Thanks to the great Al Davis and the nastiness that John Madden’s Raiders played with back in the 70s, the silver & black have always had a unique brand. The bad boys of the National Football League won three Super Bowls from 1976-83 and have long been a lightning rod for buzz that did not always please the league office. The franchise is now on their third city as they’ll open the 2020 season at brand new Allegiant Stadium right off the Las Vegas strip.
— Kevaney Martin (@KevaneyMartin) April 24, 2020
From a brand standpoint, there may not be a more perfect fit than Lynn Bowden Jr. The Youngstown, Ohio native with hundreds of tattoos was a ‘rough around the edges’ prospect when he graduated high school and had to deal with some tribulations to grow into the father that he is today. However, there is no denying that he is a competitor in every sense of the word and is literally willing to fight on the field.
ESPN’s video of the Kentucky/Virginia Tech scuffle featuring Lynn Bowden pic.twitter.com/xgxOp8YLYo
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) December 31, 2019
In a very good way, it doesn’t get much more Raider than Bowden and he will quickly become a fan favorite for all of the new fans the franchise will attract in Sin City. However, fitting into the team’s brand and culture doesn’t always complete the puzzle. You also must fit into the scheme, philosophy and roster.
The Raiders are in the middle of a rebuild under third-year head coach Jon Gruden and second-year general manager and former NFL Network star Mike Mayock. During this short run, the franchise has not been afraid to trust their board over public perception. Last year they took Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall. This year it was Ohio State corner Damon Arnette at No. 19 when no one had him as a first rounder. They believe in their eyes and scouting process.
Even with the reaches, there have been some relatively smart and safe picks. Last year Josh Jacobs was taken at No. 24 as the first running back off the board. He responded with a very strong rookie season where he was named to the All-Rookie team after rushing for 1,150 yards in 13 games. This year they went back to Alabama and made Henry Ruggs WR1 at pick No. 12. His top flight speed should allow Jacobs to gain a numbers advantage after running into a loaded box for most of last season.
Ruggs will enter training camp as the starter at outside receiver as Jon Gruden will attempt to turn him into a No. 1 wideout. After that is where it gets murky when trying to project Bowden’s future with the franchise.
Hunter Renfrow was a fifth round pick last season and the former Clemson walk-on locked down the slot position for the Raiders with 49 receptions for 605 yards in his rookie campaign. While he has some physical limitations, Renfrow is an elite route runner and seems destined to be a consistent receiver for a sustained period of time.
Due to their recent roster construction, you quickly realize that Lynn Bowden Jr. is entering an offense that has some solid options. Then immediately after selecting him at No. 80, the Raiders turned around and grabbed Bryan Edwards at No. 81. The former blue-chip recruit is South Carolina’s career leader in receptions and receiving yards despite battling injuries throughout his career. He was used sparingly in the slot, but mainly outside with his 6-foot-2 and 212-pound frame. There are going to be a lot of young bodies in this wide receivers room.
That brings us back to the actual selection when it was announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday evening. When the Raiders submitted their pick, they listed Bowden as a running back, going against the conventional thinking many had entering the draft. If running back is the position Bowden is going to play, he is going to have some competition.
Southern Miss product Jalen Richard is entering his fifth season with the Raiders and back in February he agreed to a two-year contract worth $7 million with 65.7 percent of that money being guaranteed. So at the bare minimum, the franchise is planning on keeping the former undrafted free agent around for the 2020 season. The third down back has reeled in 104 combined receptions in the last two seasons and is a very viable option in the passing game.
So with Josh Jacobs logging around 20-plus carries each Sunday and Jalen Richard being a proven change-of-pace third down back, just where Lynn Bowden Jr. fit in? It’s complicated.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson (not the tight end) is heading into his third season calling plays for the Raiders and before that he held the same position with Jaguars, Raiders from 2003-04, Buccaneers, Rams and Lions. The 57-year-old is a coaching vagabond, but the Raiders are fresh off a top-10 finish in offensive efficiency per Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings after Derek Carr put together the best season of his career.
Those are things to get you excited, but there is plenty of worry when trying to figure out just where Lynn Bowden Jr. fits. Outside, Tyrell Williams and Henry Ruggs will be getting a ton of snaps while a focus of the passing game could still be to force feed the ball to tight end Darren Waller after the Georgia Tech product collected 90 receptions for 1,145 yards last season as Carr’s top target. In 11 personnel, common sense tells us that Hunter Renfrow will get most of the snaps at inside receiver.
If Bowden is indeed a running back, where will the snaps come from? That’s all going to come down to how the Raiders scheme it up each week.
It seems like the Raiders are going to try and develop Bowden mainly at running back to see if he can take over the third down back position. We know he has the pass catching ability from his time playing receiver and he proved this past year that he as the instincts, toughness, sudden burst and agility to succeed in traditional run schemes.
Bowden is a playmaker, but to make a big impact early it is most often going to need to be made on special teams. He will need to prove that he can be a reliable return man on both kickoffs and punts. This likely played a big part in why the Raiders spent a top-100 pick on him.
Now it is going to be experiment time for the Las Vegas offense. For Bowden to truly succeed, he will need a creative scheme that will be willing to get him the ball in a unique ways as he figures out how to become a more natural part of the offense at a regular position. It seems like the Raiders think that could be as a third down back who can eventually lineup out wide and create some unique matchups to take advantage of.
His growth will be fun to watch, but expectations need to be tempered. Both the Raiders and Lynn Bowden Jr. will be going through an adjustment period to get acclimated to each other. He is a positionless football player and some out-of-the-box thinking will be needed for him to make an impact as a rookie.