Darren McFadden will most likely never be a true NFL running back.
He’s not the guy you’re going to see carrying the rock 25 times a game. He’s not the type of player capable of playing every down in the backfield.
After two years of pro ball, Run-DMC has just one 100-yard game to his name and has found his name on the injured list more often than he’s found the end zone.
Not unlike JaMarcus Russell one year ago, McFadden’s third year will be his make or break moment. Just like Russell, McFadden was handed the starting job in camp and just like Russell he eventually lost his job during the regular season. Unlike JaMarcus, however, McFadden’s poor performance was also tempered with injuries. Also very un-JaMarcus like is that McFadden is a hard worker willing to do whatever the coaches ask of him.
While McFadden is neither a true running back nor a wide receiver, there is one thing that he very clearly is. He’s a football player in every since of the word. D-Mac is an old school, throw back type of player with modern athletic ability. Just keep your eye on McFadden whenever he’s in the game. Even on plays in which his number is not called, he finds ways to contribute.
Picking up blitzes in the backfield, helping to block downfield in hopes of his teammate gaining a couple of extra yards, he’s even involved on the sidelines.
Just ask Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens who was knocked out of the game last season during the Raiders’ final loss of the regular season. McFadden put a hit on the All-Pro defensive tackle that left the 350-pounder asking if anyone got the number on the truck that hit him.
McFadden’s best quality is his desire to suit up and inflict pain. Sure, we’d all love to see him morph into Brian Westbrook 2.0. But it doesn’t seem like that time is ever going to come.
So, what should the Raiders do with a 6’2” athlete with blazing speed and a head hunter’s mentality?
Strangely enough, McFadden might be the best choice for the job of third receiver. Put him in the slot and watch the magic happen. Whenever McFadden is lined up out wide, he creates matchup problems for the opposition and usually produces. It took Tom Cable a full half of last season until he finally utilized McFadden as a pass catcher. All Run-DMC did was go out and catch 4 balls for 43 yards against the Dallas Cowboys. Compare that to Darrius Heyward-Bey who has never caught more than two balls in a pro game despite starting 11 games as a rookie and you can see how natural McFadden’s abilities are.
As a rookie, the Raiders utilized McFadden in a number of ways including the then popular Wild Hog formation. During his second year, the Raiders seemed obsessed with forcing the round peg into the square hole by making McFadden a runner between the tackles.
Clearly Hue Jackson must find more creative ways to get McFadden involved in the offensive gameplan. With a career average of just 3.9 yards per carry, perhaps running McFadden right up gut is not the best choice. Get him out wide, on the edges where he can make fools out of would be tacklers. Run screen passes, make him a full time wide receiver in certain games, or simply use him as a decoy. Do whatever you can but put his natural abilities to good use.
With Michael Bush potentially sidelined for the season opener, McFadden will inherit the job of starting tailback. It’s up to the Raiders to create a gameplan that best suits his talents but it is also time for McFadden to find ways to produce regardless of what the play calling might be.
Simply put, the time is now for Darren McFadden. We’ve seen small glimpses of what he’s capable of doing but unless that happens more often it could be a trip to NFL Neverland after this season.