This week I was listening to some sports talk radio here in Dallas, and being Dallas of course they were talking about the Cowboys. Specifically Darren McFadden. Now I’m not a Cowboys fan at all, but I like to hear what other people are saying about specific players. I’m always trying to gain some insight to see if it can translate into some fantasy insight for myself and for you. The main thing they were discussing was McFadden and how his performance in Oakland compared to other non-McFadden running backs over the past few years.
This got me thinking about this upcoming season. Who will be replacing McFadden and will they have any fantasy value this upcoming season?
“Darren McFadden is a good fantasy running back, WHEN he’s on the field,” has been a common theme among the fantasy football community. People remember McFadden’s 2010 season, and the glimpses of potential he has shown but hasn’t been able to fulfill for an entire season. McFadden’s injury history is no secret, but it has given us a chance to see what other backs can do when he’s out.
First, let’s take a look at McFadden versus non-McFadden running backs in Oakland over the last three seasons. McFadden has had 485 carries for 1,620 rushing yards and nine touchdowns over the last three seasons. There have been six running backs that have had more than 35 carries in any of the last three seasons for Oakland: Maurice Jones-Drew, Latavius Murray, Rashad Jennings, Marcel Reese, Mike Goodman and Jeremy Stewert. Combined, those six running backs have had 453 carries for 2,064 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. McFadden has averaged a pitiful 3.34 yards per carry while the six non-McFadden running backs averaged a much more respectable 4.56 yards per carry. For reference, the league average over the past three years is 4.2 yards per carry. Remember this is the same Oakland team, same offensive line doing the blocking, same quarterbacks in the backfield, and same coaches calling the plays over these three seasons. More than 400 carries is not a small sample size either.
Looking at McFadden’s performance versus the non-McFadden running backs in Oakland shows that there is an opportunity for someone to put up respectable rushing numbers for the Raiders this year. The question is: Who is it going to be? Currently, there are three running backs that I would consider to be in the running (pun intended) for a good share of the carries this season: Murray, Roy Helu and Trent Richardson. Yes, Richardson is in Oakland if you haven’t been keeping up with offseason moves.
At the bottom of the list is Richardson. Here is a guy who’s on his third NFL team in four years. Richardson’s big year was his rookie season where he had 267 carries in Cleveland. Unfortunately for him, his heavy carry load only got him 950 yards rushing for a very poor 3.56 yards per carry. It is no wonder why the Cleveland Browns traded him away the very next season. He wasn’t been able to resurrect his career in Indianapolis, and was waived earlier this offseason. Very sad for a guy who was a top-5 draft pick just four years ago. He should be in his prime, not fighting for an NFL roster spot. Then again, his career yards per carry is 3.30 on 614 career carries. If Oakland was looking for another McFadden they found their guy.
Moving up the list we have Helu. Coming from Washington, Helu is known as a pass-catching back, and he does it well. Last season, he had more catches than carries (42-40), and more than twice as many receiving yards as rushing yards (447-216). I see Helu as the third down, pass-catching back and that is most likely what Oakland brought him in to do. Like Liam Neeson in the Taken movies, Helu has a very specific set of skills. It should be noted that Helu’s two-year deal with Oakland is worth more than Richardson’s two year deal ($4.1 million-$3.9 million). If your league isn’t a point-per-reception league, I wouldn’t even draft him. Helu will get some work, but he won’t be the primary ball carrier.
Now at the top of the list we have Murray. A little background on Murray: He hit the fantasy radar last year in Week 12 on Thursday Night Football, when he ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns on four carries against a Kansas City team that hadn’t allowed a rushing touchdown up to that point in the 2014 season, before going out with a concussion. Note that he has no history of concussion issues. He was drafted in the sixth round by Oakland in the 2013 draft out of Central Florida. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at 223 pounds at the 2013 NFL combine. That’s faster than either Richardson (4.47) or Helu (4.42), while weighing more than either of those two. Murray didn’t play in 2013 due to an ankle issue, but was able to average 5.17 yards per carry on 82 carries last season. Oakland likes what it sees in this guy, and I think you should, too. His potential appears to be high, and his competition is lacking. He’s the only unknown guy out of the three, and it appears he’s going to be given the opportunity to show what he’s got. I like guys with opportunity and very little standing in their way.
Don’t try to let anyone convince you that Richardson or Helu is going to be the top guy in Oakland this season. They’re not. It’s going to be Murray and it’s not going to be close. Murray should have a very solid season while getting the majority of the carries for a slowly improving Raiders team, and he’s a good value right now. Derek Carr and soon-to-be-stud Amari Cooper will be the ones getting all the headlines this offseason, which is good because it won’t inflate Murray’s fantasy draft stock. Murray’s average draft position is currently sitting in the early 4th round. As a second running back on your team you could do much worse. I’m going to be targeting Murray in drafts this fall, and I think you should be, too.