If you are already a Darren McFadden owner, you may want to keep holding your breath for another few weeks towards determining whether his recent productivity is a trend, or merely another tease of what has been expected since being drafted fourth overall in 2008. In fact, DMc was also likely your clear #1 rookie draft selection that same year.
Coming out of Arkansas, McFadden had the look of the next great back to appear on the fantasy (and NFL) scene. 4,500 yards, 41 TDs on the ground and nearly a 6.0 ypc. avg. foretold a can’-t miss NFL career. So much so, in fact, that this author traded away Andre Johnson straight up for the 1.01 draft pick for the rights to DMc.
Fast forward to 2010 and how thing have changed. Whether due to an anemic Oakland offense, grossly sub-par quarterback play or a circus-like atmosphere surrounding the coaching staff and owner Al Davis, the Raiders have created on the west coast what Buffalo has in the east, a team of fantasy (and largely NFL) irrelevance. But two games into 2010, could it be that McFadden is breaking free of this label? Owners of the oft-injured back can only hope.
With two games in DMc is averaging 125 ypg. and, more importantly, a healthy 5.0 ypc. average. The labels on McFadden never had anything to do with lack of speed, desire or work ethic, but instead about lower body strength and ability to stay on the field – too often down on first contact or on ice on the sidelines. Couple that with the team’s drafting of Louisville every-down back Michael Bush and it seemed McFadden was soon to be a fantasy after thought. To wit, his avg. draft position for 2010 is pegged at 112 and the 39th RB off the board. It’s clear that the fantasy world held out little hope for the recent #1 rookie selection.
But what can we expect going forward?
McFadden’s recent production has come against both Tennessee and St. Louis. Most notable was his week two performance where he amassed 145 yards at 4.8 ypc. While he failed to break the 100 yard mark against Tennessee, he still managed a 5.3 ypc. average on 18 attempts. Better yet, on these attempts McFadden showed tackle breaking ability and good vision with a north-south running style.
There was little question in my mind that Darren McFadden was the next great back to come out the college ranks, on the heels of Adrian Peterson. While not the ideal team situation, I felt that DMc’s dynamic running style and age (he’s only 23) were all working in his favor to easily warrant the first pick in a rookie draft or trade of equal proportion to obtain that first pick. Far more concerning than his running style has been his nagging injury frequency, which most understand will derail a promising NFL career faster than you can say Ki-jana Carter.
Looking at the upcoming Oakland schedule finds multiple games against team such as the Chiefs, 49’ers, Broncos, Seahawks and Chargers. Should McFadden retain his healthy status, the table is set nicely for him in 2010. Micahael Bush is practicing again but it has been obvious that head coach Tom Cable has been wanting to feature McFadden moreso than Bush over the past two years.
It would be all to0 easy to go overboard with McFadden’s value and re-anoint him as a soon-to-be RB1. I have every hope that this occurs for the young runner but until he can produce consistently and over a 16 game schedule, you cannot afford to rely on him for anything more than a high RB3 playing currently with RB2 value. This is an important distinction to make as, if you are a current McFadden owner, you can’t expect to break the bank with a trade. If you are seeking McFadden in trade, you should be very wary offering too much for an unproven track record. In fact, McFadden is in one of those difficult valuation situations where his value isn’t great enough to get what would be needed in return to send him away, nor enough to make that offer.
If you are an owner of DMc, continue to ride the hot hand and play him as a RB2. Should he continue to produce at a somewhat consistent level through week 8, this will put you in prime position for either a late season run with McFadden as a starter or as trade bait in order to add another position of need prior to your trade deadline.
Darren McFadden has never lacked talent, just the environment and injury history to show it consistently. Whether he has truly turned the corner or not will be played out over his next 14 games but, either way, you have to be excited about the potential of “what could be”.
I’m cautiously optimistic. The one red flag that I don’t like to see is of the injury variety. McFadden is only 23 and has matured in the NFL over the past two season. If the coaching staff has finally developed that needed level of confidence and he can stay on the field, my belief is that McFadden will finish the 2010 campaign as a rising RB2 talent and one to watch in 2011.
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