Spotlight: Darren McFadden

posted by Cecil Lammey on Jun 29th

Cecil Lammey's thoughts

Raiders head coach Tom Cable is being coy with his running backs. Earlier this offseason Cable stated that he wanted one running back to be the bell cow for the Raiders. Then, during mini-camp, he contradicted that statement and said that he could envision a scenario where both backs get equal playing time.

Darren McFadden has been a disappointment since being selected 4th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. He hasn't become the dangerous multipurpose weapon that some expected when he came out of Arkansas. In fact, last season McFadden failed to out produce the numbers he put up during his rookie season. He was the 56th best RB in fantasy football last year, and saw his YPC average drop from 4.4 in 2008 to 3.4 in 2009. He also failed to play in 16 games once again, and only made it through 12 games after playing in 13 games his rookie year. He didn't have a 100-yard rushing or receiving performance, and only went over 100 all-purpose yards once last season.

Michael Bush looked good as a running back with limited touches last year. Bush has had a few big games during his three years in the league after missing his entire rookie season with a broken leg he sustained during his last year at Louisville. He had two 100-yard games in 2009, but never had over 18 carries in a game while playing in a RBBC. Bush was not used much in the passing game, and only compiled 17 receptions on the year. He was the 44th best RB in fantasy football, and his YPC increased from 4.5 to 4.8.

Fantasy owners know there's value to be had in the Oakland backfield, but which back goes first in fantasy drafts?

Currently Darren McFadden is the first Raiders RB off the board at RB35, with Michael Bush close behind at RB40. There's a premium on McFadden in PPR drafts because of his ability as a receiver, but Bush could be the better pick in any format.

Let's take a closer look at this situation to determine a front runner in this competition.

Questions about Bush and McFadden coming into 2010:

Who gets a majority of the carries?
Michael Bush is built to carry a bulk of the workload, and should be the lead back when the Raiders want to run the football. He's only received 20 carries in a game once during his career, and responded with a 27-carry, 177-yard, 2TD performance against the Buccaneers in week 17 of the 2008 season. The Raiders could grind down the defense with Bush, and then use McFadden as an effective change of pace back.

Will the addition of Jason Campbell help keep defenses honest?
With JaMarcus Russell under center opposing defenses could stack the line to stop the run and dare Russell to beat them through the air. We all know how that worked out for the Raiders, and now Russell is unemployed. The Raiders added Jason Campbell in a trade with the Washington Redskins during the 2010 NFL Draft, and Campbell should finally give them some consistency at the QB position. Defenses will no longer be able to put eight or nine in the box because Campbell is good enough to make the right reads, and has the timing to get the football there on time. This should lead to a defense that is more spread out, which could help McFadden more than Bush. McFadden has the ability to score nearly anytime he touches the ball because of his quick initial burst and agility in the open field. A defense that is forced to play honestly is good for both backs, and both could see an increase in YPC because of it.

Should Darren McFadden be used more like Reggie Bush?
McFadden is a dangerous weapon, but the Raiders haven't been using him the right way. Like Reggie Bush, McFadden is not the guy to pick up tough yards between the tackles and is better used in space. The Raiders should stop trying to make him something he's not, and use McFadden as a change of pace guy. They could even line him up as a slot receiver in order to get him the ball in the open field. Oakland should be as creative as possible when finding ways to get McFadden the football.

Is there enough fantasy production here for both to be fantasy factors?
Yes, there could be. McFadden could catch more than 40 passes this year and should be more effective as a running back because of Campbell's effect on the defense. Bush should be reliable enough to get at least 15-20 carries per game and should be the Raiders main back when they get into scoring position.

Can McFadden stay healthy this year?
That is the biggest question for McFadden this year. He's never played a full season during his pro career, and needs to find a way to play through minor injuries. Because of his size and running style McFadden gets dinged up quite a bit. Every NFL player has to play at less than 100%, and McFadden must prove that he can do just that.


  • Great speed and acceleration
  • Creative in the open field
  • Adept receiver capable of a significant role even if Bush gets the majority of the carries


  • Goes down too easily, is susceptible to arm tackles
  • Has a tendency to let injuries slow him down, not clear he's willing to fight through injuries other backs would
  • Runs too upright and doesn't take care of the ball

Final thoughts

The Raiders want to have a balanced offense led by new quarterback Jason Campbell. Michael Bush should get the most carries, but if Darren McFadden stays healthy then both of these backs could put up similar fantasy production. The NFL is moving away from teams who feature only one running back, and the Raiders are no different. McFadden could be used more like the Saints use Reggie Bush, and may have the best season of his career because of it. Michael Bush is deserving of a bigger role, and could be used as the Raiders hammer to wear down the defense. Bush and McFadden could end up being a dynamic duo for Oakland, but fantasy wise the production could be split evenly. Both should be good reserve running backs who could fill in nicely if the matchup is sweet. If you play in a PPR league, then McFadden should be the first Raiders back off the board. In a traditional league Bush could be the first to hear his name called.

Quotations from the message board thread

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

Raiderfan32904 said:

Both of these runners complement each other well, and it's fair to say that a rotation will exist. Tom Cable will likely feed the "hot hand" during a series or maybe an entire game. It will be difficult to rely on either to get you consistent FF points. But this situation could change in a hurry if an injury happens. Both Bush and McFadden can be had fairly cheap, and have good upside for where you take them.

MrTwo94 said:

In other threads it has been good to see I'm not the only one on the Michael Bush bandwagon. The guy would have been a first round talent had he not broken his leg and essentially been a red shirt rookie coming into the draft. McFadden has failed to impress as a full fledged running back and looks more suited to the Reggie Bush role. Fargas seemed to be well liked in Oakland but he is now gone. My money is on Bush to get the bulk of the carries (and all the goal line carries). People act as if he'll only be a two down back at best, but he's proven that he has the ability to catch passes when called upon.

There is also some sentiment that Jason Campbell is no savior, but given Oakland's production at QB previously I think Jason can be seen as nothing less than a significant upgrade. He's been pummeled in Washington but stuck in there and completed at least 60% of his passes every year (in different systems each year) from his sophomore year on. Last year he had a 64.5% completion percentage along with 7.1 ypa. Not bad numbers. 20/15 TD/INT isn't going to set the world on fire, but consider Oakland as a team was 10/18 last year. They threw for 2875 yds while Jason threw for 3618 yds on only about 1.5 attempts/gm more. To say he won't open things up a bit is just blind. If Bush can average 4.8 ypc with Russell at QB then I like his chances of blowing up in 2010 if given the opportunity.

Oakland is certainly vested in McFadden after using the #4 pick on him and IIRC Bush was a Kiffin draft pick, so I'm sure they'd love to give him a chance this year. But one must think they'll have to face the fact that Bush is the better and more productive back on the roster. While Bush was putting up 4.8 ypc, McFadden only managed 3.4 ypc. To be fair, in 2008 they both averaged 4.4 ypc.

Fargas, Bush, and McFadden rushed the ball 356 times last year. Fargas and McFadden both missed time. I'm going to assume both Bush and McFadden stay healthy and get 400 carries which I think is fairly conservative for the top 2 backs on the team if the offense takes a few steps forward.

Darren McFadden projections

Cecil Lammey1345503403403
Message board consensus1455554353332