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Spotlight: Darren McFadden

posted by Will Grant on Jul 29th

Will Grant's thoughts

Despite being a fantasy running back that is currently ranked 11th overall on the redraft board, with an average draft position right around the same (#9 PPR, #12 non-ppr), Darren McFadden is hardly a consensus first-round pick. While some fantasy owners are drafting McFadden in the middle of the first round, others don't see much value for him, even at the end of round 2. How can a guy with so much talent generate so much controversy?

High Expectations, Mixed Results
McFadden was the #4 overall pick for the Raiders back in 2008. The previous year Justin Fargas turned in a 1000 yard rushing season, but was clearly not the back of the future for Oakland. McFadden split time with Fargas that season, but just beat him in fantasy stats because of his four rushing TDS compared to one from Fargas. McFadden also missed several games with a toe injury that lingered for most of the season. In 2009 he missed several games with a torn meniscus in his knee that required surgery. He finished the year as the #3 fantasy back for the team with just 350 yards rushing, 250 yards receiving and one TD.

2010 was a break-out year for McFadden. Despite missing a few games with a hamstring injury, McFadden finished as the #6 fantasy running back, posting over 1650 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDS. He came into 2011 with high expectations, and was averaging over 17.5 fantasy points per game when he went down to a foot injury just three minutes into the seventh game of the season.

The injury dragged on week after week with mixed communications coming out of Oakland. McFadden never played another down in 2011, but was also never placed on injured reserve. McFadden owners sat by in horror, holding out hope that would never come. To rub a little salt in the wound, backup running back Michael Bush grind out production each week, eventually finishing the season as the #9 overall fantasy back. It was later confirmed that McFadden had a Lis Frac injury but it did not require surgery.

Healthy Again for This Season
As training camp opens, McFadden has been pronounced 100 percent healthy and ready to go. He has participated in all of the summer mini-camps and OTAs, and has looked good in his limited appearances. The Raiders have also indicated that McFadden will be used sparingly this pre-season, to avoid any risk of re-injuring his foot before the season starts. While this is clearly a smart move on Oakland's part, it fuels the question of how well McFadden will hold up when the regular season starts.

As for the Oakland depth chart, backup Michael Bush has moved on to Chicago. The Raiders added former Carolina back Michael Goodson to the fold. Goodson joins second year running back Taiwan Jones and fourth year back Marcel Reece in what has become a very crowded Oakland backfield. Given the concern for McFadden's health, and the multiple backs at Oakland's disposal, it's a good bet that any or all of them will see some time this season.

When McFadden is healthy, he's clearly a top shelf running back. He has averaged more than 5.2 yards per carry over the last two seasons and has a 10.3 yards per reception for his career. The 17.5 fantasy points per game that he averaged over the first six games would be over 280 fantasy points for the season, ranking him as the #2 fantasy back for the season. This is why fantasy owners are so high on McFadden this season, and why they are willing to discount his lack of consistency over his first four seasons. His upside potential is tremendous, and that alone makes him someone to consider drafting in the first round.

McFadden in 2012
For 2012, assuming McFadden will make it a full 16 games seems almost foolish. Yet for comparison purposes, it is just as risky to guess how many games he'll miss. Giving him the benefit of the doubt and trusting Oakland to limit his usage to maximize his potential seems like the best course of action when projecting his production for this year. Even with that, projecting just 300 touches for the season still beats his career best by 10%.


  • He was on pace to put up top three numbers before he went down, and backup Michael Bush finished as the #9 fantasy back after replacing him
  • Unproven depth behind him means McFadden will be given every opportunity to play
  • Legitimate passing threat in Carson Palmer now means that defenses can't stack the box against him


  • Never played more than 13 games in any of his first four seasons. Last year he had just six games and three touches before being lost for the season
  • 270 touches was career best in 2010. Next best was just 140 in 2008
  • Stable of 'good but not great' RBS in Oakland could turn into a giant RBBC, limiting the fantasy potential from all Oakland backs this season

Final thoughts

Personally I still very high on McFadden this season. I think he's capable of putting up numbers to rival some of the top backs in the draft this season, if only he can stay healthy the entire way. However, putting aside personal feelings on a McFadden and looking strictly at the facts that we have in front of us, a word of caution must be spoken. For all of McFadden's top shelf potential, he has a track record of being injury prone. For all the lofty expectations that people have for him this year, it's important to note that he has never had more than 270 touches in one season, and a 20% increase in production during a running back's 5th season doesn't happen very often. Maybe Darren McFadden can defy the odds and put up top five numbers this season. Maybe you can cover him with a solid backup and ride his lofty points per game the entire season. One thing is clear though: if you are expecting McFadden to be your #1 back this season, you need to implement a backup plan in case history repeats itself again this season.

