Color me wrong. I always knew Darren McFadden had the game. Just over a year ago I was begging for Run-DMC to go Keyshawn and demand the damn ball! Problem was I saw McFadden as an all-purpose, multi-faceted weapon. I never thought he could handle the consistent workload as a runner alone.
73 carries and 345 yards into the season, McFadden is looking like a workhorse. Taking a page out of the Justin Fargas book on running, McFadden is hitting the hole with a reckless abandon, punishing would be tacklers with a lowered shoulder and a nonstop motor.
While McFadden might be running with a Fargas like attitude, it’s the Raiders who are using him in Fargas like fashion. Against St. Louis, Hue Jackson dialed McFadden’s number early and often handing the suddenly durable back the rock 30 times en route to a career best 145 yards.
Early in his career, McFadden seemed timid running between the tackles. He didn’t do a lot of dancing at the line but he wasn’t going full speed ahead either. Perhaps his lowest moment came in the fourth week of the ’09 season. Seemingly poised to pop against a Houston Texan team with a run defense that, at the time, was worse than Oakland’s, McFadden got the rock just 6 times, failing to even gain positive yardage as he finished with -2 yards. To add injury to insult, the former Razorback tore his meniscus sending him back to the injury list and out of commission for the next month.
Aside from his aggressive running, McFadden’s durability has been his most impressive asset thus far. After two injury plagued years and hamstring issues in training camp this year, it looked as if Raider Nation was never going to see what the fourth pick in ’08 draft was capable of.
Then, the regular season started and McFadden went to work.
The man who was entering his third year in the NFL with just one 100-yard game to his name has cracked the 100 plateau in consecutive games and was just 5 shy in the season opener of making it a three-peat. His 345 yards in 3 games is only 12 yards behind his 12 game total from ’09 and is just one more effort like the one against the Rams away from being a career best. All the while chewing up nearly half a first down per carry.
While most pundits will remind the Raider Hating public that McFadden was taken ahead of speedster Chris Johnson, they won’t tell you that McFadden is the runner with the brighter future (yeah, I said it).
Johnson’s 2,000-yard season in 2009 leaves him with nowhere to go but down. Run-DMC, on the other hand, has a high ceiling after two lackluster years plus the added threat of being a weapon in the passing game as well. His versatility is what separates McFadden from the rest of the pack. While the Raiders were struggling to find ways to get McFadden involved his first two seasons, they toyed with everything from the Wild Hog formation to splitting him out wide and found some success whenever McFadden was lining up as a receiver.
It is still far too early in the season to proclaim McFadden among the NFL elite but he’s well on his way. With a rematch against the Texans this weekend, you can bet your #20 Raider jersey that he’ll be fired up to get the taste of last season’s tilt out of his mouth.