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Has Darren McFadden Finally Arrived?

Many had thought Oakland Raiders’ running back Darren McFadden was easily on his way to becoming the team’s next colossal draft bust on the heels of now-former quarterback JaMarcus Russell. With Michael Bush penciled in as Oakland’s starting tailback heading into the 2010 season, it had sure looked that way. However, thanks to Bush’s “timely” preseason thumb injury, an adjustment in McFadden’s diet and an adjustment in the Raiders’ offensive line blocking scheme, any fantasy owner who had drafted McFadden is smiling nowadays, because he enters week 4 as the third-most productive rusher in the National Football League.

Born Aug. 27, 1987, in North Little Rock, Ark., to Graylon McFadden and Mini Muhammad, McFadden was the 10th of the couple’s 12 children. McFadden played his prep football at Oak Grove High School in North Little Rock. While he was talented enough to play a variety of positions, McFadden primarily played running back on offense and safety on defense. He also occasionally lined up at the quarterback position. During McFadden’s senior season (2004), he earned several gridiron honors, including Parade Magazine All-American and Arkansas High School Player of the Year by
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. McFadden also was awarded the Landers Award, which is given to the top high school player in the state of Arkansas. As expected, he was highly recruited by many of the elite college football programs, including Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee. Choosing to avoid the “drama” of a long recruiting process, McFadden decided to stay in-state and play for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

THE COLLEGE YEARS

After watching McFadden slog through two very forgettable NFL seasons, it’s easy to forget his great Razorbacks career. Displaying some awesome speed and explosiveness, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound McFadden played immediately as a true freshman (2005), and his stellar play propelled him into the starting lineup after just two season-opening games as a backup. The Arkansas native set a school record for rushing yards amassed in a season by a freshman and became just the second Southeastern Conference player to rush for more than 1,100 yards as a freshman. In case you’re wondering, the first player to do it was former Heisman Trophy winner and Georgia running back Herschel Walker. By the way, McFadden also earned SEC Freshman of the Year Honors.

Permanently entrenched as Arkansas’ starter at tailback, McFadden was even more lethal as a sophomore (2006). Although a dislocated toe suffered during an off-the-field incident at a Little Rock night club had slowed McFadden early in the season, he still rushed for a school record 1,647 yards and 14 touchdowns. Serving as the quarterback when Arkansas lined up in the “Wild Hog” formation (yes, it’s just like the “Wildcat”), McFadden tossed three touchdown passes on nine pass attempts. In addition, McFadden set a career-high mark for rushing with 219 yards against South Carolina. He became the first sophomore to win the coveted Doak Walker Award, which is given to the nation’s top college running back, and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting to Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith.

DARREN McFADDEN – ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

RUSHING

RECEIVING

YEAR

G

ATT

YDS

AVE

TD

LG

REC

YDS

AVE

TD

LG

2005

11

176

1,113

6.3

11

70

14

52

3.7

0

12

2006

14

284

1,647

5.8

14

80

11

149

13.5

1

70

2007

13

325

1,830

5.6

16

80

21

164

7.8

1

57

TOTALS

38

785

4,590

5.8

41

80

46

365

7.9

2

70

DARREN McFADDEN – ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

PASSING

KICKOFF RETURNS

YEAR

G

CMP

ATT

PCT

TD

INT

LG

NO.

YDS

AVE

TD

LG

2005

11

1

2

50.0%

0

0

13

12

348

29.0

0

81

2006

14

7

9

77.8%

3

1

28

10

262

26.2

1

92

2007

13

6

11

54.5%

4

0

42

16

316

19.8

0

33

TOTALS

38

14

22

63.6%

7

1

42

38

926

24.4

1

92

Although McFadden’s junior year (2007) was his most productive – he set a new school record for rushing yards and rushing scores in a season – a stretch of three subpar late-season rushing performances – 43 yards against Auburn, 110 yards versus Mississippi and 61 yards against Florida International – torpedoed his chances of winning the Heisman. Nevertheless, McFadden’s final season with the Razorbacks was a successful one. On Nov. 3, 2007, McFadden tied an SEC record with 321 yards rushing against the University of South Carolina. Three weeks later, he led Arkansas to a 50-48 triple-overtime win over LSU in Baton Rouge, LA. McFadden carried 32 times for 206 yards and three touchdowns, and completed three of six pass attempts for 34 yards with one touchdown pass.

McFadden ended his Arkansas career as the most decorated player in school history and as the holder of most major Razorbacks’ rushing records. His 4,590 career rushing yards ranked second all-time in SEC history, and McFadden finished in the Top 10 in other SEC rushing categories. He won the Doak Walker Award for the second year in a row and was the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting for the second year in a row, finishing behind Tim Tebow this time. McFadden decided to forego his final year of eligibility and declare for the 2008 NFL Draft.

THE NFL YEARS

As you may remember, McFadden was highly coveted by several NFL teams for his unique combination of size, speed and power. Many had predicted that McFadden would make an immediate impact as a top-five draft pick.


Height: 6’1″


Weight: 210 pounds


40-yard dash: 4.33 seconds officially (4.27 seconds unofficially)


Bench Press: 13 reps/225 pounds


Wonderlic: 17

The Raiders selected McFadden with the No. 4 overall pick. Determined to avoid another lengthy holdout by a top draft pick (JaMarucs Russell held out in 2007), the Raiders quickly signed McFadden to a six-year $60 million deal with $27 million in guaranteed money.

DARREN McFADDEN – OAKLAND RAIDERS

RUSHING

RECEIVING

FUMBLES

YEAR

G

GS

ATT

YDS

AVE

TD

LG

REC

YDS

AVE

TD

LG

FUM

LST

2008

13

5

113

499

4.4

4

50

29

285

9.8

0

27

3

1

2009

12

7

104

357

3.4

1

28

21

245

11.7

0

48

5

3

2010*

3

3

73

345

4.7

1

33

10

80

8.0

1

18

1

0

TOTALS

28

15

290

1,201

4.1

6

50

60

610

10.2

1

48

9

4

*Through Week 3

Facing sky-high expectations and comparisons to former Raiders great Marcus Allen, McFadden’s 2008 rookie season started off on a positive note. In Week 2, he rushed for 164 yards on 21 carries and scored his first NFL touchdown, but things went downhill quickly in the weeks to come. McFadden suffered turf toe injures on both feet and a shoulder injury that nagged him during the rest of the season. The shoulder required offseason surgery. McFadden finished as the Raiders’ second-leading rusher behind Justin Fargas and second-leading receiver behind Zach Miller. McFadden (113 carries) also was trapped in a time share with Fargas (218 carries) and Michael Bush (95 carries). Although McFadden was able to play through his injuries, now-former head coach Lane Kiffin never let him touch the ball more than 10 times in a game, which is one of the reasons why Raiders headman Al Davis fired Kiffin.

Heading into 2009 with new run-oriented head coach Tom Cable, many had expected McFadden to shake off the doldrums and injuries from his disappointing rookie year, but it didn’t happen. McFadden’s 2009 season looked eerily like his 2008 campaign. Slowed by nagging injuries again and troubled by fumbles, McFadden (104 carries) again received limited touches in the Raiders’ committee backfield with Fargas (129 carries) and Bush (123 carries). By the way, for the second season in a row, McFadden was criticized for not running hard and for not taking on tacklers. He finished the year ranked third on the team in both rushing and receiving.

Wanting to give the $60 million McFadden and Bush more playing time, Oakland released Fargas shortly after the 2009 season had wrapped up. During the offseason, McFadden, determined to play better, worked out harder than ever, and, by his own admission, started eating healthier, which included cutting down dramatically on fast food. Following a strong start to training camp workouts, the injury bug bit McFadden again – he sat out with a hamstring pull. McFadden, however, was quietly thriving in new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson’s straight-ahead power-blocking scheme. For the last two seasons, McFadden had struggled in Oakland’s zone-blocking scheme. In the meantime, Bush had all but claimed the starting tailback job when he suffered a broken left thumb during a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers.

With Bush sitting out, the Raiders handed the starting gig to McFadden, and he has delivered beyond expectations. Heading into the week 4 games, McFadden is third in rushing with 345 yards on 73 carries (4.7 yards per rush) and is averaging 115 rushing yards per outing. In week 1 versus the Tennessee Titans, McFadden rushed 18 times for 95 yards and snagged a team-high six passes for 55 yards. He followed that up by torching the St. Louis Rams for 145 yards on the ground in eeek 2. The following week, McFadden racked up 105 yards against the Arizona Cardinals on their home field.

THE McFADDEN FANTASY FORECAST

Has McFadden finally arrived? It sure looks that way. Since Bush is healthy, it’s doubtful that McFadden will tote the rock 25-30 times per game, but the starting job belongs to McFadden for now since he is obviously running well. The surprisingly productive McFadden is faster than Bush and a better receiver, so the former Arkansas great is the best-talented man for Oakland’s starting tailback job. Bush, however, could steal some goal-line touches at the minimum.

McFadden’s durability is an obvious concern; however, barring a long-term injury or a major drop off in production, again, it doesn’t look like Bush will reclaim the No. 1 job. By the way, McFadden and Bush are listed as co-starters on the Raiders’ depth chart. The presence of the capable Bruce Gradkowski under center and some solid receiving talent in Zach Miller and Louis Murphy will keep opposing defenses from stacking seven- and eight-men in the box against McFadden. Is McFadden a sell-high candidate? If you’re worried about his ability to stay healthy, package him in a trade. McFadden is a hot commodity right now. If you want to roll the dice with him, keep in mind that Oakland’s schedule contains more favorable rushing matchups than unfavorable ones. You may also want to acquire Michael Bush, if you haven’t already.

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