Darren McFadden is coming off a Pro Bowl calibre season in 2010. His yards total of 1157 was more than his first two disappointing seasons combined. He was looking like he could be a draft bust by the end of his second season. And adding to the discomfort was the fact that he was outperformed by nearly every single running back in his draft class down through the sixth round.
There were a total of 13 running backs taken in rounds 1 thru 5 in 2008. While McFadden was the first one taken out of the whole group, he was the 12th ranked among them. The only back in the class that had worse numbers than McFadden was Ryan Torain, who was taken late in round 5 and was cut midway through his rookie season and out of football all of 2009.
The 2008 draft class may well go down as one of the best ever classes of running backs. By the end of the 2009 season, nearly every back taken in the first five rounds were not only producing, but putting up tremendous numbers. There are a couple who thrived early but were injured or outplayed in 2010, such as Steve Slaton and Kevin Smith. But there were a couple of others who surprised by charging to the forefront. Peyton Hillis, taken in the seventh round, is the most surprising story of late with his season of over 1000 yards in 2010. The aforementioned Ryan Torain was picked up off the street and has played well for the Redskins.
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
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 have noticed another good seventh round selection, Justin Forsett. He has had decent numbers while splitting carries out of the backfield in Seattle. He had more yards in 2009 than McFadden had in either of his first two seasons in the NFL.
What McFadden has been able to do this season was move from twelfth in his class up to seventh. All by itself, seventh is not great for a former Walter Camp Award winner, two time Heisman runner up and the first running back taken off the board, especially when you consider that the Raiders could have chosen one of many in the otherwise spectacular class of running backs.
Even if you go by just his yards in 2010, he doesn’t fare much better. Last season McFadden was sixth in rushing yards among backs from his class, and fifth in yards from scrimmage. Not bad, but still room for improvement.
When a back has 1157 yards rushing and 507 yards receiving and still underperforms his draft class mates, I would say that says more about just how great and deep the 2008 draft class was. With guys like Chris Johnson who was so great over his first two years in the league (including over 2000 yards in 2009) that his 1364 yards this past season is considered a down year, there are lofty expectations laid out for DMac.
DMac can’t even outrun his former Arkansas teammates drafted the same year. After being outperformed by Felix Jones his first two years in the league, he was outperformed by his former blocking fullback Peyton Hillis this season. Hills had more rushing yards (1177) and touchdowns (13) than McFadden. Yes, McFadden missed four games this season but playing the injury card just doesn’t work here. Being a great NFL player also means you have to be durable.
The thing about Darren McFadden is that he has the potential to continue to catch up to and even surpass his classmates. It will be a tall order with some of the fantastic backs that came from this class, but his newfound running style combined with an improving offensive line should lead to comparable or better numbers in future seasons. That is where the true comparisons will be made: outperforming previous seasons in stats but most importantly in the win column.