The Most Surprising Player on the 2016 Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders exceeded expectations in 2016, as did several of the players on the team. Jalen Richard was the most pleasant surprise of all.

Oakland Raiders rookie running back Jalen Richard, coined “The Pocket Rocket” by 95.7 The Game’s Greg Papa, exploded onto the NFL scene with the Silver and Black in 2016, quickly leaving the stars behind him in his ascent.

Quickly is almost an understatement, as Richard led the team in rushing in the team’s Week 1 win over the New Orleans Saints with 84 yards on three carries, his first of which being a 75-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.

“I’ll do whatever the coaches want me to do, whatever my role is I will do (it),” Richard said after his performance against the Saints, per the Raiders’ official site. “Even on that long run (in the fourth quarter) my number was called and I made a play… I was waiting during the game for my number to be called, and when it was called, I knew I had prepared myself to this point to go out there and perform. It doesn’t matter if your first carry is in the fourth quarter or at the beginning of the game, you’ve got to be ready.”

Richard continued to prepare for each carry like it was his first for the duration of the season, as he finished second on the team with 491 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 83 carries (5.9 yards per carry).

The former Southern Mississippi product didn’t limit his impact to the ground game, either.

Richard brought in 29 receptions for 194 yards and two touchdowns and added a needed spark to Oakland’s return game. He led Oakland with 17 kick returns for 402 yards (23.6 avg.) and 34 punt returns for 306 yards (9.0 avg.)

Because of Richard’s efforts, both Eddie Paskal and Kyle Martin of the Raiders’ official site highlighted Richard as the team’s rookie of the year.

“The stocky running back impressed during his first minicamp, and was rewarded with a contract when the three-day camp concluded,” Paskal said. “From there, it was just impressive play after impressive play for Richard, and by the end of the season, he had engrained himself as an important fiber in the makeup of the Silver and Black.”

Richard’s immediate success, however, came as a surprise given the uphill battle he faced just to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.

At 5-foot-8, 207 pounds, Richard already began his NFL campaign peering up at his competition, but no challenge proved too tall for the player likely deemed too small his entire football career.

After going undrafted in the 2016 NFL draft, Richard saw just 10 carries in the preseason due to an ailing knee injury that prevented him from seeing the field for Oakland’s first two exhibition games. Without a high touch count, Richard looked as if he lost his spot to former Raiders running back George Atkinson III.

Atkinson led the Raiders with 191 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 19 attempts in four preseason games. He also pulled in six passes for 60 yards and notched an 81-yard kick-return touchdown in Oakland’s preseason finale against the Seattle Seahawks.

However, Atkinson was still shown the door in favor of Richard, a decision that proved to be one of the Raiders’ best in 2016.

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