Chicken Legs and Fumbles: Knock, Knock, Knocking on Darren McFadden's Door

alex chavezCorrespondent IMay 12, 2008

The three main knocks on Darren McFadden are his large number of fumbles last season, his thin legs, and his character/family problems.  Let’s take a quick yet comprehensive look at each.

Chicken Legs

The skinny legs comments are ridiculous, yet hilarious when you look at who the triumphant Raider running back was last season.  Justin Fargas has skinny legs. He had one of the most successful rushing campaigns in recent memory.  He performed better than thick-legged Lamont Jordan and average-legged Dominic Rhodes. 

Seriously, leg thickness?  Are all runners supposed to be thunderous Steven Jacksons?  Remember Marcus Allen?  Marshall Faulk?  Robert Smith?  Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, and Willie Parker all have less than impressive lower bodies. 

McFadden will get his yards not by running over people, but by hitting holes quickly, stiff-arming some people, lowering his shoulder on others, and outrunning many. 

Bangers are the ones sitting on the disabled list too often. 

Remember McFadden ran 325 times last year through some of the best defenses in the nation in the SEC.  He obviously has some power in those legs, as was further evidenced by his impressive broad jump numbers in the NFL Combine. 


I went through the Arkansas Razorbacks’ play-by-play gamelogs from last year to determine when McFadden’s fumbles occurred.  I did this because I knew McFadden lined up as a quarterback often enough in the Razorbacks’ offense.  He also returned kickoffs.  Not all fumbles are created equally, so let’s find out how these fumbles were distributed.

Fumbles as a running back:  5 fumbles in 325 carries.

Fumbles as a quarterback:  5 fumbles.

Fumbles as a kickoff returner:  5 fumbles. 

Suddenly the 15 fumbles of the 2007 season don’t seem like such a huge deal. 

As a quarterback, McFadden fumbled a few snaps and handoffs that he fell on and recovered.  I would guess that the other fumbles were simply McFadden not focusing enough on the ball, instead trying to see where the running lane was.  Some of his QB carries consisted of draws and option plays that didn’t have specifically designed lanes to run through. 

From a Razorbacks fan:

“He did have some fumbles in his career but with the exception of last year's LSU game [where 2 fumbles came as a kick returner] I believe that they were at the beginning of each season and could be contributed to the bonehead coach not allowing him to be hit in practice.”

From’s profile:

“Protects the ball well in traffic, but most of his turnovers come on improper ball distribution in the open … Also has a high amount of fumbles fielding the kickoff, as he tends to run before securing the ball …”

McFadden is simply not very good at returning kicks.  His 19.8 average was certainly underwhelming.  His longest return was 33 yards – rather pathetic when you realize he faced Troy , Florida International, Chattanooga , and North Texas .  McFadden’s kickoff return fumbles are an extension of the fact he is not very good at this. 

Yes, McFadden will need to hone his ball security in the NFL.  During Darren’s pre-draft visit to Oakland, running backs coach Tom Rathman pointed out a way Darren can improve that aspect of his running game.  Yet this isn’t a player who fumbles every handful of rushes.  Five fumbles in 325 standard running carries is nothing alarming.  Fargas fumbled three times in 222 carries last season. 


As for his questionable family members’ lifestyles, and thus his character concerns, it’s been said before and I echo the sentiment that to have all that chaos so closely around you, yet come out on top and above it all is the most impressive thing a person in that situation could possibly demonstrate. 

If he can resist the temptation of his own family messing around with drugs and a nonsense lifestyle, he can certainly handle himself away from all of that as his employment environment and age mature.

The worst thing on his rap sheet is being handcuffed and quickly released when things got a bit rowdy at a piano bar he was in.  Yawn.  He also has two kids out of wedlock, though some tests are still being taken to determine the validity of each case. 

Parenting is certainly of monumental importance, but it would be unfair to say that McFadden will be any less of a parent than most NFL players.  For all we know he'll be around and take great care of them.  Again, nothing alarming here. 

Quotes:  P.S. He’s NOT Reggie Bush.

Here are some notable quotes on McFadden from talented evaluator Charles Casserly.  It was Casserly, remember, who opted to take Mario Williams for his Texans over Reggie Bush and Vince Young.

"[McFadden] will run inside, and he's bigger," Casserly said. "He's not a power back, but when I watch him, there's no reluctance to run inside. At times, he'll miss the hole, but I've seen him lower his shoulder and knock a safety or linebacker back. He has more production against better teams than Bush. Pac-10 defenses weren't very good. [McFadden] has played in the SEC against the best college teams in the country and he's been productive over a three-year period. I think that's the clear difference."

From his profile: 

"Plays with good toughness, lowering his head and driving hard with his legs after contact … Can bounce off tackles and gives good second effort when his initial move fails … Willing blocker who shows the ability to pick up blitzes and will chip defenders with good intent and purpose … Has the field vision and awareness to find the open crease and excels at anticipating cutback lanes … Highly respected by the staff and teammates, demonstrating a solid work ethic."

From another SEC fan:  “I’ve watched the majority of his career since I live in the south so SEC and ACC games are on a lot. McFadden has power…there are plenty of times he goes fullspeed into 2 guys and drags them a few yards before goin down. They’re just the 6-10 yard runs that don't make the reel [because] he has so many 30+ and 40+ runs.”

My Take

He is not Adrian Peterson or Reggie Bush. Each of those two has completely different running styles than Darren McFadden.

It is unlikley that McFadden will bully his way to 250-yard rushing days. However, McFadden also runs in a way that's less conducive to injuries. He may play more games in his career than Peterson.

As for the Bush comparisons, McFadden is not a passive, dancing runner. He hits the hole hard and is custom-made for Oakland's one-cut system so long as he demonstrates a shred of patience.

McFadden's rookie-season numbers will not be eye-popping. This will be due to his sharing carries with Justin Fargas and Michael Bush. However, McFadden will likely lead the running backs in yards per carry and longest gain. He will likely also lead them in catches, receiving yards, and touchdown catches.

By 2009, McFadden will be getting most of the carries on this team and be on his way to producing 1,800 combined rushing and receiving yard seasons; along with the occasional backbreaking, game-icing 70-yard run.