Provided he makes it through the next couple of days without a setback, running back Darren McFadden is expected to take a central role in the Oakland Raiders offense in the final two regular-season games. That would be a mistake, particularly if the team has already made up its mind to part ways with the former first-round draft pick in the offseason.
Making a case to restrict arguably the most talented offensive player on the roster seems foolish, no doubt. Yet with McFadden it is a no-brainer.
There are several reasons why, beginning from a production standpoint.
McFadden, who has missed six games this season due to a variety of injuries, has been a hindrance to the offense most of the year. His yards-per-carry average of 3.5 is the second-lowest of his career, and unless the former Arkansas star has a breakout performance over the last two games, his rushing total will also be one of the lowest of his six-year career.
Rashad Jennings and fullback Marcel Reece are capable backups who have played very well while filling in for McFadden throughout the year. This year, both have run harder, more physical and with a lot more determination than the oft-injured McFadden has.
Then there’s the injury factor.
While only McFadden truly knows the validity and extent of his injuries, he is seen by many to be too fragile to be an every-down back. He pulled himself out of Oakland’s Week 9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and has needed at least two weeks or more to recover from each injury he’s suffered throughout his NFL career.
That’s been the most maddening part of McFadden’s time with the Raiders. When healthy and focused, he is one of the elite running backs in the NFL, an explosive playmaker capable of taking over a game by himself.
The problem is that he hasn’t been able to stay on the field long enough to make much of an impact.
McFadden has missed nearly half (19) of Oakland’s past 39 games. For his career, McFadden has sat out the equivalent of nearly two full seasons (29).
The coaching staff might be tempted to use McFadden as the workhorse anyway. They used a troika of runners in the Week 5 win over San Diego and may consider using a combination of McFadden, Jennings and Reece the second time around.
Reece’s future with the Raiders is already secure since he signed a contract extension in September. Jennings, who signed a one-year deal with Oakland after backing up Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville, is already penciled in as one of the team’s top priorities in the offseason.
McFadden? He’s slated to become a free agent in 2014 and, at least publicly, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of debate as to what the Raiders should do.
The veteran running back told reporters earlier this week he would prefer to stay with the team that made him the fourth overall pick in 2008 but acknowledged the decision is not his to make.
Publicly, Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie haven’t said much at all about the situation, creating even more of an atmosphere of intrigue.
For the Raiders, it comes down to one simple question: Do they use the final two games to get an extended look at Jennings and Reece for consideration in 2014, or do they break down and give the ball to a player who has unbelievable God-given skills but can’t seem to stay healthy?
*All information and quotes used in this or any report by Michael Wagaman were obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.