Going into the 2012-2013 NFL season, I was worried about Darren McFadden. Not because I thought he might have a season like he had, rushing for only 707 yards. Not because I thought he would get injured yet again and wind up playing only 12 games. No, my fear was that McFadden had only 2 years left on his contract and I was worried that he would leave the Oakland Raiders after the 2013-2014 season as one of the best running backs in the league.
Now, after a nightmare season for the Raiders and McFadden, I found myself questioning whether or not the Raiders could even get a third round draft choice in exchange for McFadden’s final year on his contract. That’s a much different feeling from a year ago when I dreaded the day that McFadden’s contract would end.
Before the 2012-2013 season, I looked at McFadden as one of the top five running backs in this league. His impressive start to the 2011 season justified those feelings as he led the NFL in rushing and was a huge part of the Raiders 4-2 start. We all know he went on to miss the second half of the season because of injury, a common theme in his career. Still, despite his injury woes, hopes were high. However, McFadden disappointed many with his lack of production and inability to stay on the field in 2012-2013.
In Raiders’ General Manager Reggie McKenzie‘s post-season press conference, he told the media that McFadden will be back with the Raiders in 2013, simmering any speculation that the Raiders would attempt to trade McFadden. But with the disappointment that this past season brought, is there any reason at all to be optimistic about McFadden in 2013?
I wish I could sit here and tell you that McFadden will not get injured next season. Unfortunately, I’d be lying if I said I knew what the future brings in respect to McFadden’s health. Truthfully, the odds would seem that they are against McFadden staying healthy. He has never played more than 13 games in a single season during his 5 year career. His injury problems have been a major deterrent to his chances of becoming a premier back in the NFL.
Based purely on performance, many would call McFadden “inconsistent.” This makes sense if you look as his career stat lines. During his first two years he was under 500 yards rushing, followed by a huge boost in production with over 1,100 yards in 2010, followed by a season where he led the NFL in rushing through much of the first half of 2011, then crashing back down to mediocrity in 2012. However, there’s more to it than “inconsistency.”
During Greg Knapp‘s first tenure as offensive coordinator with the Raiders, McFadden was put into the zone blocking scheme. As we see from his early career stats, he struggled. Then, Hugh Jackson was hired as the Raiders offensive coordinator in 2010 and he brought with him his power blocking scheme. The offensive line responded well to it and so did McFadden, raising his yard per carry from 3.4 in 2009, all the way up to 5.2 yards per carry in 2010. He continued his success under Jackson’s system in 2011 by gaining 5.4 yards per carry. He was extremely productive under Jackson’s power blocking scheme, and it propelled the Raiders to their only two non-losing seasons since their loss in Super Bowl XXXVII.
In 2012, newly hired Raiders coach Dennis Allen, chose to bring Greg Knapp back to Oakland for another term as the Raider’s offensive coordinator. He brought his zone blocking scheme with him and the Raiders offense struggled mightily. McFadden was no exception to those struggles. His yards per carry immediately plummeted down to 3.3, very reminiscent of his first two seasons under Knapp’s zone blocking scheme. He became a non-factor in the Raiders offense.
There is indeed hope for 2013. The Raiders hired Greg Olson to replace Knapp as their offensive coordinator. Olson is bringing the power blocking scheme back to Oakland. As we saw in 2010 and 2011, McFadden thrives when he’s running north and south. I believe that the return of the power scheme will revive McFadden’s career and thrust him back into the upper tier of NFL running backs.
Hopefully, this time next year, I will once again be panicking over the thought of McFadden leaving the Raiders. The Raiders offensive success is dependent on McFadden’s production. With the power blocking scheme returning to Oakland, Raiders fans should have a lot to be optimistic about when they see McFadden on the field in 2013.