Darren McFadden: Now Healthy, Star RB Is a Must-Start in Fantasy Lineups

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistDecember 5, 2012

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 30:  Running back Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders runs with the football as defensive tackle Derek Wolfe #95 of the Denver Broncos looks to make the tackle during the second quarter at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on September 30, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden hasn't played since Week 9, but that should come to an end against the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football

The star running back suffered a high ankle sprain against Tampa Bay, but he appears to have made a full recovery. According to Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune, McFadden has been officially upgraded to probable after participating in a full Wednesday practice.

McFadden's return should give a huge boost to the Raiders offense. It could also give a huge boost to savvy fantasy owners who are willing to start him against the Broncos on Thursday.

Starting McFadden is, admittedly, a pretty big risk––for a number of reasons.

For one thing, we've only heard reports about his ankle feeling better; we haven't actually seen it in action yet. But even assuming full health, Denver has been great against the run this season. The Broncos allow just 96.4 yards per game on the ground, and they stifled McFadden in the teams' first meeting.

But there are also a number of promising omens for McFadden's fantasy stock.

Marcel Reece, the Raiders' backup running back, is dealing with a nagging injury of his own, which could drastically increase McFadden's workload. Plus, the Raiders have sorely missed their best weapon for the past month, and should be eager to get him the ball early and often. Even if they fall behind, it's a safe bet that McFadden will touch the ball 20-plus times.

And even though they're playing the Broncos' stout defense, McFadden has shown the ability to perform against good run units––even Denver's. Last season, in Week 1, McFadden gashed the Broncos for 150 yards on 22 carries.

Box scores from last season not good enough for you? How about this: McFadden shredded the Steelers' fifth-ranked run defense for 113 yards and a touchdown earlier this season. Pittsburgh allows only 93.1 rush yards per game––three less than Denver.

So, yeah, starting McFadden obviously comes with some inherent risk. But it also comes with substantial reward. In his last full game this season, back in Week 8, he posted 137 total yards. His talent is undeniable, and at this point of the fantasy season, it's a valuable commodity.

Give Run DMC a chance at RB2 this week, and he could reward you with RB1 production.