Darren McFadden is an electric talent. There's no question that, when healthy, he is one of the league's top playmakers, and by proxy his presence in the lineup makes the rest of the Raiders skill players better. McFadden can create plays on his own, whether it's leveraging his vision and power for a few extra yards on a key first down conversion, or as a receiver that can take a check down dump off and turn it into a 60-yard score, or perhaps by using his sprinter speed to take a handoff and break off a 40-yard scamper. In any event, opposing defenses HAVE to account for him, more than any other player wearing Black and Gray.
Unfortunately, he's also a brittle talent. McFadden has 113 or fewer carries in three of four seasons. In baseball, batting .250 is considered underachieving – in fantasy football it's a complete nightmare. McFadden appears healthy and has been explosive throughout training camp, so fantasy owners are happily drafting him as one of their cornerstones in spite of starting only 32 of 64 games career-to-date.
Let's say McFadden suffers the injury bug YET AGAIN...what happens to the Raiders? How should fantasy football managers deal with the situation?
Taiwan Jones, RB – Surprised to see Jones' name and not Mike Goodson? Well remember Goodson has lost two fumbles in the preseason and is dealing with a sore shoulder. There's no guarantee he's got a place on this team much less the backup job. While Jones is also largely unproven, he comes with a more intriguing pedigree. The 2nd year player out of Eastern Washington is a dynamic open field runner with speed to spare. At 6'0", 194 lbs, he has a physical profile that evokes more of a wide receiver look, but Jones is a confident runner that's unafraid to handle inside carries. Jones has a lot to prove before he would be given a full workload, but he could see enough targets, particularly in the passing game, to be a viable flex option.
Carson Palmer, QB – Carson Palmer was put in a strange position last year, coming out of "retirement" mid-season to become a Raider. Regardless of what you think of Palmer, he should be in line for improvement in 2012. He benefits from a full offseason with the team, the coaches and the system. But the loss of McFadden will have a domino effect throughout the offense. On one hand, Palmer would have to throw more – there's no one on the Raiders roster that can credibly replace McFadden on the ground. On the other hand, Palmer loses his best weapon and opposing defenses can more easily key on him. Net-net, Palmer remains an intriguing QB2 with upside, but probably becomes a bit riskier in leagues that heavily penalize turnovers.
Mike Goodson, RB – Goodson could be in line for a significant increase in carries if McFadden gets hurt – but it's no guarantee. As we've already discussed, Goodson has had an offseason to forget.
Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore, WR – The Raiders are changing their offensive system this year under Greg Knapp, to a more traditional West Coast offense with a run-heavy focus. The only change with a McFadden injury would be the possibility of more passing attempts – but Knapp is resolute about the need for balance.
Marcel Reece and Lonyae Miller, RBs – In deep leagues, Reece and Miller would be worth considering. Remember, OC Knapp wants to implement the zone-blocking scheme made famous by Mike Shanahan in Denver (and Gary Kubiak in Houston), which means they'll need a committee approach to keep offensive balance in McFadden's absence. Reece is a capable receiver and a viable alternative as a short-yardage specialist; Miller flashes big play ability but has been buried on depth charts in Dallas and Oakland.
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