The Oakland Raiders have touted the best running back duo in the NFL for a few years now. The number four pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, Darren McFadden is the star of the Raiders vaunted run game. His freakish mix of size, speed and power make him a formidable opponent. McFadden is capable of breaking a defenders ankles, outrunning a defender or just plan running a defender over. His back up, Michael Bush, was one of the biggest draft steals for the Raiders in a long time. Taken in the fourth round, Bush was a first round talent that dropped due to breaking a leg in his senior season. A true pounder with a surprising amount of speed, Bush is not going to fool many defenders with his open field moves, but his ability to run through tackles and his surprising burst of speed have enabled him to see a large amount of success in the NFL.
However, this off season saw the departure of Michael Bush, who signed with the Chicago Bears to back up Matt Forte. The Raiders were never really in the running to re-sign Bush because of cap space issues, but while his departure was expected, it was also dreaded. For the most part, it has been a foregone conclusion that the departure of Bush represented a massive downgrade to the Raiders running game. Overlooked in this evaluation was the trade for former Carolina Panthers running back Mike Goodson. For the most part, it has been a foregone conclusion that Goodson is just an average back up that the Raiders acquired to give the team some veteran depth to balance out unexperienced second year player Taiwan Jones.
What few have talked about, however, is the fact that while Bush is an incredibly talented player, he was not the ideal back up to McFadden. His power running skills made a great compliment, but when McFadden went down with injury, as he often did, the Raiders had to re-tool their run game plan. The fact of the matter is, Bush has a very different running style and the plays that work towards McFadden's strengths were much different than the plays that work towards Bush's strengths.
With Goodson, that problem is not present. Goodson has a skill set that is similar to McFadden's. He is a good sized back at 6 feet and 210 pounds who has good speed. In addition, he runs in a similar fashion to McFadden with his tendency to make one or two moves at the line of scrimmage then use his speed to gain yards. While Goodson may not have had as much success at the NFL level as Bush has, he is more suited to take over the starting role should McFadden go down with an injury again this season.
Finally, Goodson has an added advantage in that the Raiders new running scheme will play to both his and McFadden's strengths. Greg Knapp is implementing a zone blocking scheme in Oakland this season and Goodson has already stated that he loves it. The zone blocking scheme requires running backs to make a read at the line of scrimmage, take one cut, then turn up field and gain yards with speed. As it turns out, that is exactly how both McFadden and Goodson like to run.
I had previously believed that Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson would split the back up reps. But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes that Goodson was brought in not just because the Raiders needed a back with some experience, but also because he is a very good fit for the Raiders. I would not be surprised to see Goodson not only be the primary back up, but to exceed most expectations with his performance.