In recent years, the Oakland Raiders have often been criticized for choices they have made during the NFL Draft. The concept of a first-round bust has been almost synonymous with the Raiders. Robert Gallery, Michael Huff, Darren McFadden, JaMarcus Russell, and Darrius Hey-Ward Bey have all had their names and the word bust used in the same sentence.
On Sunday, two of those players, Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey, made big steps away from the title of bust and toward success, and both did it with the help of Bruce Gradkowski.
After an injury-riddled first few seasons in the NFL, many questioned whether McFadden would ever be able to handle the load of a starting running back. When Michael Bush broke his thumb in the preseason, McFadden was handed an opportunity to show that he could handle being a premier back.
Darren McFadden used his opportunity to start against the Tennessee Titans to make a strong argument in his favor. He rushed 18 times for 95 yards but no touchdowns in one of his best games to date. It was made even more impressive by the fact that every other aspect of the Raiders' offense failed.
On Sunday, McFadden began somewhat slowly, putting up 38 yards in the first half. This is not getting shut down, but it's also not a big half.The second half, however, was a completely different story. McFadden finished the game with 30 carries and 145 yards, being the workhorse that the Raiders needed.
The reason that Darren McFadden did not put up more yards in the first half had nothing to do with the way he was running. The problem was that he just didn't have the opportunities he needed. In the first half, the Raiders were not able to put together long drives and keep the offense on the field.
When Bruce Gradkowski came in for the second half, that all changed. The Raiders moved the sticks with enough consistency that McFadden was able to really get going. With Gradkowski under center, the offense got moving and McFadden put up a very impressive 107 yards, topping his numbers from the previous week in a single half.
The past two weeks, Darren McFadden has looked like he is ready to be the type of running back the Raiders envisioned when they drafted him with the No. 4 pick of the first round. However, for his development and success to continue, he has to get on the field. Bruce Gradkowski has shown that he is capable of keeping the team on the field long enough for Darren McFadden to really succeed.
McFadden has shown that he can be a durable back who punishes defenses and pounds the ball. If Bruce Gradkowski starts against the Cardinals this weekend, look for McFadden to really shine by starting to break more big runs.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, on the other hand, did not impress in his first game this season. DHB was kept to one catch for 11 yards against the Titans. Not the way Heyward-Bey wanted to start the season after he worked so hard this offseason. Heyward-Bey had to have hoped that coming back to Oakland would help him start to play the way he wanted to.
Unfortunately for Heyward-Bey, Sunday did not start off much better. In the first half, he was held to one catch for six yards. It was starting to look like the offseason hype was nothing but that, hype. Then, Bruce Gradkowski came in for the second half and Darrius Heyward-Bey finished with six catches for 80 yards, without a doubt his best game to date.
For the first time in Oakland, Heyward-Bey looked like he could be a game breaker, but it didn't happen until Bruce Gradkowski came into the game. When the offense got moving under Gradkowski, Heyward-Bey started to show the player he can be. He was making catches, coming back to the ball, breaking tackles, and looked like a player that teams need to start worrying about.
The success of these two guys is not entirely due to Bruce Gradkowski, but having a guy who can keep the offense on the field gives them both a chance to showcase what they can do. If the Raiders want their young position players to continue to grow and get better, they need a quarterback who gives them a chance to succeed. Bruce Gradkowski has shown that he can give these guys the help they need to really succeed.
If Gradkowski is given the starting job, it will greatly help these two players and the rest of our young offense develop into stars. Give these guys a chance to play and they will show what they can do.