Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden is making a strong case for being the most improved player in the league this year. His 999 all purpose yards and six touchdowns have NFL insiders mentioning his name with regards to the 2010 NFL Most Valuable Player award. He’s certainly been the most valuable contributor to the Raiders’ offense this season. And here’s the real kicker, McFadden missed two games and most of the preseason with nagging hamstring injuries. So much for those who thought McFadden should be traded while he still had some value earlier this offseason. That would’ve been a dumb move considering that they may have only gotten as little as a third round draft choice out of a trade.But head coach Tom Cable never wavered from his thinking that the only thing holding this kid back was the injury bug. According to Cable trading McFadden was never even considered by the team.
Looking back now you could say the injuries were due to McFadden not being old enough for his body to live up to the rigorous expectations of a 16 game football schedule. And if you had asked Raider’s coaching staff, earlier this year, which runner was going to start at halfback for them for a majority of the games, I’m quite confident they would’ve said it was probably going to be Michael Bush. But this kid from Arkansas who couldn’t even be expected to hang on to the ball when he received handoffs before is now far exceeding any expectation there may have been for him coming into this year.
And McFadden is the first person who will be humble and give credit to his teammates for his improvement, “Offensive linemen are doing a great job. (Running backs) Coach (Kelly) Skipper’s been doing a great job working with me. (Marcel Reece) has been doing a great job out there, whether it’s catching passes out of the backfield or moving guys up on blocks, he’s been helping us out a whole lot.”
The 2008 fourth overall draft choice has gone from being on the verge of bust to being a surefire candidate to play in his first Pro Bowl in February 2011. It’s his 108 rushing yards per game average that has the Raiders on the fast track to a potential AFC West crown in 2010. This is the same offense that couldn’t stay on the field in 2009 and scored 17 touchdowns. Already this year, they have 24 touchdowns and a field goal kicker who has made 22 of 29 field goal attempts and is leading the NFL in scoring. To put that into perspective of just how far this offense has come, last year the Raiders only attempted 29 field goals during the whole season and their opponents beat them in time of possession by three minutes per game—this year the Raiders are beating their opponents by three minutes per game which is a six minute per game turnaround.
Maybe Hue Jackson, the Raiders’ new offensive coordinator, deserves some credit as well. But the bottom line is that coaches can only teach it, it’s the players who have to go out and execute and make things happen. Darren McFadden is making things happen for Hue Jackson and the Oakland Raiders’ offense.
McFadden’s 20 carries per game average more than doubles what he did in his first two seasons. His 757 rushing yards through seven games is just 99 yards short of his total in his first 25 NFL games. His eight 20-plus yard runs this year are three more than he had coming into this season and his three 40-plus yard runs more than make up for the fact that he only had one of that distance prior to this year.
McFadden’s 34.6 yards receiving per game this season is around 14 yards more per game than he had in his first two years. His six touchdowns in seven games is one more than he had in the prior 25 games of his career.
“I feel a lot more comfortable out there,” McFadden sights as the reason behind his improvement. “I guess my first two years, I was trying to just find my way and get feel comfortable out there. I think it comes back to working moves on the second level and trying to make guys miss instead of going through them.”
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