Darren McFadden’s fantasy value is impossible to predict, but that is due to his lengthy injury history, not the Oakland Raiders’ recent signing of veteran running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
Just the mere pairing of McFadden’s name with the words fantasy football is enough to send many into the fetal position in some dark corner. Is there a veteran fantasy football player out there who has not been burned by McFadden over the years?
McFadden has played six NFL seasons since the Raiders selected him fourth overall out of Arkansas in the draft. He’s never played more than 13 games in a season, and he’s only had one season where he rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
That came in 2010 when McFadden rushed for 1,157 yards gained at an average of 5.2 yards per carry. He also added 507 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns. He played 13 games that season, and when he was healthy, he was clearly one of the elite backs in the league.
That season also came just as fantasy owners were ready to give up on the back, and that season is the reason why many have gone back to McFadden in following drafts.
Of course, the injuries have returned, and so have McFadden’s meager stats. Over the last two seasons combined, McFadden has played in 22 games while rushing for 1,086 yards gained at a measly 3.3 yards per carry.
Combine his declining average yards per carry with the addition of Jones-Drew, and there is no reason to ever consider McFadden in this year’s fantasy drafts, right? Not so fast.
For starters, if McFadden plays up to his enormous talent, Jones-Drew won’t cut into his carries, and there is no reason to worry about the news in the following NFL tweet:
MJD, McFadden to compete for starting job in Oakland: http://t.co/M2EviV9cXF
— NFL (@nfl) March 29, 2014
Jones-Drew has had a wonderful career, but the 29-year-old has taken a ton of abuse in his NFL career and has been battling injuries himself. In other words, Jones-Drew is roughly 197 in running back years.
In 15 games last season, Jones-Drew rushed for 803 yards gained at an average of 3.4 yards per carry. That is well below the 4.2 mark, which was his previous career low.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The bowling-ball of a running back has lost a step, and he does not have enough left in the tank to keep McFadden off the field if McFadden is right.
McFadden is not only three years younger, but he’s had almost 1,000 less NFL carries than Jones-Drew.
As for McFadden being right? He has a chance to get his career back on track.
McFadden was a free agent this past offseason, and he wound up returning to the Raiders for a relatively cheap, one-year contract. In other words, McFadden signed a show-me deal, which means McFadden will be running not only for the results on the field, but also his future earning power.
The Raiders website passed along this quote from McFadden following the deal:
“I am really excited to be back in Silver and Black. There is no place I’d rather be. I want to prove to the team that drafted me that I am a top running back in this league, and I really want to help this team win. I’m happy to be back in Oakland.”
He will be doing so behind a vastly improved offensive line. The Raiders hit the free-agent market to remake an offensive line group that had struggled since McFadden’s breakout 2010 season.
The offensive line now features the likes of Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe. Neither are dominant, but both are proven veterans in a power-blocking scheme, and that last part is key.
McFadden has spent much of his NFL career in a zone-blocking system. This has never fit his style. The 2010 season was the year in which the Raiders hired Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator, and Jackson switched the Raiders to power blocking from then-head coach Tom Cable’s preferred zone system.
Who will have more rushing yards next season?
Who will have more rushing yards next season?
Total votes: 0
McFadden excelled, and he looked good in that system the following season until he was injured. In 2011, he rushed for 614 yards gained at 5.4 yards per carry in his seven games.
Following that season, Dennis Allen was hired as head coach, and he promptly installed a zone scheme. It was a disaster, and the Raiders switched back to the power scheme last season. The problem was, they didn’t have the personnel to pull it off with any effectiveness.
The Raiders have the bulls up front to be a quality run-blocking team this season, and McFadden still has the explosion and power to break off huge chunks of yardage.
NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano thinks neither Jones-Drew nor McFadden should have many fantasy hopes pinned on them:
I wouldn’t draft Darren McFadden or MJD as more than a high-end RB4 in fantasy leagues next season.
— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) March 28, 2014
I expect Fabiano’s opinion to be a popular one. The easy thought here is that both players will cut into each other’s carries if they are healthy. As I stated, however, McFadden has the potential to be the clear-cut starter and get all the carries he can handle.
So, if you’re considering drafting McFadden this year (and please don’t spend a premium pick on him) the debate needs to be about his health, and not how much Jones-Drew will cut into his carries.