There are plenty of reasons for Raider Nation to celebrate these days, their beloved Oakland Raiders are atop the AFC West and for the first time in years seem to be heading in the right direction. The biggest part of the team’s success this season is running back Darren McFadden, who seems primed for an MVP caliber season.
The 24-year-old, former fourth overall draft pick is now in his fourth season as a member of the Raiders and is proving he just might be one of the NFL’s next elite running backs. Just three games into the season, McFadden is among the league leaders in rushing yards and yards per carry. Last week was perhaps the most impressive outing of his career, as he helped lead the Raiders to a 34-24 win over the New York Jets. McFadden finished the day with 171 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown against last season’s third best rush defense.
But we are only three weeks into the season and the last time we checked there are 17 weeks.
If the Raiders want to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2003, McFadden will need to carry the load and take the pressure of quarterback Jason Campbell. If he is able to do so, there is no reason why he won’t be in the conversation of the league’s best player at the end of the year. However, it won’t be easy for McFadden because he’s on a team that can implode at any moment with little or no warning.
McFadden has a history of being injury prone and has not played more than 13 games in any of his first three seasons. The offensive line could have been part of the problem in the past but with it playing well this year, it could result in McFadden taking less of a beating in between the tackles. If he can get to the outside, he is one of the fastest backs in the AFC and in a one on one matchup can handle almost any member of the opponents secondary, thanks to his size and agility.
Because he is such a big part of the Oakland offense, he can’t be left off the scoresheet. The Raiders do not have a real good passing game and are not a team that can win in a shootout through the air, so McFadden needs to show up just like he did against the Jets, but he needs to remain consistent. If he is not having a good game, the Raiders can’t afford to shy away from running the ball but rather, need to continue to give him carries.
Last year, there were only four games where McFadden didn’t rush for more than 90 yards. All four of those games were losses. To have a shot at the MVP, a player has to be on a winner. It’s rare that a player on a cellar dweller is even considered for the award, which might be why Chris Johnson ran for over 2000 yards in 2009 but finished seventh in the MVP voting.
Are we putting the proverbial cart before the horse? Absolutely, but so far he has shown what he can do and exactly just how valuable he is to the Raiders. It is almost certain that they will ride him all the way to the playoffs, if the team doesn’t go back to its old, losing ways.
Only time will tell.
Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.