I remember back in 2007 watching a NCAA football game featuring top ranked LSU against an Arkansas team that few predicted to put up much of a fight. But in what became possibly the classic of the year, the Razorbacks pulled off the upset in a triple overtime thriller that saw star running back Darren McFadden show up big on the national stage.
“Run DMC,” as he was cleverly nicknamed, went off against the tough LSU defense for 206 yards and 3 touchdowns, on the way to securing a sure high selection the the upcoming NFL Draft. All the signs were there that he could produce at the next level and be a workhorse, star player that could turn around a franchise. Then, he was drafted by Oakland and the air went out of the prediction balloons.
But after a slow start, in a very crowded backfield, McFadden busted out in his third season in the league for 1,157 yards and 7 touchdowns in thirteen games. He looked to be ready to take his place as one of the top young running backs in the league and he got off to a fast start last season that saw him averaging a stellar 5.4 yards per carry. Then, much like in previous years, he went down with a lisfranc injury that ended his 2011 season with 614 yards through six and a half games.
In the past three seasons, McFadden has missed a full season’s worth of games at 16 due to injury. But when he is healthy, there is no question that he is a game changer. Both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield, he is the type of player opposing defense must account for at all times.
In his first preseason game after the lisfranc injury, the same one that has all the people here in Houston freaked about Matt Schaub, McFadden showed that he hadn’t lost his burst and he was cutting and changing directions with ease. This is very encouraging for a team that clearly missed his production down the stretch in 2011 that saw them miss the playoffs by one game.
Last night, he didn’t play for long, but he picked up 20 yards on his two carries as well as receiving a screen pass that went for 18 yards before watching the rest of the contest from the sidelines. I’ll also mention that this was the first three plays of the ballgame.
Carson Palmer, who will start this season as the full-time starter from week 1, was pretty elated to have McFadden back.
“He’s pretty special. Just great to have him in the huddle. Great to see him on the field. Just excited to keep working with him. We want to feed him the ball. We’re going to obviously feature him in this offense. We’re pretty banged up at that spot right now with Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones down. When we get those guys back we’re going to be really explosive. We just need to get them back and healthy, and they’re going to be great to give Darren a breather and give him a break from time to time. It’s just good to finally play against something else. We’ll watch the film and move on.”
So, is this the year that Fantasy owners can pick up McFadden without worries of him killing their chances down the run? One can never tell these things. But early signs indicate that his skills haven’t diminished at all.