In the game last Sunday in which the Raiders faced the Chiefs, second year Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles ran for 103 yards. It was Charles’ first start since the Chiefs gave up on their former star running back Larry Johnson and the Chiefs seem to have officially passed the torch to Charles. He responded by putting up over a hundred yards rushing on just 18 carries.
This got me thinking. Jamaal Charles was drafted in the third round of the 08 draft. The same draft that saw the Raiders take Darren McFadden as the first running back off the board (#4 overall). McFadden was handed the keys to the Raider offense to begin this season and he has decidedly failed at the task. The week one game against the Chargers McFadden put together 65 yards rushing. Little did we know at the time, that would be his best game this season. Then he played just 3 more games before he went down with injury. In the five games he has played in this season, he has gained just 157 yards.
Add his total of 499 yards from last season and he has all of 656 yards over a season and a half. Not exactly numbers that conjure up a lot of faith in his abilities.
It is not like there wasn’t a fine crop of running backs to choose from in the draft either. In fact, you have to scan all the way to the fifth round before you find a running back who has worse numbers than McFadden…and that is because he (Ryan Torain) didn’t even make it through his rookie season.
Here, take a look at the 2008 drafted running backs for yourself:
1 4 Darren McFadden RB Arkansas Oakland Raiders
1 13 Jonathan Stewart RB Oregon Carolina Panthers
1 22 Felix Jones RB Arkansas Dallas Cowboys
1 23 Rashard Mendenhall RB Illinois Pittsburgh Steelers
1 24 Chris Johnson RB East Carolina Tennessee Titans
2 44 Matt Forte RB Tulane Chicago Bears
2 55 Ray Rice RB Rutgers Baltimore Ravens
3 64 Kevin Smith RB Central Florida Detroit Lions
3 73 Jamaal Charles RB Texas Kansas City Chiefs
3 89 Steve Slaton RB West Virginia Houston Texans
4 122 Tashard Choice RB Georgia Tech Dallas Cowboys
5 139 Ryan Torain RB Arizona State Denver Broncos
5 149 Tim Hightower RB Richmond Arizona Cardinals
5 166 Marcus Thomas RB Texas-El Paso Dallas Cowboys
6 172 Thomas Brown RB Georgia Atlanta Falcons
6 176 Jalen Parmele RB Toledo Baltimore Ravens
6 179 Xavier Omon RB Northwest Missouri State Buffalo Bills
6 202 Mike Hart RB Michigan Indianapolis Colts
6 204 Lex Hilliard RB Montana Miami Dolphins
7 213 Chauncey Washington RB USC Jacksonville Jaguars
7 227 Peyton Hillis RB Arkansas Denver Broncos
7 233 Justin Forsett RB California Seattle Seahawks
7 238 Cory Boyd RB South Carolina Denver Broncos
7 240 Allen Patrick RB Oklahoma Cleveland Browns
You may notice another player from this draft that was just given his first ever start in seventh round selection Justin Forsett. An opportunity Forsett made the most of by gaining 123 yards on the ground. A total that McFadden has only been able to surpass once in his 18 games in the NFL.
Not only has McFadden only surpassed the century plateau once in his career, but he has only passed 50 yards twice. And he hasn’t been making up for it in other areas either. His career receiving total is just 338 yards.
Among the running backs in his class, he ranks tenth overall. That is out of 12 running backs that are still in the league and were drafted into the fifth round. Jamaal Charles and Felix Jones are the only two backs that have less yards than McFadden. However, both have much better yards per carry averages than McFadden’s 4 ypc (Charles 5.4 ypc, Jones 7.7). Jones was injured most of last season and a large chunk of this season and has never been given the carries or handed the starting job as McFadden has. And Charles is just 44 yards behind McFadden; a total he will no doubt surpass in his next game.
Six backs from that class have over 1000 yards in their careers and one has over 2000 (Chris Johnson). Rashard Mendenhall was on injured reserve all of last season and has surpassed McFadden’s total while starting only a portion of this season for the Steelers.
So what is the reason/excuse?
It isn’t how bad the team is. If that were the case then how do you explain the Lions’ Kevin Smith having almost 1500 yards in a season and a half? Or the Texans’ Steve Slaton having 1641 yards? The Texans aren’t exactly a powerhouse and the Lions went 0-16 last season as we all know. You can toss in the success of Jamaal Charles for the lowly Chiefs as well. And if it really is just the Raiders being bad, why do both of the other Raider running backs in the same time frame have far superior numbers than McFadden? Michael Bush has 771 yards despite not starting a single game in his career. And Justin Fargas has 1157 yards during that time as well.
Sure you can point to him being injured but is that really an excuse that works in his favor? Being fragile is not much better than not being talented. But taking the injury bug out of the equation, what has he done when healthy?
He was always touted for his game breaking ability and his versatility while his lateral quickness was never considered his strong suit. Well, this season, during the three healthy games to start the season in which he was completely healthy, his longest carry was just 15 yards. And he only did it once. Pair that with the fact that if a defender merely touches his feet as he is running and you’ve got a serious problem. Oh yeah, and he also had a game in which he had three fumbles. So let’s review: he is not really all that fast, he doesn’t have lateral quickness, he goes down easy on contact, and he can’t hold onto the ball. The four primary functions of a running back, he doesn’t have.
So why did the Raiders draft him? Speed? If Al wanted speed, he could have gotten it in spades with Chris Johnson who set a combine record in the 40 yard dash. And unlike most combine phenoms, he has been just as fast on the football field and even more lethal. He was a top back last season and already has over 1000 yards this season to lead the league. The problem with Johnson was he came out of little celebrated Eastern Carolina and he didn’t have the hype machine working for him. McFadden won all the awards and played for SEC powehouse Arkansas.
But the real question going into this draft was: why draft a running back at all? The Raiders already had stable of fine running backs. One of whom was former Heisman hopeful and, previous to his injury, a surefire first rounder Michael Bush. He was considered by most accounts to be a steal in the fourth round the year prior. It made no sense to make the investment to draft Bush knowing he would have to sit out a year only to draft another back the year after. Especially with much more pressing needs like defensive tackle, linebacker, defensive end, and offensive tackle.
The Raides suffered at all of these positions last season and continue to struggle at the linebacker and offensive tackle position this season. So while the biggest mistake may have been in drafting a running back at all, McFadden’s poor performance only shines a glaring light on that mistake. If he had been as advertised, the transgression might be more easily forgivable. But as it stands, he acts as a constant reminder of wasted draft choices and first round busts. Since it has been proven that great teams are built through the draft, he is just a sign post along a dark and dreary stretch of road that has led to seven years of failure for this franchise… and counting.