On Darren McFadden: Run-DMC's tricky start to 2012

      September 17, 2012 @ 17:49:55 PDT

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The upside is too good to pass up, right? If he stays healthy, he'll be a top-three RB this year.

Oakland Raiders RB Darren McFadden
Misses holes like these

That scrolled through the brains of Darren McFadden's 2012 drafters. If the fifth-year toter could deliver another 2010 line, his spot in the second half of the first round would be justified.

The 13 receptions for 86 yards he compiled in Week 1 dropped jaws, but it also distracted from the problem that resurfaced in Week 2. DMC ran for just 32 yards on 15 carries in the opener, and 22 on 11 yesterday. And because he only caught two passes to go along with his ground dud, the struggles stand out more. McFadden is more accustomed to 5.0-plus yards per carry.

In the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins, he faced two defenses that might rest in the upper tier of resistance units this year, but there's more.

Not in the zone?

Run DMC may be SOL when it comes to a WCO ZBS, per CSN Bay Area's Paul Gutierrez. A flame hit kindling over the summer that McFadden may have trouble excelling in Greg Knapp's West Coast, zone-blocking scheme. Heck, I mentioned this concern in our OC changes report.

Knapp, who has an illustrious history with his O-line-dependent setup, was at the helm when McFadden came into the NFL in 2008. The new back fought injuries, but he wasn't employed heavily, partially because he was green and partially because he wasn't a dynamic force in Knapp's attack. Instead, Justin Fargas held court most of the year while that Michael Bush guy mixed in, as well, while McFadden was hearing talk of being a bust.

That was the only season Knapp worked with McFadden until now. He left and found success in Seattle and Houston, helping mold Arian Foster in his last stop. With Knapp gone, Tom Cable's influence and work with Al Saunders by and large shifted the Silver and Black to a mindset closer to power running. That, combined with the fragile freak adopting a stronger running style in 2010, his third season, is frequently cited as the fuel behind McFadden's breakout in a healthy year.

McFadden insists he's a fit for the system and that now that he possesses better instincts as a vet, he'll "start popping" soon.

Silver and Black and Blue

Oakland Raiders QB Carson Palmer
Palmer needs polishing, too

There were plenty of other factors holding McFadden back in Week 2, though. He was poked in the eye and had to wear a visor upon returning. He'll don it for the immediate future, and it might've contributed to him dropping a pass that would've likely led to a six-pointer. Oakland also ran just six times in the second half for negative-1 yards and didn't stick with that game plan as they fell further behind.

Sure, McFadden's in-game adjustments to the highly specialized running format are probably slowing him, but Oakland's offense as a whole needs refurbishing. The passing game hasn't jelled yet; Carson Palmer reportedly had trouble getting his timing down during camp, especially with the slew of preseason wideout injuries. Targeting McFadden has been quite simple for opposing defenses to accomplish. San Diego allowed him to catch plenty of dump-offs and contained his yardage. Plus, Palmer and McFadden weren't in sync on that potential scoring grab previously mentioned.

Where does DMC go from here?

Don't expect an offensive upheaval during the system, even with the tempting presence of Saunders as senior offensive assistant.

To Oakland's offensive line, the ZBS isn't a foreign language; they have experience in it and have been a solid group. McFadden's more decisive running in recent years says he'd make a sensible transition to Knapp's style. If the holes aren't opening, though, it's hard to progress. Maybe we'll see more Mike Goodson like we did Sunday, and perhaps Taiwan Jones, if McFadden can't gain room. These backs aren't worth immediate pickups, but they might simply hinder McFadden's immediate upside.

After this weekend - a tough one versus the Pittsburgh Steelers - he faces what should be a competent Denver Broncos run-stuffing unit, then a bye (when he might try to digest the system further). Post-break, he has the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars, two potential duds, at least on the ground. But the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay buccaneers present easier matchups in Weeks 8 and 9. He might have a productive fantasy playoff schedule, if you're looking that far ahead, but of course much can change by then.

Verdict

I'm keeping my faith in DMC, though in the PPR RB class for Week 3, I've ranked him as a low-end RB2. Expect another catch-filled day, which'll enhance his returns. It's not a good week to bet on an overall bounceback, though.

I warned that DMC and his front five may not show textbook form with the ZBS off the bat, and that has held true. I also believe in talent, though, and as long as McFadden stays upright, he'll be in line for a potent second half as this O starts to click. He's still the team's 20-plus-touch focus. Now's a solid time to buy low, especially since his matchup with the Steel Curtain might cloud his owners' judgment.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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