Can Darren McFadden get to 2,000?

Sep 19, 2010; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden (20), center, tries to elude St. Louis Rams linebackers Larry Grant (59), left, and Na'il Diggs (53) at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Rams 16-14. Photo via Newscom

A scouting report that included themes like: Flat-out one of the more talented running backs to come along in some time as well as a cross between Adrian Peterson and Reggie Bush didn’t turn Darren McFadden into an instant NFL success. During his first two NFL seasons McFadden accumulated a total of 856 yards on the ground. At times, it was suggested that McFadden should be converted to a wide receiver where he found more success early in his career. This season, although he has yet to reach the end zone on the ground, McFadden is on pace for 1,920 yards rushing, at a rate of five yards per carry.

And here’s the scary part: Hue Jackson thinks he can do better, “I’m excited about his start, but by no way is he satisfied with what he’s done (and) I think he can do more. I think he’s leaving runs out there on the field too.”

He may have a point. While McFadden has shown that he is an all-around threat in his make or break year thus far, he has yet to break a long gainer this season. His longest run of the year so far is just 30 yards. McFadden has got the speed to break away, being clocked at 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, but he has yet to find the right opportunity this season. The threat of Bruce Gradkowski in the backfield on Sunday combined with the fact that the Cardinals defense gave up 221 rushing yards to the Atlanta Falcons in week two says that McFadden could very well continue his early season success right into the Raiders’ week four match-up against the Houston Texans.

“He is working his tail off to make sure he’s prepared week in and week out,” continued Jackson. “And that’s why I think he’s having a lot of success, he’s practicing well and then he’s taking it to the game and playing well.”

Indeed he is playing well and being that he has already carried the ball 48 times through the first two games, he could probably use a breather supplied by Michael Bush, who is on track to be back on the field against Arizona in the Cardinals’ home opener this weekend. 48 may not seem like a lot until you consider that McFadden only carried the ball 113 and 104 times respectively in 2008 and 2009. By that measure, McFadden should be going into his eighth or ninth game by now.

Coming into the 2010 season, most onlookers expected Bush to get the bulk of the carries with McFadden playing the role of a wing back, outside option, or in a wide receiver type of role. Nonetheless, at this point it appears as though Bush might have a hard time even getting on the field when he returns.

Talk about a conundrum. The Raiders now officially have two top-ten draft talents in their backfield, and the real kicker is that they are both primed and ready to enter their golden years as NFL halfbacks. Bush is entering his fourth year pro, but he did not play in his rookie season while he was recovering from a broken leg. McFadden is in his third season pro and is starting to make a name for his self after two consecutive strong performances coming out of the gate this year. He is currently second in the league in rushing yards.

But having two strong backs isn’t going to hurt anybodies feelings. Having two good halfbacks is a luxury most teams’ strive to have these days in order to avoid catastrophe when injuries happen. Lots of folks actually pushed the panic button when it was revealed that Michael Bush broke his thumb and would miss the season opener. But McFadden’s early execution has made Bush a memory of what could have been. How do you find a good balance between the two when they are both healthy?

“I think our runner has to be able to carry the load,” says Hue Jackson. “I like to get on a back’s back and ride him.”

As per the idea of Jackson, you would have to check both guys out early on in the game and see which one fit better against the defense the Raiders’ are playing that week. Whichever back could get the job done in the given situation would end up with more carries. This is a good problem to have. This is something the Raiders are learning about themselves early on this year; that they have a few problems that are good problems to have.

But what if both backs are getting good yards per carry against a team?

The solution to that problem is easy, just don’t pass. Ideally, the best way to win is to be able to win is to win while having your quarterback throw the ball less than twenty times per game, especially when you take into account that the Raiders haven’t been great at pass blocking this season. If the Raiders can accomplish this feat, they will win a lot this year and they will be able to divvy up the carries in a way that nobody gets jealous. Meanwhile they’ll be keeping their defense fresh and eating up the time of possession.

Can McFadden hit 2,000 this year? Time will tell, but I bet he would give up the opportunity if it means that he and his training camp roommate, Michael Bush, could have an opportunity to be the reason why the Raiders make the 2010 playoffs.

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