in mind, injuries have prevented Jacobs from playing complete seasons over his first two years, so the addition of Drake could help both players finish games and the season in better physical condition.
“I just feel like once everything kind of gets going, you’re just going to rely on the things that you’ve kind of been adapted to grow into, and that’s being the best versions of ourselves and kind of really feeding off each other once we get in there,” Drake said of he and Jacobs.
“His running style is definitely infectious, the bruising, physical style, being able to make people miss in space. And me, vice versa, so I definitely feel like we will be able to complement each other.”