GM Reggie McKenzie raised a lot of eyebrows this offseason when he brought perpetually-injured RB Darren McFadden back to the Oakland Raiders. The fact that his contract is a one-year deal with a low base and is heavy on the incentives could make this a very savvy move given McFadden’s home run potential.
But with the signings of Kory Sheets and Maurice Jones-Drew, who join Latavius Murray, Jeremy Stewart and Marcel Reece, Oakland’s backfield is a pretty crowded place. With only so many touches to go around though, the question becomes, who is going to get the bulk of the carries? For at least one person, the answer to that questions is simple, McFadden.
In a Q&A session with fans recently, ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez stated his belief that McFadden will open the season as Oakland’s featured back, and will get the majority of the carries for the team.
OC Greg Olsen‘s return to a power blocking scheme was supposed to benefit McFadden and produce results similar to 2010 — the only season in which McFadden has cracked the 1,000 yard mark. But McFadden gained just 379 yards on a paltry 3.3 yards per carry average before injury once again wiped out most of his season.
The fact that McFadden is a couple of years younger and has more than 1,000 carries fewer than Jones-Drew thanks to his many injuries may be helping to fuel the speculation that the job is still his to lose. But this is one of those cases where younger may not necessarily be better.
MJD is only 29 years old, hardly an old man, and still feels like he has plenty of gas left in the tank. Though his yards per carry average was down last season, it should be noted that he played behind one of the worst offensive lines on one of the worst teams in the league. Despite that fact, Jones-Drew still went for over 800 yards — which would have led the Raiders’ running back corps last season.
Despite the fact that he’s been with the team for six seasons and ostensibly “knows the offense,” McFadden’s lack of durability makes him a liability in terms of offensive consistency and continuity. He does have home run potential that opposing defenses will need to account for, but his penchant for injury makes him better suited to be a change-of-pace or situational back rather than an every-down grinder. He simply has not shown the capability to be Oakland’s workhorse.
Outside of an injury that knocked him out in 2012, Jones-Drew doesn’t have a history of having trouble staying healthy like McFadden does. Over his eight seasons in the league, Jones-Drew has shown toughness and durability. He hasn’t missed lengthy portions of the season, and isn’t that far removed from a 1,600 yard season.
Healthy, and with a better offensive line than he had while with the Jacksonville Jaguars, there is no reason to think Jones-Drew can’t have that kind of success in Oakland.
The Raiders are beginning a new era of football in Oakland. They have a new quarterback, a new receiver (possibly more pending the results of the draft) and a completely new defense. They are doing things differently this season, and that should extend to who gets the bulk of the carries out of the backfield.
Of course, if the Raiders do decide to open the season with McFadden as the team’s featured back, it likely won’t be long before the supposed “workhorse” comes up lame once again.