Probably very few NFL viewers remember the name Branden Oliver. Only a selection of more devoted Los Angeles Chargers fans might, but even then he’s faded from memory a bit due to only contributing significantly for one season. Oliver, a multi-purpose running back, still looked quite promising at one time. He’s very much a case of “what could have been” with perhaps the defining factor being injuries and eventually diminished opportunities.
What Could Have Been: Branden Oliver
2014: Coming Out of Nowhere
Branden Oliver was originally an undrafted free agent. He had played with the University of Buffalo and ended up becoming the all-time leading rusher there with 4,049 yards. Despite and two First-Team All-MAC bids, he went undrafted and signed with the Chargers in 2014. He ended up getting opportunities due to injuries; the running back corps was in shambles early on in the season. Ryan Mathews was temporarily out with a sprained MCL and Danny Woodhead was out for the season. That left them with Donald Brown (who struggled heavily)… and the completely unknown Oliver.
In Week 5, he broke out with 114 rushing yards on 19 carries, 68 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. This was against the New York Jets, who had the top rushing defense statistically at the time. The following week, he got another 100 yards and scored a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute against the Las Vegas Raiders.
That would end up being his last 100-yard game of the season, as over the next few weeks the Chargers found themselves playing from behind more often and used him less. And then Mathews eventually returned, and he didn’t get many carries until towards the end when Mathews was injured again. He got one more touchdown in the season finale. He had 582 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and 271 receiving yards and one touchdown. Given his size (5’8”) and receiving ability, he quickly received comparisons to former Charger Darren Sproles – he even wore the same number (#43). The future seemed bright for him.
All Downhill From Here
2015 saw Oliver’s playing time go down drastically due both to the drafting of Melvin Gordon and the return of Woodhead – both of whom stayed healthy. Oliver, on the other hand, only played in eight games before getting injured himself and missing the rest of the season. He finished with 108 rushing yards and 112 receiving yards; his most productive game was Week 7 when he had 74 scrimmage yards. Given his low spot on the depth chart, though, being on pace for 400 scrimmage yards still wasn’t too shabby.
In 2016, Oliver tore his Achilles in the preseason and missed the entire regular season as a result. He did re-sign with the Chargers in 2017 but was not the same. He rushed for only 83 yards – on 35 carries, for a lousy 2.4 yards per carry average. Even with Woodhead gone, he didn’t get more opportunities as a receiver, and that role was taken by Austin Ekeler instead (which worked out pretty well anyway).
Oliver signed in August 2018 with the Indianapolis Colts but ended up being part of the final roster cuts. That was his last NFL opportunity. To his credit, he didn’t stop playing football; he joined the AAF in 2019 and played for the Salt Lake Stallions, where he was more productive prior to another injury, getting 210 yards on 54 carries and a touchdown. He didn’t end up in the XFL, but he is now playing for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL.
Oliver showed a lot of promise at one time; unfortunately, a combination of injuries and being buried on the depth chart ended up drowning him out. While he probably wouldn’t have reached the heights of Sproles, one does have to wonder how things would’ve turned out if he stayed healthy. But at least he’s been able to continue playing football elsewhere even if his NFL career has long ended.
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