Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
Entering training camp, there's nothing but questions surrounding the Oakland Raiders offense.
Can new starting quarterback Matt Schaub recapture the form that saw him lead the Houston Texans to back-to-back AFC South titles in 2011 and 2012, or will his first year with the Raiders be the pick-six-fueled nightmare that his last season in Houston was?
Is James Jones' season with double-digit touchdown catches demonstrative of a player who can function as the team's No. 1 wide receiver, or does the fact that he's never topped 1,000 yards in a season indicate he can't?
However, it's the running back battle between a pair of former fantasy studs that's of most interest to fantasy owners.
Of course, it's been a while since Darren McFadden's fantasy heyday. In fact, it lasted all of one season, when McFadden gained over 1,100 yards on the ground in 2010. Since then the 26-year-old hasn't been able to stay on the field, missing 19 games over three disappointing seasons.
This year, McFadden faces a challenge from Maurice Jones-Drew, who joined the Raiders in free agency after eight seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jones-Drew was the NFL's leading rusher back in 2011 with 1,606 yards, but the 29-year-old looked nothing like that player as he plodded his way to a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2013.
Jones-Drew insists he still has something in the tank, according to Sam Farmer of The Los Angeles Times:
It doesn't bother me that people have written me off, but it's just how they've done it. I understand if I had played bad the year before, then played the way I did [in 2013]. Then, I could understand people saying, 'Oh, he's done.' But I was leading the league in rushing before I broke my foot. It was tough hearing people say, 'Aw, you don't have it anymore.' I'm in the best shape of my life now, running fast, running hills, pulling sleds, cutting, jumping. I've rededicated myself to my craft again.
However, Jones-Drew also told the Associated Press (via The Boston Herald) that he's warming to the idea in Oakland of a situation that chills the hearts of fantasy owners.
A backfield committee:
When these pads get on you're going to start to see what we're about, and that is running back by committee. (That) is going to help us because we're going to be fighting every day to get the ball. I know Darren wants the ball just like I do. That drive is what's going to help us become a better backfield.
McFadden isn't just handing the starting job to Jones-Drew though, telling John Lund of the team's website that “I have a whole lot to give. Now I just want to go out there and show everybody, prove to everybody that I can.”
Frankly, who "starts" for the Raiders is the least of several factors that need clarified here.
How the touches are divided, who plays in what situations and how successfully Oakland runs the ball both individually and as a team could all have more weight in determining which back to own in Oaktown than whether Jones-Drew or McFadden carries the ball first in a given game.
Unfortunately, we may not know the answers to those questions until well into the preseason, and that's not taking each back's rather extensive recent injury history into account.