We have reached the halfway point of NFL preseason and while some of the most exciting names to watch have sputtered, some unusual suspects have stepped up to capture the headlines. One of them being Raiders running back Chris Warren. As an undrafted free agent out of the University of Texas, Warren was a long shot to make the roster entering training camp. He was listed fourth on the depth chart behind longtime veteran Marshawn Lynch, newly signed yet oft-injured Doug Martin and 3rd-year player Jalen Richard.
The trio ahead of Warren most likely have their roster spots locked up, but Warren has managed to step up to compete for the fourth running back role. Through two games he has carried the ball 31 times for 196 yards and a touchdown. At 6.3 yards per carry, he has emerged as one of the most efficient running backs in NFL preseason so far.
Warren has the skill set of an old school bruising running back. He barrels through people and he is incredibly hard to bring down. The tailback gains momentum as he runs and gets even harder to bring down as he picks up speed. Warren does not need much space to be an effective runner and is not of afraid of taking hits running between the tackles.
The running back also has great vision when taking hand off’s out of the backfield. He can spot gaps even when they are not in his assigned running lane. The running back does a great job bouncing runs outside or switching fields if he needs to and rarely misses open holes.
Warren takes the handoff, spots a hole and chooses his path. He is a decisive runner that does not spend too much time dancing around in the backfield and he doesn’t try to do too much with the ball in his hands. The running back is a quick-thinking bruiser.
While he is big and strong, Warren lacks the quickness and athleticism a top tier running back needs. He is great at finding holes to run through, but he does not have the burst necessary to gash defenses once he gets to the hole. When he breaks into open space he doesn’t have the long speed necessary to take long runs the distance and usually gets chased down by defenders. The running back is great at making the first cut to get through the hole, but his cuts are fairly stiff and not quick enough to truly throw off defenders. It also means that after he makes the first cut he is usually stuck running one direction as he isn’t agile enough to make a second cut without losing all momentum.
As big and strong as he is durability could also be a concern for him long term. He is very upright runner and while he can barrel through people his running style leaves him incredibly vulnerable to taking hard, violent hits to the upper body.
These hits will wear down his body over time and make him more susceptible to injury. His upright running style also leads to him getting stonewalled at the line of scrimmage at times and makes him rely on his brute force to push the pile, instead of the natural leverage his body can create by getting low.
Warren is a running back that would have been an elite talent in the late 80’s. If he was a few decades older he would probably be a player stuffing the record books. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the quickness and agility necessary to really stick out in the modern NFL. There is still a place for him in the league today, but most likely as a change of pace back rather than a player who will be a main feature in the NFL offense. The Raiders grabbing him as an undrafted rookie may still prove to be one of the steals of this offseason, though.
More from Bird Breakdowns: