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Maurice Jones-Drew or Darren McFadden?

Who starts at running back for Oakland may not seem like a burning question for fantasy owners. After all, the Raiders don’t have the look of a powerhouse offense. However, if you can get a running back who isn’t in a full-blown committee, it doesn’t matter what team he plays for, those guys are an endangered species, like the spotted owl.

At the moment, it’s unclear if the Raiders want to go with a bell cow or a 1 and 1A backfield because the coaching staff hasn’t made any decisive pronouncements about it. However, both
Darren McFadden

and Maurice Jones-Drew are the kind of backs who thrive under heavy usage, so it seems likely that in Oakland the winner of this depth chart battle will be more than a starter in name only.

So who will it be? Let’s take a closer look.

Last season the Oakland coaching staff chose to use Rashad Jennings over a healthy McFadden and then promptly let Jennings, who was productive, walk because the New York Giants offered him a larger contract than the Raiders thought he was worth. McFadden, a younger back with a shinier pedigree than Jennings, didn’t obtain a Jennings-sized deal in free agency. Essentially, he crawled back to Oakland and signed a team-friendly deal on the first day of free agency (one year, just $1.75 million guaranteed, albeit with generous incentives).

Next, the Raiders signed Jones-Drew to a comparatively paltry $7.5 million three-year contract, with only $1.2 million guaranteed and the freedom to cut bait after this season. So if money talks, the Raiders spoke up louder for McFadden.

Jones-Drew has had the more illustrious career and is arguably a better between-the-tackles runner, but McFadden should win the starting job. Now 29 years old, Jones-Drew slowed visibly in 2013 and his 3.43 yards per carry seemed less a product of the offensive line than did McFadden’s 3.3 ypc average. Statistically, the Jaguars offensive line may have been worse than Oakland’s, but Jones-Drew had the worst yards-per-carry of any running back to average 15 or more attempts. Meanwhile, McFadden got half as many carries and could never get into a rhythm.

McFadden has more juice left in his legs and unless he gets hurt on a kick return, he should break enough big plays in the preseason to win the starter’s mantle. After all, Oakland added run blockers in Austin Howard, Donald Penn and rookie Gabe Jackson. There will be bigger holes for him to apply his 4.4 speed to.

Looking at the average draft position data available at
, Jones-Drew is going at 7.10 (seventh round, 10th pick) and McFadden at 8.08. Jones-Drew is the safer, high-floor and low-ceiling choice. Fantasy owners figure he has a better shot at remaining healthy and reasonably productive than the historically fragile McFadden. Four or five weeks in, you’ll probably want the little guy.

However, better draft values include
Khiry Robinson

Terrance West

Devonta Freeman

(9.09) and
Lamar Miller

(10.09). If you ask this Raiders fan, just pass on the Oakland backfield and grab someone without the age and injury question marks we have with this duo.

If I was to take one or the other, I’d rather just roll the dice on McFadden’s upside. Were he to fall into the 10th round I might grab him as my RB4 or RB5. It’s a low-percentage play but at that point in the draft I’m looking for guys who will either hit big or flame out early, opening roster spots. McFadden is your classic boom-bust pick.

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