ALAMEDA (AP) — Jamize Olawale earned his way onto an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent as a bruising lead blocker whose unheralded work helps higher-profile stars shine.
Yet Olawale has developed into a big-play threat of his own this season for Oakland with the team’s two longest catches of the season, including the momentum-changing 75-yard touchdown that helped the Raiders beat the Houston Texans 27-20 on Monday night in Mexico City to take over sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
“I enjoy winning,” Olawale said. “Whatever I have to do to help the team win. Sometimes it’s blocking, sometimes it’s catching, sometimes it’s both. Whatever I have to do.”
Olawale wasn’t drafted out of North Texas in 2012 and made the Dallas Cowboys practice squad that season.
The Raiders then signed him to their active roster that December in a move that garnered little attention at the time.
Olawale spent most of his first three full seasons with the Raiders as Marcel Reece’s backup as the team saw enough promise to keep two fullbacks on the roster in an era when many teams don’t even carry one.
The Raiders gave Olawale a three-year extension last December and he became the unquestioned starter when Reece was suspended late last season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
“He’s here for a good amount of time and hopefully he’ll be here as long as I am,” quarterback Derek Carr said.
“I love ‘Maze.’ The cool thing about him is that not only is he a real, really good football player, he’s one of the best people I’ve ever been around. He’s quiet, he’s funny and he works extremely hard.
“So, whenever you have a guy like that having success, everyone in the locker room feels good for him.”
Oakland cut Reece when he was eligible to return earlier this season because Olawale offered the same threat as a runner and receiver while being more adept as a blocker.
Olawale has made that confidence pay off for the Raiders this season. He has eight catches for 189 yards and one TD and has carried 17 times for 47 yards and two scores as he has proven to be far more than a blocker.
He scored on short TD runs against New Orleans and San Diego, but has made his biggest impact with the ball as a receiver out of the backfield.
His 68-yard catch and run set up a field goal in an overtime win at Tampa Bay last month, then he helped wake up a stalled offense with his big play against the Texans.
With the defense worried about Amari Cooper as a receiver out of the backfield in the flat, Olawale got downfield and caught a deep throw from Carr.
He then ran the rest of the way for the game-tying 75-yard score that helped send Oakland to the win and put his name in the argument of who is the fastest running back on a team with speedy halfbacks in Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard, Taiwan Jones and DeAndre Washington.
“The argument has been going on all year,” Murray said. “Of course when you break off a big one like that, he’ll think he has the upper nod right now.
“I say I’m still the fastest in that room and in the offseason we can really figure it out if they want to. That’s if they want to.”
Regardless of where he ranks on the speed chart, Olawale’s ability as a receiver and runner after the catch gives defenses yet another option to worry about beyond Cooper, Murray and Michael Crabtree.
With the big plays he’s delivered, Carr said he doesn’t believe Olawale will be able to take teams by surprise anymore. He definitely caught the attention of this week’s opponent, Carolina.
“When you look at a fullback running that fast, it’s typically not in this day and age, especially when you talk about football, fullback’s more of a stockier, bigger type,” Panthers safety Kurt Coleman said.
“Not to say that he’s not, but he definitely has the speed and it surely showed against Houston.”
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