Quotations from the message board thread

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

az_prof said:

I think you have to assume that he will not play a full 16 games. How many? I will go with 12, which is on the high side, given that he is coming off a liz franc injury that sidelined him for the last 9 games of last season. Over his 4 year career he has played in 70% of the games, which averages out to 11.2. I'll round up to 12.

Next question is ypc. The last two he has had a phenomenal ypc when he has played. But earlier in his career it wasn't nearly so good. The offensive scheme is switching to a zone block system, which is what the team used earlier in his career. That doesn't mean he won't do well in it because there are other factors that could have affected his performance in the first two years. But I think it makes sense to use his career ypc, which averages the ypc of those early years in the zone scheme with the last two years. His career ypc is 4.8, still very good.

How many carriers will he get? I think the team will ride him as long as he is healthy. Last year he received heavy usage before his injury and I think that is a good model to use. Last year he got 18.5 carries/game. He caught 3 passes/game and I will assume that continues. This last factor is really an important one for ppr but it seems to me difficult to predict. I could easily imagine him catching the ball even more, but if the team decides to use Goodson, he is a great receiver out of the backfield.

I do see his TDs/touch going up with Bush gone as he should get more goal line opportunities. He has had a total of 669 touches (runs plus catches) and 20 TDs in his career, for an average TD/touch of .0029. I am projecting him to have 222 carries and 36 catches, for a total of 258 touches. Let's assume that he scores with the same frequency as Ray Rice in 2011--.0408. That comes to 10.5 TDs, which I will round up to 11 TDs

Shutout said:

[Raiders GM] Reggie McKenzie was interviewed a few weeks ago and he said outright that the team was aware of the use of DMAC in the past and had a "plan", using the other RBs, to hopefully keep DMAC available for all games. He did not elaborate on that but it did kind of sound that DMAC won't be a guy that gets a lot of carries unless it is needed (I was thinking maybe they see goodson/Jones as guys you see a lot more of once the game is in hand (or out of reach) or perhaps they have certain areas of the field that the others would be used in more. I don't know because he was vague but it was interestingt hat he flat out acknowledged that it has been thought about.

TheDirtyWord said:

Through 6 weeks, life with Darren McFadden was bliss. 768 YFS/5TD's. McFadden was on his way to a season that would have him in the conversation for 1st overall pick in the 2012 FF Draft Pool. And then, this insignificant little foot sprain sidelined him against KC. We waited for reports on his return. They even had him standing on the sidelines in full if he were waiting to go back into the game. It never happened. It still hasn't happened. Can you tell I'm scarred?

The fact of the matter is that McFadden wasn't being overworked...he was on pace for 344 touches. He simply caught a bad injury that he couldn't shake. But the dye has really been cast here. If you draft McFadden, you have to commit to going deep at RB. In essence, you can't be caught without insurance which means spending and extra pick amongst your 1st 6 at the RB position to grab an RB4. It's not so much that he gets injured a lot...but it seems like in addition to that he struggles to get back. A 1 week injury turns into 3 weeks. A 'he'll be back after the bye' sees him not able to return at all. God forbid he gets Turf Toe again, he might be given a life expectancy reading. Ladies and gentlemen...we have this decades version of Fragile Fred. Talent so tantalizing, but end of year satisfaction so elusive.

What we do know though is this. Coming off his breakout 2010, people wondered if he was the real deal. He put that to rest. When healthy, he's as good as any RB in the NFL. He can do as many things as any RB in the NFL. This is why his ADP at this stage of the game is higher than it was last year because now we feel confident that his abilities have indeed transferred from the college game to the NFL.

