The case against the Oakland Raiders decision to draft Darren McFadden with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft was that they already had depth at running back and had more pressing needs elsewhere. It’s a reasonable case, but an examination of recent Raiders rushing history shows why the silver and black couldn’t resist the opportunity to bolster their ground attack.
Since 1989, the Raiders have had just five 1,000-yard rushers. Only one – Napoleon Kaufman in 1997 – topped the 1,200-yard mark in a season. But even more frustrating than the lack of quantity production was the inconsistency in the Raiders backfield. No Raider has rushed for 1,000 yards more than once since Marcus Allen did the trick three straight years from 1983-85.
Prior to this year’s draft, Allen was one of only two running backs ever taken in the first round by the Raiders. Allen went 10th to the Raiders in 1982 and Napoleon Kaufman was taken 18th in 1995.
Justin Fargas, the reigning Raiders rushing leader from last season, was a third round pick in 2003 who re-signed in the off-season with the belief that he might improve upon his 1,009-yard effort from 2007. Fargas was atop a depth chart that also included Lamont Jordan, a free agent acquisition in 2005 and former second-round selection of the New York Jets and Michael Bush, an untested fourth-round pick of the Raiders last season.
All three rushers – Fargas, Jordan and Bush – may be serviceable NFL backs but none is a heavy hitter. Jordan flourished as Curtis Martin’s backup with the Jets. Fargas lacks size. And Bush has yet to play a down because of injuries. None of the three elicit thoughts of Marcus Allen’s graceful 74-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XVIII or Bo Jackson’s explosive 221-yard performance against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football more than 20 years ago.
The new guy in town is the only one drawing those comparisons. McFadden is the highlight reel, big-play-in-the-making back. It’s part of what made him the runner-up for the Heisman trophy in each of the past two seasons despite playing for a team that went just 18-9. At 6’1” and 211 pounds, McFadden has good size and power. And after clocking in with a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, it’s clear he has blazing speed too. He also topped the 1,000-yard mark in each of his three college seasons despite playing no more than 14 games a year.
In addition to all the tangible elements McFadden brings to Oakland, his arrival to Raider Nation should also help lessen the burden on last year’s number one overall selection, JaMarcus Russell. The buzz around McFadden should help the young quarterback as the two former SEC rivals try to become a vaunted one-two punch in the AFC West.
Running backs are expected to come in and produce results more so than any other rookie position, and expectations will be especially high after Adrian Peterson’s impact from a year ago. McFadden has a lot riding on his shoulders. The Raiders are banking on the notion that he can carry it – and them – all the way back to respectability. In the end, he’ll be judged by carries, yards and touchdowns, but most of all, by wins for a starving franchise that implores him to just win, baby.