If you're willing to take the leap of faith, Maurice Jones-Drew could potentially be poised for a nice comeback season.
Between age, injuries and ineffectiveness, MJD has gone from stud to outcast. According to ESPN.com, he's getting drafted around the 92nd overall pick, which makes him on average the 31st running back selected. Most owners are generally skeptical about Oakland Raiders running backs, with Darren McFadden listed as the 40th running back in average draft position.
With McFadden, you can understand the distrust. How many owners have been burned by reading or hearing that this was the year that the former Arkansas Razorback would break out?
Jones-Drew, on the other hand, has at least been a strong fantasy player in the past.
In addition, as Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey pointed out, there seems to be a disconnect about how well MJD actually did last year and how much he's worth in 2014:
Maybe charts are wrong but MJD was the 19th most productive fantasy back in PPR '13. Healthier, in better situation this year = 35th ADP?— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) August 10, 2014
Inevitably, Jones-Drew's fantasy value will be hindered by the presence of McFadden and Latavius Murray in the backfield. ESPN.com's Christopher Harris doesn't envision much success for MJD unless McFadden is moved out:
The best case for Jones-Drew is he looks great in camp and the Raiders decide to release McFadden, who is owed almost no guaranteed money. If that happens, MJD would be the starter and Murray would be his handcuff, and then maybe Jones-Drew would belong somewhere in the top-25 discussion. But we're a long way from there, not least because I'm wholly unconvinced MJD can ever be the same player he was before his foot fracture. For now, he's listed No. 36 in my RB ranks, with McFadden at No. 41 and Murray at No. 50.
NFL.com's Michael Fabiano also cast a lot of doubt on whether either MJD or McFadden is worth any sort of consideration this year:
I wouldn't draft Darren McFadden or MJD as more than a high-end RB4 in fantasy leagues next season.— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) March 28, 2014
Jones-Drew will never be a top-10 fantasy back again, but why can't he be a solid RB3 in standard leagues and maybe even an RB2 option this season in point-per-reception leagues?
In 2013, Jones-Drew was hampered a bit by injury, and the Jacksonville Jaguars had the worst quarterback situation in the league. Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne weren't scaring anybody.
So not only was MJD not at 100 percent for parts of the season, but he also had opposing defenses keying on him because they didn't respect the passing game all that much. And he still ran for 803 yards and five touchdowns on 234 carries with 43 receptions for 314 yards. Those numbers aren't all that bad considering all of the obstacles in his way.
Matt Schaub, despite all of the interceptions last year, is a better quarterback than Henne. He should take some pressure off Jones-Drew and McFadden. He could also provide Jones-Drew with some more targets, upping his value from a PPR perspective.
Since the two running backs have opposing styles, it's entirely possible that they could carve out mutually beneficial roles in the Oakland offense. Splitting carries might also allow both to remain healthy and retain a high level of effectiveness throughout the entire regular season.
What also shouldn't be overlooked for Jones-Drew is that he's returning home. Born in Oakland, California, and a graduate of De La Salle High School in nearby Concord, the 29-year-old is back where it all began.
"It's going to be exciting to have everyone there, people that I grew up with that are Raider fans, season-ticket holders," said Jones-Drew, per Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News. "I just want to go out there and try to play a perfect game, strive to be perfect."
Having that level of comfort, playing in front of a true home crowd could be a boon to MJD's confidence.
Looking ahead to the regular season, rushing for a thousand yards is about Jones-Drew's ceiling. He's not going to set the world ablaze even if he gets the lion's share of carries in the Raiders backfield.
MJD should be a much more effective runner this year, though, and play above expectations.