Can Darren McFadden Survive in the Raiders' Physical Rushing Attack?

Tim PetersonContributor IJuly 16, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: John Engelberger #60 of the Denver Broncos tackles Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders during an NFL game at McAfee Coliseum on September 8, 2008 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The Oakland Raiders tried to trade Michael Bush midway through the ’08 season and failed. But that could be the best thing ever for both Darren McFadden and Bush.


In Sports Illustrated’s fantasy football edition, there’s a small blurb on McFadden. SI says a league rumor suggests that McFadden won’t last long as the Raiders' primary ball carrier. Scouts and personnel people believe McFadden can’t stand up to the physical punishment of running between the tackles in Oakland.


Like it or not, McFadden’s health was a big issue last season. He missed three games due to injury and was slowed considerably by turf toe.


Yes, I know that the running back position is one of the most brutal positions in all of sports, and in the "not for long" world of pro football, injuries play a key role in the success of any team—especially young teams like the Raiders. That’s why it’s extremely important for Oakland to keep McFadden healthy this season.


In his rookie year, McFadden showed flashes of brilliance, but injuries to both feet limited his production. His 499 yards rushing was promising—but a far cry from rookie sensation Matt Forte’s performance. The Bears rookie racked up 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns. Those were the numbers expected from McFadden.


As training camp approaches, everyone has raved about the potential for a breakout year from No. 20, but that’s all contingent on whether McFadden can stay healthy or not. Remember, with a young quarterback and no established game-breaker on the outside, the offense needs somebody to move the chains consistently.


Is Bush going to be that person? Many fans have already called for Bush to start. But where does that leave McFadden and his big money contract—on the bench? I don’t think so. Besides, something tells me that Al Davis is expecting to see a lot more out of Run-DMC.


With that in mind, it’s almost a given that McFadden will be the starter when the season begins. But with D-Mac’s durability issues, coach Tom Cable should consider moving him to the slot, much like the Saints use Reggie Bush. Give him room to catch the ball and make a defender miss, and then it’s off to the races. I think it’s clear that the Raiders have recognized this and certainly should have changed the playbook accordingly. 


McFadden has demonstrated he can be a lethal weapon when he gets support. In week two at Arrowhead, Bush was the workhorse and McFadden was the game-changer. The rookie cut through the Chiefs defense for 164 yards and one touchdown. But he also suffered a severe case of turf toe, essentially shooting his season in the foot.


What was the Raiders offense like without him? Borderline pathetic, to say the least. Against the Ravens, Falcons, and Panthers, Oakland’s offense struggled mightily. The offense was only able to find the end zone once and totaled just 16 points in three games.


Granted, all three opponents were playoff-caliber teams, but that just shows how valuable a player like McFadden is.


This brings me back to the original question: Is the Raiders' rushing attack too physical for McFadden?


The effectiveness of Cable’s running game (10th in the league in 2008) can’t be argued, but fans have seen what it’s done to Justin Fargas. Thus, because of his huge value to the organization, McFadden will eventually move to the outside and be used as a dynamic triple threat player.


He can run, catch, and throw. It would be silly not to use him in that capacity. I think deep down inside the Raiders know this as well. Bush will do the heavy lifting between the tackles, while Lorenzo Neal blows out holes in the defense.


So where does this leave Fargas? Not in a good spot, that’s for sure. Over his six-year career in Oakland, Fargas has been dogged by a series of injuries. I think some of the problems can be related back to a horrid offensive line, and the rest can be blamed on Justin’s fearless running style.


This past season, the former USC star continued his hard-charging ways, as he led the team in rushing with 851 yards and one touchdown.


However, since 2003, injuries have taken a portion of his season away with routine regularity. Neck, knee, shoulder, groin, and toe injuries have made Fargas a possible cap casualty in ‘09. The primary reason is his cap hit increases from $600,000 to $2.5 million.

With Bush and McFadden on the rise, I think it’s easy to dump Fargas just before the season begins.