Faceoff: Darren McFadden

August 4th

Mark Wimer: The fantasy community is very down on McFadden: I'm just about the only guy on the Footballguys.com staff that likes him enough to believe that McFadden will be a fantasy-worthy player in Oakland this year. However, I feel that with a capable QB on the field (anyone other than JaMarcus Russell is an improvement), McFadden's dual-threat talent will allow him to shine during the upcoming season, especially in PPR leagues. As recently as July 26th, 2010, the Raiders have been talking about how they'd like to see McFadden become an all-around threat with 1,200+ rushing yards and then a lot of action as a receiver, to boot. Those are the sort of numbers that win fantasy championships, friends.

McFadden's the guy I like to surprise in the coming rebirth of the Raiders' offense (now that the sluggish, overweight and unmotivated Russell has been cut). Jason Campbell has relied on short-to-intermediate passing routes throughout his career, and McFadden should be the recipient of a lot of dump-off passes, as well as seeing some longer throws when he moves out into the slot receiver position. The Raiders only attempted 410 rushes last season (23rd in the league) and were 26th in passing attempts (485) - the offense was so dysfunctional with Russell on the field that none of the players really got a chance to shine. If Campbell is able to raise this attack just to level of respectability, there should be 30-40 more carries and 30-40 more passes to share around this season. I think McFadden will enjoy a sizable portion of any increase in offensive output on the part of the Raiders' team.

There is another factor in play on the Raiders' offense that will have a profound impact on McFadden's production - Michael Bush. However, if you look at his career numbers, the Raiders haven't wanted to lean on Bush as their lead back, even during the Tom Cable era. Last year, despite a 4.8 yards per carry average, Bush was awarded just 123 carries (for 589 yards and three TDs), and he managed just 19 targets and 17/105/0 in the passing phase of the game (he's not a big part of the passing attack entering 2010). While a lot of fantasy owners look at Bush's week 10, 2009 (vs. K.C.) and week 15, 2009 (vs. DEN) numbers - 14/119/0 rushing and 18/133/1 rushing, respectively - and wonder why the Raiders aren't handing the keys of the rushing attack to Bush, they are selectively ignoring his week 5, 2009 (vs. NYG - 12/37/1 rushing) and week 17, 2009 (vs. BAL - 10/18/0) showings. K.C. was the 31st-ranked rush D during 2009, folks, while Denver ended the season at 26th. Bush did well against weak units, but was stuffed by better units (like the Giants and the Ravens). Bush hasn't proven that he should be the lead back in Oakland at this date.

The Raiders are in rebuilding mode, and the reshuffling of the offense at QB during the offseason hasn't, yet, proven a thing to fantasy owners - but I believe that this team will be much better during 2010 than they were during 2009. I think Darren McFadden will be a big part of the solution to the offense's woes.

Chris Smith: Darren McFadden was a massive failure in his 2nd NFL season last year. He was truly terrible in all facets of his game, averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and scored but a single touchdown on 125 total touches. I do not have him ranked the lowest among the Footballguys (currently ranked 39th in my rankings) but I certainly can make a case as to why caution should be used to project him in 2010.

Reasons for caution in 2010

  1. Terrible 2009 season: I cannot be any clearer than that statement. He struggled to find his game last year and was a major disappointment to the coaches, his teammates and Raider fans. His 3.4 YPC average was horrible and especially so when compared to the strong 4.8 YPC average of teammate Michael Bush. He ran tentatively, gets nicked up too easily and has not shown the burst that he had in college
  2. The emergence of RB Michael Bush: Part of the reason for the low ranking of McFadden is the improved play of Michael Bush. Once considered an elite collegiate back, a terrible injury almost derailed his career and he has had to work hard to get to this point. He averaged an incredible 6.0 YPC in the 2nd half of the season albeit with limited touches and he'll get every chance to get the ball in his hands this season.
  3. Terrible offensive line play: There is plenty of potential for the future here but starting two rookie tackles will definitely come with a learning curve. The unit should improve as the year goes on but a struggling line will benefit with a power back rather than a scat back.
  4. RBBC approach: It is almost certain that Bush will earn the majority of the carries this season while McFadden will become a 'change-of-pace' / third down back for the club. Many believe McFadden will morph into a 'Reggie Bush' type of player this year, getting limited carries but helping in the passing game.

Last Word

McFadden certainly has the talent to shock the world this season but it is more likely he finishes with 80 carries, 50 receptions and scored 3-5 touchdowns. Bush will likely earn the bulk of the carries and as a result, McFadden should be projected accordingly. His value in a PPR league will jump substantially but in a normal league, he should be no higher than the late 30s.