When discussing Darren McFadden, the initial reflex among pundits is often to point out what he has not accomplished as a professional.
He has never participated in more than 13 games in any of his five seasons, and only one of his limited campaigns has yielded more than 1,000 yards rushing.
He has never faced significant competition in the backfield, but still makes a habit of squandering some of the greatest physical gifts in the game and compiles replacement-level numbers. The only thing that most fans have come to expect from McFadden on a regular basis is a yearly dashing-of-the-hopes party, to which all fantasy owners willing to invest in his services are invited.
Finally, the fantasy world has began to break away from McFadden’s tantalizing hold and banish him high round consideration. In a year that craves the presence of dominant running backs like an expecting mother does strange culinary concoctions, McFadden is holding onto his spot as a latter-half RB2 for dear life.
The ranking is justified; his previously anemic offense can only hope to duplicate last season’s horrific numbers with the loss of Carson Palmer, and there is the lingering prospect of injury that as of yet stands without a remedy.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that 2013 is the perfect year to run with DMC. The Raiders are unlikely participate in any meaningful games by season’s end, but those that are still starting the lead back in silver and black are likely to be soaring toward a championship.
For all his mishaps, McFadden has title-winning chops if he can cash in some of his seemingly unlimited potential and exchange it for tangible production. We’re talking run of playoff dominance similar to Adrian Peterson, circa 2012. McFadden’s frailties are worth the gamble, especially now that his designation as a fantasy cornerstone has been removed and the asking price is more reasonable.
DMC’s Big-Three Mean Rank (A player’s ranking averaged from Yahoo!, NFL.com and ESPN) stands at 19th among running backs. For the last two years, fantasy’s 19th rated running back by year’s end was Rashard Mendenhall (2011) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2012). Both men combined to average 1,140 all-purpose yards and around 7 touchdowns in their respective seasons at illustrious No. 19. McFadden, in a wildly disappointing 2012 season that featured a career low in yards per carry, fought his way for 965 yards all-purpose and three touchdowns in 13 games.
Granted, the figures don’t indicate McFadden as worthy of his draft slot, but upon closer inspection it speaks volumes to his ability to produce in adverse conditions. Despite defenses loading the box, a three game absence and an ill-advised zone blocking scheme devised by former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, McFadden was still able to produce a semi-passable line for his fantasy bosses.
Certainly not the type of statistics needed to carry a team or justify his lofty draft position, but well within striking distance of his current designation at number 19. McFadden took a nightmare few months and returned numbers stellar enough for top 30 consideration and a spot play off the bench (and he was still a better option than Ryan Mathews, lest anyone forget).
All this to say that McFadden’s floor is not quite as low as some have perceived it to be. Again, it’s not as if his career has unfolded without an ample amount of fantasy hosing, but owners need hardly to throw themselves off a cliff if they end up saddled with the primary piece of the Raiders’ backfield.
After all, his ceiling is of atmospheric heights, and McFadden’s fortune is similarly upward bound entering next season. New offensive coordinator Greg Olson (not tight end Greg Olsen) has vowed to abolish the zone blocking sets of old and develop a straight line, power running attack that unleashes McFadden’s lightning quick, 218-pound frame in a more straightforward manner.
Last season was also the first time that DMC dipped below four yards per carry (he averaged 3.3) since his rookie season, and so one would believe that his rushing efficiency would rebound and finish somewhere closer to his career mark of 4.3 yards per tote.
To justify some of the broad sentiment, a slight interlude into the mathematical is in order (Note: not the incredibly difficult type to make one’s head spin).
If McFadden is allowed roughly 200 carries (last year he carried 216 times) at an even four yards per attempt, owners are looking at a respectable 800 yards on the ground. Add 250 receiving yards and four to five touchdowns to the equation (he has met or eclipsed both totals in multiple years) and McFadden finishes the season with numbers near to that of a low end second fantasy back in what is somewhat of a conservative estimate.
Besides, owners draft McFadden as a lottery ticket, not an anchor. Any appearances beyond twelve or thirteen are a bonus, and one that is bound to pay out sooner or later. Given our current model (which is, again, very down-to-earth) he stands to finish with an 241 more total yards and another touchdown or two if he can stay on the field for all sixteen weeks of game action, raising the overall projection to roughly 1,000 yards on the ground, 300 through the air and five to seven touchdowns.
Hope for the sake of hope does not often translate to victorious action, but the case of McFadden is one of the select few with enough sway to turn an average squad into a juggernaught in a matter of hours. For perspective, in McFadden’s banner 2010 campaign, he would have tallied 1,978 all-purpose yards and scored 12 times, had he performed at roughly the same rate in the three games he missed with injury as he did in the other 13.
Only Adrian Peterson would have exceeded both numbers in 2012, and that was one of the league’s most successful rushing seasons to date. Perhaps this point should have been made explicitly in the early going, but nonetheless; Darren McFadden’s upside is not to be taken lightly.
Consistency wins regular season championships, but the playoffs are often won on the shoulders of a meteoric rise or two. Don’t overlook McFadden as a boom or bust option that is primed to deliver more of the latter than the former.