One of the bigger disappointment over the past five years for the Oakland Raiders was running back Darren McFadden. Could they finally see signs of life in 2014?
Gabe Jackson and Austin Howard additions bolster front
The real frustration over the saga of McFadden isn’t that he’s a bust. Anyone who watched him run saw a player that could dominate the NFL if he wanted to. His ongoing issues, or curse was the inability to stay healthy. McFadden has not completed a full season of games as a pro. Some of that is simple lack of durability but it’s also having to run behind mediocre offensive lines most of his career. That might change this coming season. Thanks to a series of under-the-radar moves, the Oakland Raiders have assembled a particular cast of offensive linemen with one thing in common: they can run block. New free agent right tackle Austin Howard helped pave the way for the 6th ranked rushing attack of the New York Jets. New left tackle Donald Penn paved the way for rookie Doug Martin to top 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie in 2012. Perhaps the important piece to the new puzzle is Gabe Jackson, the massive Raiders 3rd round draft pick who drives defenders off the ball with serious power. These hogmolies should be able to generate openings up front, which in turn will help minimize the number of hits McFadden takes on his body.
Maurice Jones-Drew could push McFadden as well as mentor him
The other factor to consider is the presence of Maurice Jones-Drew. First and foremost the three-time Pro Bowler is competition for McFadden, meant to push on and off-the-field. Everybody wants to be the starter and despite his team mentality Jones-Drew will go in expecting to win the starting job. However, at the same time his arrival will also help Darren McFadden. MJD knows a thing or two about the rigors of playing running back in the NFL. He knows how to run, block and catch for sure but his most important knowledge may lay in health and toughness. Jones-Drew played stretches of his career in Jacksonville hurt. Managing injuries and playing through them are something he did with great effect. That knowledge could prove invaluable to a guy like McFadden who always seems to be battling one ailment or another and understands 2014 could be his last chance not just with the Oakland Raiders but in the NFL.
The good news is it may be his best chance too. By the way, he’s not a bad running back. I just wanted to see Raider fans lose their mind after reading the title.