Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden To Take Another Step Up In 2011
Before the season, I wrote an article called "Darren McFadden: One Change Away From Super-stardom." It was about the little changes he needed to make in his running style to stay healthy and succeed.
Boy did McFadden make that change to have his coming out party in the 2010 season.
What change did he make?
He's running lower.
That has led to his dramatic improvement and it won't stop there.
McFadden has only scratched the surface of what he can do in the NFL and will improve even more in 2011.
Turn the page to see what that's done for him and why he'll be even better in 2011.
McFadden now runs lower and with much more authority these days. This is important because bucking a defensive back early in a game makes it much easier to shake him later on in the game.
I don't know how much McFadden has improved his strength, but he now runs lower and that makes him better able to use his strength. That often leads to McFadden breaking tackles to get more yardage than what's really available to him.
He now knows how to use his strength carrying a football and I expect the young man to get stronger this offseason. This from a man that knocked a couple of defenders that tried to tackle him out of the game.
Opposing defenders beware.
McFadden had trouble making defenders miss at the beginning of his career. He now does so with ease, as running lower has helped him tremendously in that area.
Making defenders miss required you to be able to change directions at full speed. In order to change directions at full speed, you must sink your hips for leverage to accelerate out of your cut.
If you already run lower to the ground, sinking your hips becomes a much easier thing to do at full speed. Now, McFadden's ability to make defenders miss will run him into less collisions, helping him stay healthier.
2010 was the first time I saw McFadden as a technically sound ball carrier and I expect him to improve more in this area in 2011.
McFadden is now a much faster man after working with Johnson last offseason.
How can that be when McFadden ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at the combine in 2008?
Well, did you notice that on those occasions that McFadden broke free early in his career, he was hawked from behind by an opposing defender that wasn't known for his speed.
He was even walked down by a linebacker in college.
Now a days, an opposing defender can forget about it once McFadden breaks free. That's because McFadden has increased his top end speed as the human body doesn't get to top speed until it reaches 40 yards.
The 40-yard dash is all acceleration or how fast you can get to top speed. The 20 meters after that is when the human body is at full throttle and that is where McFadden has improved under Johnson.
Another area that McFadden has improved under Johnson is his speed endurance or ability to hold top speed. After 60 meters, the human body slows down and your speed endurance determines the rate that you slow down.
McFadden's top end speed and speed endurance helped him lead the league in runs over 40 yards in 2010.
Notice that he doesn't get caught from behind anymore.
What will another offseason with Johnson do for McFadden?
The stiff arm that McFadden showed the nation in college is now back in business. Mixed in with what he already has in his arsenal, McFadden will be next to impossible to bring down in the open field.
McFadden will probably have more upper body strength in 2011 so look for that weapon to improve. You can see why he led the league in runs over 40 yards in 2010 and probably will in 2011.
Defenders just have too many things to watch for when McFadden gets in the secondary.
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
When I say the word toughness, I mean mental toughness because that's the most important trait in any NFL player. You always want to know what will happen to a running back when they are getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
If a game or even his season gets off to a bad start, McFadden will just keep coming. He's already been on pace to be a bust in his first two years so he won't be shaken.
As Deion Sanders said, "I always want the guy that's been through something."
One never really knows how to navigate a 16 game season of football until they've done it. McFadden did miss three games in 2010 but anyone can pull a hamstring and and he could have played in the season finale with his turf toe.
Raider owner Al Davis never did forgive former Raiders head coach Tom Cable for de-activating McFadden.
The media has noted the work that McFadden has done in Texas with sprinter extraordinaire Michael Johnson. Not only does he see that what he did there works, but McFadden will also be able to add things to his offseason work that will help with what he came up short on this past season.
Besides, the more you do something the better you get at it.
McFadden's hard work and experience has made him a confident running back. There is nothing that tells you you can go out and have a good year like having a good year.
The good year he has just had now gives him the confidence he needs to have an even better year. I believe McFadden is now looking at attempting a 2,000 yard season or the yards from scrimmage record.
O.J. Simpson had a similar, injury riddled beginning to his career before putting up 2,000 yards and reaching legendary status. But before the 2,000 yard season, Simpson rushed for 1,000 yards to turn his career around.
McFadden has just done that so what's next?
This is the most underrated part of why McFadden will be even better in 2011. It was his hunger to do his job well that led to him making the improvements to his game for 2010.
Did it not appear that McFadden was on a mission the way he ran?
Now that McFadden has tasted success, that makes the fire in his belly burn even more. I'm sure McFadden is working on his game as I write this as his hunger has grown from his recent success.
A hungry football player with ability is a dangerous one.
McFadden was but 20 years old when he came to Raiders Nation. A 20-year-old body isn't always mature enough for the most physically demanding position on a football field.
McFadden broke out at age 22, and those two years of maturity were telling in his performance in 2011. Next year, McFadden adds another year of physical and mental maturity.
Another year of getting to know his body will be extremely helpful.
I equate Hue Jackson's arrival in Raiders Nation in 2010 to Lou Sabin's in Buffalo in 1972. The success that Simpson was able to have in the NFL came after Sabin went in and utilized Simpson's talents.
The same is the case with Jackson calling plays for the Raiders. McFadden's total skill set is now used as he has the hands of a receiver to go along with his speed.
Beyond that, Jackson had a meeting with McFadden and asked him what types of plays he likes to run. McFadden likes power blocking plays more than the zone plays Cable preferred.
Jackson then put in more power blocking plays and the rest is history. McFadden now has more freedom to use his vision to scan the line of scrimmage instead of making one read and having one choice.
Players running what they are good at and like is important.
With the scheme Jackson has brought to Raiders Nation, look for McFadden to be a prolific weapon in 2010.
