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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Will the Real Run DMC Please Step Up

Coming out of college, Darren McFadden seemed poised for greatness after dominating the SEC for three years.  The Oakland Raiders drafted McFadden with the fourth overall pick after an extremely impressive combine, where he posted a 4.33 40-yard-dash and impressive vertical and broad jumps.  However, McFadden hasn’t played a full season in his five-year career, constantly fighting injuries; which have limited his effectiveness.  McFadden recently came out and said that his career-worst year last year will motivate him this year, and the Raiders will need him if they want to compete in the AFC West.

McFadden attended Arkansas from 2005-2007 and was part of unbelievable backfields that included NFL running backs Peyton Hillis and Felix Jones.  However, he was the feature back of the team, and often came up with big plays and performances when his teams needed him most.  In his freshman season, he rushed for 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns and won the SEC Freshman of the Year, on a rebuilding Arkansas team that finished the year 4-7.  In his sophomore season Run DMC set a school record with 1,647 yards rushing, rushed for 14 touchdowns, and even threw three touchdowns.  McFadden was the Heisman runner-up that year to Troy Smith, but won his first Doak Walker award as the nation’s top running back, becoming the first sophomore to win the award.  McFadden was even better in his junior year and was absolutely unstoppable, starting the season with five consecutive games with at least 120 yards, including 195 against Bama, 151 against Troy, and 173 against Kentucky.  In a game against South Carolina, McFadden tied the SEC single-game rushing record, with 321 yards.  His most impressive game that year was a triple overtime victory against #1 LSU in Baton Rouge.  McFadden rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns and threw a touch down as well.  McFadden once again won the Doak Walker award, and was once again the runner up for the Heisman, this time to Tim Tebow.  In three years, McFadden made a solid impact on SEC history, finishing second all-time in career rushing yards in the SEC, and also finished seventh all-time for the SEC career rushing touchdowns record.

After the Raiders drafted McFadden in 2008, he found himself in an undesirable position, with JaMarcus Russell holding the starting quarterback spot, and Lane Kiffin as the head coach.  However, the Raiders were terrible, and Kiffin was fired and replaced with Tom Cable before the season ended.  McFadden had a rough season as well, rushing for 499 yards and four touchdowns.  The next year was even worse for him, posting his career-worst numbers, and injuring his knee which caused him to miss four, signaling the first of quite a few lower body injuries he would suffer.  McFadden bounced back to have his best season in 2010, despite the fact he missed three games due to injury.  McFadden totaled 1,664 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns despite having minor knee surgery in the middle of the season.  In 2011, McFadden suffered a Lisfranc injury, which kept him out of the last nine games of the season and ultimately ended any chances the Raiders had of competing, finishing with only 614 rushing yards and four touchdowns.  Last year may have been McFadden’s most disappointing to date because of the opportunity that he had with Carson Palmer as his quarterback.  McFadden missed four games with an ankle injury and posted his worst yards-per-carry average of his career.  

This year, McFadden needs to be able to stay healthy to help contribute to his offense, which will feature a new quarterback, whether it is Matt Flynn or Tyler Wilson.  The Raiders brought in Rashad Jennings from Jacksonville to provide depth behind McFadden, but Jennings is also an oft-injured running back, so McFadden could find himself as the only backfield option.  The Raiders also have a receiving corps filled with fast, but unproven and raw receivers.  The coaching staff will have to work on their route running ability, as well as their consistency in order to make these receivers threats at the NFL level.  It is important that the Raiders can sustain a passing offensive threat, because it will force teams to respect the pass and put less players in the box, allowing McFadden to use his speed and overall athleticism to find the holes in the defense, and break open a big gain.  One problem for McFadden, which isn’t his fault, is the lack of talent the Raiders have shown the past few years.  The Raiders have lost 50 games since McFadden has been in the league, and often, when team plays from behind, they forget about the run and focus solely on passing the ball, which obviously affects McFadden’s numbers.  Oakland needs to be able to surround him with other offensive weapons so that defenses can’t key on him, and those weapons need to perform to take some of the pressure off of him.

Darren McFadden is an extremely talented running back that has been driving Raiders fans, and fantasyowners’ crazy with his inability to stay on the field.  If McFadden can stay healthy for an entire season, it is likely that he would finish as a Top-5 back in all of the important rushing categories.  For the Raiders to have any chance this year, McFadden needs to stay healthy and step up to lead the team.

Bryan Ridall

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