Darren McFadden of Oakland Raiders Sheds Bust Label: Is He the NFL's Best Now?
Darren McFadden came out of the University of Arkansas with the bombast of his 4.27 40-yard dash time. He was then drafted by the Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders in 2008, flashing briefly upon arrival.
His flashing was cut short by his many injuries, and those injuries caused McFadden's career to spiral downward. When he did play, it seemed that McFadden was unable to break tackles and make people miss.
In a previous article called, "Darren McFadden: One Change Away from Superstardom," I wrote about how McFadden could solve all of his problems by running lower. All writers love it when they are right, but watching this young man run with the football is what makes me glad I was right.
If the Raiders somehow sneak into the playoffs, McFadden deserves some votes for NFL MVP. He is no doubt the main reason why the Raiders have improved so drastically this year.
Turn the page to see McFadden's case for being the best running back in the league this year.
McFadden is the second fastest running back in the league with a 4.27 40-yard dash. Chris Johnson's 4.24 puts him ahead of McFadden by just a dreadlock.
McFadden is putting that speed to use now, as he is now tied for first in runs over 20 yards. He is also tied with Johnson for second in runs over 40 yards.
McFadden is a threat to go the distance on any play.
Another part of what makes McFadden a threat to go the distance on any play is his ability to make people miss in the open field. This is an area that he has improved on just by running lower than in the past.
McFadden now sinks his hips to have more leverage to change direction much faster. Defenders now have a hard time getting a bead on him when he changes directions.
The first man almost never makes the tackle on McFadden anymore.
You need more than speed and elusiveness to be a consistent breakaway threat. Even Barry Sanders couldn't make everybody miss. You have to be able to break some tackles along the way.
The first thing opposing defenders talk about after playing the Raiders is how hard it is to bring McFadden down. The fact that he's at the top of the league in yards after contact shows you what they're talking about.
McFadden's tackle-breaking came in handy in Jacksonville with one more tackle to break on 51- and 36-yard touchdown runs.
McFadden's vision is what leads him to the open field situations that get him those 20- to 40-yard runs. Without that vision, none of his other outstanding qualities would even matter.
When the ball is first given to you, you must be able to see things that aren't there at the time. However, they will develop by the time you get closer to the line of scrimmage, and you make your big play from there.
McFadden is now using his vision instead of automatically bouncing everything outside.
Power helps you break tackles, but power and tackle-breaking are two different things. You can use power to break some tackles, but power isn't always used to step out of a tackle.
Power gets you into the end zone when there's a defender at the one intending to stop you.
Power can knock a defender out of the game and make it easier to juke a defender the next time.
Power gets your team and the crowd going to put or keep momentum on your side.
McFadden has power.
At the University of Arkansas, McFadden showed that he had a lethal stiff arm. He might have had the best stiff arm in football back then, but it was missing in his first two years in the league.
Now it's back and putting opposing defenders on their backs. It's another way for McFadden to avoid the last tackle and use his blazing speed to go the distance.
McFadden didn't win the Heisman Trophy but looks just like the trophy when delivering his stiff arm.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
McFadden has improved his ball security in the biggest way this year. I hate to even say it right now because I don't want to jinx McFadden with two games left.
McFadden has only three fumbles to this point, and one of them was on a botched trick play on Sunday. This is has to be the most important improvement McFadden has made this year.
Fumbling the football can kill pretty much anything a running back does well.
It's worse than a quarterback throwing an interception.
Darren McFadden has excellent hands.
In fact, he has a wide receiver's skill set that made many in Raider Nation want to move him to wide receiver before this season. All I can say to that is I sure am glad those people don't have any pull with the Raiders.
However, I am glad to see offensive coordinator Hue Jackson using his skill set on occasion. McFadden has game-breaking abilities in the passing game as well, as shown in Jacksonville.
McFadden has the best hands of any running back in the NFL.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
McFadden is not one to just let his quarterback get killed.
He is very ready, willing and able to block for Jason Campbell and is very physical in doing so. He has only given up one sack this season, so it is through no fault of McFadden that the Raiders give up so many sacks.
It's just another part of his versatility that keeps him on the field so opposing defenses don't know what's coming.
McFadden has an unstoppable multitude of talents to go with his blistering speed. His 1,112 yards and 10 total touchdowns this season have come with him missing two games and being stopped in two others.
When I say stopped, I mean stopped by his coaching staff not giving him the ball. It's like Kobe Bryant having 11 points in a game while taking only 10 shots.
The defense didn't stop him.
This is not a declaration of McFadden being the best running back this year. However, one must admit that his case is pretty compelling when you look at everything.
One thing is for sure.
He's not a bust.