Jason Campbell showed Raiders Nation why Davis traded form him before the 2010 season. His deep balls started to connect with Raiders receivers and that will help keep eight and nine man fronts out of the opposing team's defensive game plans.
Campbell getting used to his receivers was a big part of that, and he'll be even more in tune with them in 2011. What should also help McFadden is the fact that Campbell re-discoved that he can run as he did to lead Auburn to a National Championship.
During the season, Jackson encouraged Campbell to run and make plays outside the pocket. Jackson even went as far as calling designed bootlegs for him to run.
Plays like that will hold backside defenders in the run game in 2011.
Jacoby Ford has shown himself to be a big play waiting to happen in the passing game and on special teams in his rookie year. He has developed quite a chemistry with Campbell, especially in clutch situations.
Ford's 4.28 40-yard dash speed is more than capable of blowing the top of a defense off. Therefore, opposing safeties will need to help over the top and a safety can't help from in the box.
This is how Ford will help McFadden do his thing in 2011.
Louis Murphy showed himself to be a deep threat to be reckoned with right away as a Raiders rookie. He then looked to build on it in 2010, but his season was marred by shoulder and rib injuries.
It was Murphy that showed his frustration the most when Cable benched Campbell in favor of Bruce Gradkowski just as he was starting to get comfortable with Campbell.
But Murphy will not have to worry about that in 2011 as Campbell is now the guy. Murphy is another Raiders receiver that can blow the top off of an NFL defense, and is sure to require help over the top.
The Raiders will dare opposing teams to stack the box in 2011.
As if they really need another speedster, 2008 first round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey is another one. You wonder why Davis didn't wait a round or two to get him, and the Raiders have little to show for his presence.
However, Heyward-Bey did show some signs of being able to catch a football with his hands in 2010. While that's not what you expect from a first round pick in his second year, it is a dramatic improvement from 2009.
If Heyward-Bey improves at the same rate for 2011 as he did in 2010, he could turn out to be alright. At least, he will be a legitimate deep threat that opposing defenses have to watch out for.
The safeties again must stay out of the box.
Chaz Shilens is the 6'4", 225 pound possession receiver of the Raiders receiving corps. He catches everything thrown at him and is more than able to make a circus catch.
How does that help McFadden have a better year?
When Schilens makes a big third down catch, that brings another set of downs for McFadden to get more carries. At the same time, Schilens is a 4.33 forty yard dash man, making him another deep threat for the Raiders.
I am expecting Schilens to play this year because he didn't go into the offseason with surgery as scheduled. With all this speed, it would be unwise to stack the box no matter who is in the game at receiver.
McFadden will have his room.
Zach Miller can even make big plays down the field for the Raiders offense. The 2010 Pro Bowler has touchdown catches of 86, 63 and 43 yards the last three years, so linebackers can't be so fast to come up for the run.
But that's not the only way Miller will help McFadden.
Miller has been the most consistent third down receiver the Raiders have had since 2007, so he will give McFadden extra downs to work with too. He will also help McFadden make his catches as he takes most of the attention on intermediate to underneath routes while the receivers stretch the field.
If the strong safety does go into the box, he will still be weary of Miller getting behind him.
Marcel Reece is a 4.40-yard dash running fullback that is doing his part to revolutionize the game. However, his main duty is to block for McFadden in the I formation and he is sure to get better in that department as the converted wide receiver goes into just his second year playing fullback.
But Reece will also help McFadden catch balls too.
Reece has a wide receiver skill set, so linebackers will have to choose what intermediate to underneath options they want to take away. He is also a deep threat himself, so opposing defenses will likely play a cover zone that is easier to run on.
If the opposing defense dares to play man, they can't just leave Reece uncovered.
This means McFadden is left one on one with a linebacker.
Jackson said that he would "assemble an offensive line" this offseason. The Raiders were among the league leaders in sacks allowed in 2010, but that isn't the only problem.
They were driven back in the middle because of the undersized Samson Satele and Cooper Carlise. Many will point to McFadden's 1,000 yard season and believe they are a good unit, but it's deeper than that.
McFadden, as mentioned before, was the NFL leader in yards after contact. Many of his big runs came after breaking a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage on a great individual effort.
As Jackson "assembles" this power blocking offensive line, McFadden's production will go up as he gets a good running start through the hole.
The Raiders front seven is already raising you know what against the pass, and I expect better play against the run in 2011. Tommy Kelly is now playing under the influence of Richard Seymour and the whole front seven will learn to play together and stop the run.
Rookie linebacker Rolando McClain will no longer be a rookie and be the straw that stirs the drink. Trevor Scott is reported to be doing well in his rehab from knee surgery and he played the run well before getting injured.
But I'm looking for the Raiders to bring in another outside linebacker as insurance.
I still believe that Nnamdi Asomugha will be back to lead the secondary and the defense will enter the top five. They will at least be in the top 10 no matter who ends up being the defensive coordinator.
The result is that the Raiders will constantly get the ball back for McFadden and the Raiders offense. McFadden will then get carries against tired defenses as the Raiders play from ahead.
McFadden will enter 2011 with full of confidence after a solid year under his belt. He now has a head coach that knows how to use him, a solid supporting cast around him and a quarterback that can at least keep the defense honest.
I'm also going to take Jackson at his word when he says he is going to "assemble an offensive line." There will be plenty of talent to chose from in free agency and the draft.
Simpson got his first 1,000 season when Saban first went to Buffalo, then did something special in his second year under Saban. This is what I am looking for from McFadden in his second year in Jackson's system.
It could be in pure running or yards from scrimmage.
Either way, I see a big year coming for the ultra-talented McFadden and the Raiders offense.