Darren McFadden climbed the NFL’s superstar charts last year with his breakout season in which he combined for 260 touches with 1,664 yards and 10 total touchdowns. After the 2010 regular season, Raiders Head Coach Hue Jackson said that Darren McFadden has only “scratched the surface” of his potential. So the lingering question hanging above the heads of the Raiders and McFadden is: Just how good is this guy?
Coming into 2010, McFadden’s total stats for his first two years were very similar to another teammate of his and former first round pick, Darrius Heyward-Bey. The bust label was tossed about not only by Raiders’ fans, but also by others around the league. Prior to the season there was talk of Michael Bush becoming the starter for the team, in spite of being a fourth round pick. It seemed as though Bush was more of a threat to opposing defenses on a consistent basis, and he might be surprisingly more dangerous as a break-away runner as well. It was gaining favor that it may be time for “McFumbles” to become more of a role player like the New Orleans Saints’ Reggie Bush; clearly he was not the same back who dominated competition at Arkansas.
The stars lined up for McFadden just right in order for him to become the main man in Oakland last year. Michael Bush, the heavy fan favorite to win the starting job, was limited over the final few weeks of the preseason. For McFadden, starting was not something that he had to compete for or earn against Bush, but something that would fall into his lap due to injuries. By the time Michael Bush was healthy enough to return to action in week three against the Arizona Cardinals, McFadden had entrenched himself in the Raiders’ starting line-up. In Bush’s first game back he would only play a handful of downs and accumulated 3 carries for 13 yards.
Yet a few weeks later it was Darren McFadden who would succumb to an injury. On a 23-yard run – that could’ve gone for a lot more – McFadden pulled up limping with a hamstring issue that would cost him two weeks of action. After only three and a half decent performances, it appeared as if injuries would once again hinder the Raiders’ most dangerous offensive weapon.
However, McFadden would return to action as the Raiders’ starting halfback three weeks after the Houston Texans game, and had a nine game stretch in which he averaged over five yards per carry. That is a number that would’ve been considerably higher if the Raiders hadn’t played two atrocious games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Miami Dolphins during this stretch.
In order to answer the question of how good McFadden really is, you need more than a single season to base your analysis on. Granted, if this were his rookie season, you could argue that the guy has so much upside that they should just go ahead and make him a pewter statue and give him a gold jacket. But McFadden’s first two seasons in the league were pitiful – and that’s putting it nicely.
So once again pressure will be placed on the shoulders of the Raiders’ young running back. If McFadden comes into this season with the mentality that he’s “got it” or that he is “the man,” he will be in for a rude awakening. The only way that McFadden is going to outdo what he did in 2010 is to work twice as hard as he did last year. Sometimes, that is a hard lesson for young players to learn in this league. I’m confident that Hue Jackson will help this guy jump some of the hurdles that face a “proven talent” in the NFL, but a lot of that pressure will need to be overcome by McFadden during this offseason. If McFadden’s third season was his make-or-break year, then the 2011 offseason should be considered his make-or-break offseason. For if McFadden comes out and belly flops in 2011 the same way he did in his first two professional seasons, then it will be back to the off-with-his-head status for Raider fans.
In 2010, McFadden was the grease that made the gears run smoothly for the Raiders offense on their way to second in the league rushing and the tenth best overall offense in the league. McFadden played a large part in the first year success of now Head Coach, Hue Jackson. If McFadden fails to produce similar numbers to last year, then the Raiders offense and Head Coach Hue Jackson may be in for some hard knocks even if they decide not to participate in the television series.
How good can Darren McFadden be? He can be a top five running back in this league. He has the talent and the supporting cast to reach an elite level in the NFL. However, until he proves that he can do it in back-to-back years, or produce consistent numbers over a long period of time, McFadden may find that his NFL career will never meet the expectations of the excitement he produced back in college with the Arkansas Razorbacks.
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