Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden are two veteran running backs with plenty to prove. Because of that, the Oakland Raiders have one of the preseason's most intriguing positional battles on their hands.
McFadden missed six games due to injury last season and has never played a full, 16-game slate. With that in mind, Oakland decided to go out and get some competition in the form of MJD. Jones-Drew has had some injury issues in his own right, but he is also a three-time All-Pro.
The competition is certainly too close to call at this point, but Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that MJD has the early lead over the incumbent:
Jones-Drew is three years McFadden's senior at 29, and he has more tread on his tires with nearly 1,000 more rushes over the course of his NFL career. With that said, he has largely remained healthy in eight NFL seasons, with the exception of 2012.
MJD's track record of durability makes him a more reliable option than McFadden, but Run DMC has proven capable of being a game-changing player when he is healthy and banging on all cylinders.
Partly because of that, Nick Mensio of Rotoworld reports that McFadden has the inside track when it comes to being the starter once the regular season commences:
When push comes to shove, however, the title of starter may not mean all that much. Every NFL team needs at least a couple of backs who are capable of carrying the load, and the Raiders seem to have that with McFadden and Jones-Drew.
According to Steve Corkran of the San Jose Mercury News, head coach Dennis Allen's expectation is that both players will be key to the offense's success in 2014: "They understand that both of them are going to get an opportunity to play, both of them are going to get touches and they're competing really hard," Allen said. "It's important for both of them. Both of them want to be the starter. They wouldn't be good football players if they didn't want that."
While one might assume that McFadden has the advantage, having been in Oakland for six seasons, offensive coordinator Greg Olson actually has an intimate knowledge of both players. He served as the Jaguars' quarterbacks coach in 2012 and has had nothing but good things to say about MJD, as per Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune:
Maurice Jones-Drew plays like a big back. I'm going to promise you, you're going to see. He's got such a low center of gravity. He's extremely difficult to tackle because of his height and his power. He's got ridiculous power in those legs. And he's hard to see with a big line. He's hard to see coming out of the line of scrimmage, and when he does come out, they get a glimpse of him and try and stick an arm out, he'll rip it off. He's got that kind of power.
The running game as a whole will be hugely important for the Raiders this season if they are going to compete in the difficult AFC West. The Denver Broncos, the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers all made the playoffs in 2013, so Oakland is clearly at the bottom of the totem pole.
McFadden and Jones-Drew could help the Raiders control the ball, though, and they could open things up for new starting quarterback Matt Schaub as well. That means the two backs will have to learn to coexist regardless of who ultimately wins the starting job.
Since McFadden and MJD are such different runners stylistically, they figure to complement each other quite well. Both are very much in line to have productive years provided they can stay healthy, which is good for the Raiders but less than ideal for fantasy owners.
The Raiders may very well lack a defined feature back, which will put a cap on what they can produce statistically. That could change if one of them tears it up during the preseason, but this certainly has all the makings of a committee situation.
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