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Spotlight: Darren McFadden

posted by Mark Wimer on Jul 14th


Mark Wimer's thoughts

During his third NFL season, Darren McFadden finally seemed to "get it" at the pro level. Though he still didn't play a full slate of 16 games, he posted his highest career totals in carries, rushing yardage, rushing TDs, targets, receptions, receiving yardage and receiving TDs (he crossed the double-digit TD barrier for the first time last year, too). All told, McFadden posted 223/1,157/7 rushing and 61 targets for 47/507/3 receiving, finally becoming the productive, dual-threat back that we all expected when he arrived from Arkansas as the fourth overall pick in 2008. He also posted an outstanding 5.2 yards per carry last year, and averaged 10.8 yards per reception - he showed the explosiveness of his game last year, folks. When it was all said and done, McFadden was the sixth-ranked fantasy RB in the land last year, a huge move up the RB board - it could be argued that McFadden was the second-best value pick in fantasy football last year (behind the astounding Arian Foster).

One of the problems in analyzing McFadden's outlook this year is due to the yet-to-be-determined free agency rules that will govern his teammate Michael Bush. Depending on how the rules are shaped in the new collective bargaining agreement, Bush could be a restricted or unrestricted free agent during the upcoming free-agency frenzy. Even if he is considered a restricted free agent, the demand for Bush's services could be strong enough that the Raiders won't match an offer sheet for him and take the draft compensation instead. McFadden owners in dynasty leagues hope that the free agency rules make Bush an unrestricted free agent, because with just Michael Bennett and rookie Taiwan Jones behind McFadden at this point, McFadden would seem to be in a position to become the "featured" back in Oakland with little sharing of the ball. Bush punched in eight TDs for Oakland last year (158/655/8 rushing with 18/194/0 receiving) - McFadden would likely snare up a majority of those scores and touches on the ball if Bush ends up leaving the team.

However the Bush situation plays out in free agency, McFadden is the clear-cut, #1 running back on the depth chart, and figures to near or go over 300 touches on the football this year if he can play a full slate of games (he had 270 total touches last year over 13 games). Jason Campbell has solidified the quarterback position after years of turmoil at the position, and McFadden now has a legitimate passing threat to keep defenses off his neck (a luxury he didn't enjoy during the ill-fated JaMarcus Russell years). Oakland isn't an offensive juggernaut - yet - as a team, but they are significantly stronger as a unit entering 2011 than they were from 2007-2009 - and we all saw how McFadden blossomed last year when conditions on the offense were in the process of improving. Now that Campbell has a year under his belt with his new team, one would expect improvement to continue.

New offensive coordinator Al Saunders comes into a much better situation than Hue Jackson did during 2010. Remember, Saunders built a top-five offense (yards per game) during 2002-2005 down in Kansas City (they were the top overall offense (yards per game) in the league for two years straight, during 2004 and 2005) while he worked with Dick Vermeil. Saunders coached Campbell previously from 2006-2007 in Washington, another factor that should ease Oakland's transition to his offense during 2011. Campbell is adept at picking up offensive systems (he's played in a new one most years of his career), so working with Saunders again shouldn't be too difficult for the traveled veteran. McFadden and company should be able to get their bearings fairly quickly during training camp under the leadership of Campbell. Backs that catch the ball well are outstanding fantasy backs in Saunders' system (Priest Holmes was the top fantasy back during 2002 and 2003; Larry Johnson was the second-best fantasy back in KC during 2005 (and also 2006 after Saunders left). If Bush is out of the picture by August, McFadden will shoot up my draft board significantly.

Positives

  • McFadden will be 24 when the season begins, but he is a veteran now and showed that he has grasped the pro game last season
  • McFadden will play this year in a scheme that has produced some of the biggest fantasy seasons EVER in the past
  • McFadden is an excellent PPR prospect who should catch over 50 passes this season

Negatives

  • Currently, Michael Bush is with Oakland and he may stay put, which could potentially cost McFadden a lot of rushing scores during 2011
  • The team will try to install Saunders' complex scheme with nothing more than preseason in which to do so - a slow start from Oakland is a distinct possibility this year
  • McFadden has a limited track record of success, with just one solid fantasy season out of three years in the league

Final thoughts

McFadden is 11th on my running back board currently, which makes me slightly more enthused about him than most of my colleagues at Footballguys.com (he is the consensus 13th back on the board as of mid-July). As things stand, I think he has a shot at a top ten finish. However, if Michael Bush moves on McFadden will vault up my board among the top tier of backs who should be drafted in the first round of fantasy drafts.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

LawFitz said:

DMC is a baller and will be taken higher than most think in some drafts, while falling way too far in others. I can see him being taken as high as sixth overall this year. If he plays 16 games, he easily projects as a top 5 RB given his receiving skills and usage. I'll project him based on 16 games played:

270 carries, 1320 yards rushing
61 receptions, 750 yards receiving
15 total TDs

Bump the TDs especially, if Mike Bush is gone, but even with both there, the Raider offensive pie is potentially huge under coach Hue Jackson. #2 rushing offense, #6 scoring offense, #10 total offense in his first year with the Raiders last season even with Jason Campbell not gelling until the second half.

rzrback77 said:

As an Arkansas Razorback fan, it is awesome to see three former Hog RBs among the first dozen spotlight threads. Wooooo Pig!

Darren McFadden is a amazing athlete that has a gear that most NFL RBs only dream about. It is interesting to me that the chicken leg discussion has died down considerably over the off-season since he played so well last year. When he is on, there are few better. However if you are considering drafting DMac, you must weigh the injuries and down time. Look at his career stats:

08 - 13 gms 113 rushes 499 yds 4.4 ypc 39 targets 29 catches 74.4% 285 yds 9.8 ypc and 4 TDs
09 - 12 gms 104 rushes 356 yds 3.4 ypc 36 targets 21 catches 58.3% 245 yds 11.7 ypc and 1 TD
10 - 13 gms 223 rushes 1157 yds 5.2 ypc 61 targets 47 catches 77.0% 507 yds 10.8 ypc and 10 TDs

To add to the above numbers, I also looked at his per game rushes. In 08, he had only one game where he had 15 or more carries. In 09, again he had only one game with over 15 carries. Last season, he had nine of his thirteen played with over 15 carries and in those games, four were over 20. Last season, his production rewarded those that drafted him, at least on a per game basis. He still missed three games.

There are two things that stand out to me after reviewing those stats. He has an excellent catch percentage and his yards per reception are exceptional for an RB. I do not see that role being reduced at all going forward. He did much better, both on yards per carry and scoring TDs when he was used as a feature back. I think that this will continue to be true as well.

The only reservation is that he typically does not shy away from contact and with his slight frame, he sustains injury when this happens. It would be ideal if he could adopt a more protective style and run out of bounds more often. I do not watch many of his games as Oakland is not frequently featured, but I know that he is capable of running inside. He is just much better when he has space as you can tell from his ypr.

I think that he is an awesome player to own, but agree that you really do no need to grab his back-up as a safety net for when he is out of the game.

I think that he will have a similar year in 2011 as to what he had last year and it has upside, due to his previous missed games and the potential of the overall Raider offense improving.

Just Win Baby said:

He is 23 years old. He turns 24 August 27. I really think critics are not appreciating just how young he was when he played his first two seasons. He is just entering his prime right now... at the same time as the second best RB on the team is likely to depart, further securing McFadden's role as the focal point of the offense. I think he'll do even better this year.


Darren McFadden projections

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Mark Wimer24012007504803
Message board consensus25512589545682