And with Michael Bush gone and Mike Goodson inserted into that role, or a combination of him and Taiwan's possible that McFadden could garner an even heavier workload. But I can't think that the Raiders won't look to establish a pitch count of sorts with him that would cap his touches to a certain per game level (on average). But I think you need to expect McFadden to lose at least 2 games to injury and I'm going to say the Raiders use 20/touches game as a barometer. I also wonder if even more emphasis will be given to getting McFadden the ball in the passing game, out in space to perhaps minimize his contact points. I know he actually injured the foot on a pass play...I don't know. He was on pace for 48 receptions and I could easily see the new brass finding a way to pace him at 4-5/game versus 3. At the end of the day, McFadden is truly one of FF's biggest enigmas and you have to be a risk taker to stomach having him on your team. Every pile-up is a heart in throat moment. However, he's also as exciting a player as there is in the NFL and is a big threat every time he touches the ball. He's said he has an 1800 yard rushing season as his goal, but I suspect the new coaching staff will make him earn a right to ascend to that level via durability benchmarks.

Raiderfan32904 said:

There isn't as maligned a back in all of fantasy football as Darren McFadden. The stat junkie will point to the career stats and say he's not in the elite class. Instead of relying on the "eyeball" test, they value lesser RB's accumulation of numbers behind strong offensive lines. The stat junkie will never comprehend that on a talent level, Darren McFadden is top 2 in the league. That's a special tier. Right there alongside ADP.

There is a prevailing opinion in the media, blogs and in the shark pool that McFadden is made of glass. And to be fair, he's missed his share of games over his first 4 years. Other than breakout 2010 season, his storyline reads of a player destined to pull up limp from some sort of ailment or another. It's been his calling card. It's very frustrating to fantasy owners to invest a high pick and get little return. Last's season's effort, shortened by a sprained foot, will no doubt scare off many who were once on his bandwagon. That opens up a window of opportunity to those ready to take the chance again and roll with DMC in 2012.

Oh, people will cry, "oh, but it's the dreaded 'Lisfranc' sprain. Those are career killers". But the fact it didn't require surgery points to a conclusion that is was a mild variety of Lisfranc sprain. He's been explosive in OTA's so far and cutting well. The cutting well is the major news here to consider. He's healed up and ready. The sprain is last year's news that many are going to cling to. It's in DMC's rear view mirror. When fantasy drafts see DMC drop to you, you have a question you need to consider: Do you want to follow the sheep that pass on him, or the wolf that pounces on the value he provides if he drops to you?

Let's consider his offensive surroundings: New head coach, new coordinator, west coast offense, ZBS blocking scheme. An emerging wide receiver crew, a solid offensive line, and a quality starting QB that he has yet to play on the same field with. This was a top 10 offense last year, and it's fair to say it has room to improve with a franchise QB and a full offseason. New OC Gregg Knapp's WCO is built to take deep shots while emphasizing the ground attack. It did wonders for UDFA Arian Foster, and it should make for McFadden being the centerpiece of a powerhouse offense.

But fantasy football people are superstitious folk. They cling to their rabbit's feet and believe that a player may have some sort of gypsy curse on them. Well I for one don't believe in gypsy curses. I believe in good old fashioned bad luck. And luck goes in circles. And it's time for some good luck. It's time for Darren McFadden to have a career year. He's not yet 25 years old and in excellent health. I'm banking on a great season and capturing value as he drops to me as my RB2.

Jason Wood ( Senior Writer) said:

Is McFadden supremely talented? Yes. But so what? We fantasy owners value production above all else.

113, 104, 223, 113 -- That's his season attempts in four years. In FOUR YEARS he's had 113 or fewer attempts three times. Yet this is magically going to be the year when he's a workhorse. Really?

I just don't get it. I won't even mention that he's got 13 fumbles (vs 16 TDs) in just 553 career rushing attempts.

I just don't see it. If there's one guy in the consensus first round that I won't touch with a 30-foot pole, it's DMC. But I sure hope everyone else does, because it assures that another player i covet had a better chance of falling to me.

Darren McFadden projections

Will Grant24211928484844
Message board consensus293144811565254