Now that Oakland Raiders training camp is in full swing, the focus is rightfully on one player who must have a breakout season in 2010 or risk being tagged with the dreaded "BUST" label.
RB Darren McFadden was picked fourth overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. He had a standout career at Arkansas in which he rushed for 41 TD in three seasons for the Razorbacks. After signing a six-year, $60.1 million contract with the Raiders, expectations were understandably high.
In his rookie season McFadden was generally a disappointment, although a nagging toe injury limited him to 13 games and hampered him when he did play. That season he rushed for 499 yards and four TD, while registering 285 receiving yards. McFadden was also limited by coach Tom Cable's (who took over for Lane Kiffin in Week Five) preference for playing RB Justin Fargas in key situations because, according to Cable, the "flow of the game " dictated it.
Raiders running backs were also handicapped by a subpar offensive line and a nearly nonexistent passing attack, which allowed defenses to key on the rushing game.
McFadden returned to the Raiders in 2009 and saw his production dip to 357 yards rushing and only one TD in 12 games. He also recorded 245 receiving yards. He split time with Fargas and Michael Bush, whose career has been on a steady upswing since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2007.
So far in 2010 training camp, the Raiders plan on Bush and McFadden sharing the load in the backfield, perhaps looking for a return to the "thunder and lightning" of Wheatley and Garner in the early 2000's. One thing is certain: For good or bad, 2010 will be a defining year for Darren McFadden.
The return of Robert Gallery to full strength and the arrival of Jason Campbell (replacing the atrocious JaMarcus Russell) at quarterback should boost the potential of the running game in this year's offense, which will translate into opportunity for McFadden.
Additionally, Tom Cable favorite Fargas was cut in the offseason, and the Raiders have only rookies and marginal veterans in camp along with McFadden and Bush.
He should also be motivated by the continued emergence of Bush, who is a skilled runner with size and speed. Many experts have predicted that Bush will be the main back for the Raiders by the end of September.
If these factors aren't enough to get McFadden to produce, he will be relegated to a role as a backup, probably for the remainder of his NFL career.