The first few weeks of pre-season in 2008, Coach Lane Kiffin was intent on discovering if McFadden could run effectively between the tackles. It turned out he did so pretty well though not much else about his game was tested in the early going.
The fans were led to believe we would see an explosive and innovative use of McFadden in the regular season. To be fair, we never got a chance to see what Kiffin could do with McFadden since his spat with owner Al Davis reached epic proportions and he was fired.
Things seemed to be on track with McFadden's best game coming against the Chiefs early on. A high flying stretch across the goal line still stands as his finest moment as a Raider.
Unfortunately, his production since then has been spotty.
While not entirely unimpressive, we have not really seen what he can do. McFadden has struggled to find a comfort zone as running back.
Thus far in McFadden's career, he has been set back by injuries, an inability to get into open space, saddled with an ineffectual offensive line and perhaps not being utilized as well as he could be within the offensive game plan.
Even in the wildcat or wild hog offensive formation (which we have seen very limited glimpses of in Oakland), McFadden has not fulfilled the promise he showed when he first arrived, the ink still fresh on his $60 million contract.
What Raiders fan wasn't optimistic about McFadden, coming out of Arkansas with such massive rushing numbers and blazing speed? He represented everything the Raiders were lacking in the run game and desperately needed.
Fast forward to the conclusion of the 2009 season, McFadden has pretty much been a non-factor despite just under 500 yards rushing in 2009 and some good plays as a receiver. In fact, he seems destined to get more plays as a receiver than as a running back in the seasons ahead if things continue along the path they are right now.
The deck is stacked against McFadden. Running backs generally have a short shelf life anyway, unless your body can handle vicious punishment or you have great moves to prolong your career.
The book on McFadden coming out of college was he went down easy and did not have great power. He relied on his speed to gain yards. That's not going to do you much good if you are taking big hits every time you touch the ball as a pro.
If McFadden is going to extend his career and avoid mediocrity, he has to adjust his game.
There are plenty of examples of backs who have used their moves to compliment their physical power in order to extend their careers on weak teams. Barry Sanders with the Lions comes to mind and so does 1980 something Curt Warner of the Seahawks who is one of the few backs I have ever seen that could make an entire defense flat out miss their tackles. Not break tackles mind you, MISS tackles.
I remember a Monday Night Football broadcast during Warner's rookie season. The number of missed tackles as Warner juked his way around defenders was truly eye opening. The defense may as well have been standing still.
Curt Warner is a good model for the potential of Darren McFadden and where he needs to go with his game. You can say he needs to pattern his game after Reggie Bush but what are the chances of the Raiders becoming as dynamic an offense as the New Orleans Saints have? McFadden needs to figure this one out all by himself since the coaches seem to be clueless how to utilize him correctly.
Both Warner and McFadden were first round draft picks (Warner was selected third overall in 1983, McFadden went fourth in 2008). Both came out of college as expected stars in the pro game (Warner had 3,398 career rushing yards at Penn State. McFadden had 4,590 yards at Arkansas).
Both guys are gifted athletes that were entrusted with revitalizing a stagnant running game for their respective teams. Both had to overcome serious injuries along with serious fan doubts about their ability to battle back into form every pro season.
Of course it was a different type of expectation back in the '80s for Warner. In today's game, McFadden's 26 million in guaranteed money is just a little more than Warner made in his day. Ok, a lot more.
Though, Warner accomplished a great deal as a pro. McFadden can only dream of reaching the numbers Warner did (eight seasons, 6,844 rushing yards, 193 receptions for 1,467 yards, 63 touchdowns, three-time Pro Bowler).
McFadden can still have a great career but the rate he is going now, doesn't bode well for his chances. He has not shown enough resiliency from injury and ability to generate yards, despite the setbacks and instability of the blocking in front of him.
Great backs find ways to get it done. That's why it is such a difficult sport and running back is a very difficult position to play.
If you let your injuries slow you down, chances are you won't last long in the league.
Note that Warner did not play on strong teams yet he amassed lots of yards.
In a miracle season, the Seahawks advanced to 1983 AFC Championship game where they were beaten by the Los Angeles Raiders. The Raiders went on to defeat the Redskins in the Super Bowl using an even better running back, Marcus Allen.