After setting records in Buffalo Branden Oliver sat through seven rounds of the NFL draft and never heard his name called. There were 22 running backs drafted last year but for Oliver 1500 plus yards 15 touchdowns was not enough to be called. Shortly after the draft the Florida native got a chance to tryout for the Indianapolis Colts but before he could work out things with the Colts, the San Diego Chargers offered him two year deal.
So BO went to California to play for the Bolts. Initially the field of strong backs at San Diego looked to swamp the unheralded Buffalo running back. San Diego had three established backs and drafted Marion Grice in the 6th round.. Our friends from Bolts in the Blue were also disposed, like so many, to view midmajor backs as wanting.
Will Rookie Free Agent Running Back Branden Oliver make the San Diego Chargers roster?
Oliver's numbers (seen in the table below) are on their face very impressive. They're somewhat less impressive when you remember that Buffalo plays in the MAC. It's also worth noting that the Indianapolis Colts, who have significantly less running back talent than the Chargers, passed on signing him.
This is not the first time that Oliver was overlooked. UB was his only offer coming out of High School and he became one of the conference best running backs.
It was BO's work ethic that won him the starting role at Buffalo and his work during the preseason camps began to turn heads. Still there were doubters.
Prediction: Branden Oliver is going to be the preseason player that @Chargers fans irrationally fall in love with.— Bolts From The Blue (@BFTB_Chargers) August 2, 2014
When Oliver finally got a chance to hit the field for San Diego he shredded Dallas in the teams first preseason game. Over the course of a quarter Oliver had 7 carries, 64 rushing yards, and 1 rushing TD. Even still there was a lot of skepticism.
Bolts & Dolts: San Diego Chargers top Dallas Cowboys to kick off preseason - Bolts From The Blue
I'm sorry. Branden Oliver is not Darren Sproles. If this were a courtroom, Exhibit A would be the fact that he didn't catch a single pass or run a single route. Then, after explaining Exhibit A, I would shut my briefcase and walk out of the courtroom with the easy victory.
That being said, Branden Oliver has a good game. I am willing to bet it will be his best game of the year. Possibly of his career.
Oliver kept working and day by day made the cut decision harder for the chargers. When San Diego went to a 53 man roster they surprised everyone by keeping both BO and Grice.
Branden Oliver Makes the San Diego 53 Man Roster. - Bull Run
All week the conversation was "Who will get cut. Branden Oliver or Marion Grice"... As it turns out the Chargers kept both players, as neither was likely to make it to the practice squad.
Shortly after this Grice was waived by San Diego in hopes that they could put him on their practice squad but he was quickly snatched up by Arizona.
The story could have ended here with BO getting a dozen or so carries in garbage time over the season, as is usually the fate of undrafted free agents who barely make an NFL team. But fate started to cut down San Diego running backs and three weeks into the season, against the Buffalo Bills, Oliver's services were required.
BO went from the 4th back to the second back and against the Bills and against the Jaguars he had a modest 12 carries for 34 yards. Oliver got his first chance for substantial work when when Donald Brown suffered a concussion in the first-half against the Jets. Oliver exploded for 182 total yards and two TDs as he and the Chargers obliterated New York, 31-0.
By himself, Oliver actually out-gained the entire Jets offense 182 to 151 that day. He tore them apart as he had so often done to MAC teams. He used his low center of gravity, shifty running, and powerful legs to tear New York up on the ground and through the air.
His first touchdown was a 15-yard run into the teeth of New York's feared front. His second was a nine-yard receiving score.
Oliver followed that up with another 100 yard rushing effort and a game winning touchdown against the Oakland Raiders the following week.
There were games where he struggled, like against Miami, and and once his teammates started healing up there were games where BO found himself in a backup role.
When all was said and done Oliver finished the season sixth among rookie backs in the NFL. He put up 582 yards on 160 carries, scoring three rushing touchdowns. BO was also a weapon in the passing game. He pulled in 36 passed for 271 yards and a touchdown.
Unfortunately his last effort on Sunday, 71 yards on 14 carries, was not enough to topple the Chiefs so San Diego misses the playoffs this season but one thing the Chargers don't have to worry about next year is depth at running back.
While Oliver may still be purposed as a backup in a healthy San Diego backfield, he has shown the potential of an NFL starting back. The one thing BO excels at above all else is his work ethic. Provided he stays healthy Oliver will work on the few gaps that exist in his game and make it very hard to keep him off the field in coming years.