Back in August the biggest concern everyone had about drafting Darren McFadden was that he was injury prone and wouldn't make it through much of the year. But six games into the season, no one's thinking about his health.
With 324 rush yards, 167 receiving yards and two rushing scores, McFadden has stats on par with Darren Sproles and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. That might be fine if McFadden had been a fourth- or fifth-round pick, but he was a consensus first-round choice with an average draft position inside of 10th overall. Much more was expected of McFadden, who entered this season with 15 touchdowns and over 120 total yards per game on average in his last 20 starts.
There are a number of factors as to why McFadden is struggling with a 3.1 yard per carry rushing average this season, but the biggest might have to do with his running style and more importantly, the offensive line. This offseason the Raiders added Greg Knapp to serve as their offensive coordinator and Frank Pollack as their offensive line coach. After spending many seasons in Houston and witnessing the zone-blocking scheme work so well with Arian Foster, Knapp deduced it would be good for the Raiders to use the same thing with Pollack's help, letting go of veteran O-line coach Bob Wylie in the process. They even signed guard Mike Brisiel away from the Texans to help the transition.
But McFadden has yet to adjust to it -- he's more of a powerful gasher who doesn't run with a lot of patience, which is necessary in the zone scheme. McFadden prefers to have his blockers give him some wiggle room and burst through the space they make. That's been what made McFadden's numbers pop in the past.
The Raiders' line has struggled to maintain efficiency in blocking, a huge sign that firing Wylie was a mistake. Wylie is a master of both a zone-block and power-block coach and has the chops to coach up anybody. Without him the line looks lost and McFadden has struggled to grasp the nuances of taking a handoff, making a cut and hitting the assigned hole. You'd think a running back with McFadden's talents could adapt but he hasn't so far (teammate Mike Goodson has fared better). So the Raiders have tried implementing some physical power runs that McFadden likes better, except their line has struggled to open up holes for McFadden because they're not all physically dominant guys, nor have the starters played together regularly, so all of the issues that are hampering the line are adding to McFadden's woes. His stats are lame as a result.
Case in point: In Week 7 the Raiders hosted the Jaguars, who came into the game with the 30th-ranked run defense in the league. But you would have thought the Raiders were taking on the 2000 Ravens the way the Jacksonville defensive front stuffed the Raiders' O-line and kept McFadden from picking up big gains. It wasn't until the end of regulation, when the Jaguars' defense was in a prevent mode, when McFadden finally picked up some decent runs on consecutive plays. The game-best 13-yard run he had came with under 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter deep in his own territory.
There have been bright spots for McFadden -- his 64-yard touchdown run against the Steelers for one -- but by and large he's been labeled a bust by many in the Fantasy community. Statistically there's no denying that he is one judging by his production. But does it mean he'll finish as one?
That depends on the Raiders' coaching staff. If they're resourceful they'll use McFadden on outside runs that attack the edges and let him use his mix of speed and strength to bully defenses, not to mention involve him more in the passing game. But if we haven't seen it yet, what would lead us to believe we'd see it at all? What's more, if McFadden's offensive line can't play with consistency then that collective group would further hamper his potential. And lest we forget that McFadden has yet to play a 16-game season and has already surfaced on the injury report with a minor shoulder injury.
It sounds awful, which is why this last part might be the most surprising of all: He's still worth starting. Ridiculous, but true. Despite his O-line woes and his weak performance thus far, he's still among the league leaders in carries with 17.2 per game on average. His remaining schedule boasts just two matchups against run defenses currently ranked in the top half in rush yards allowed. And this part is important: While his line has been mediocre and McFadden's own skill set has worked like a square peg in a round hole, McFadden still looks great and doesn't seem slow in the least when he gets in space.
If you own McFadden, keep rolling with him. If you don't own McFadden, take the time to inquire about him with the owner who has him in your league. If he's frustrated, he'll take less-than-ideal value for him via trade. The move could pay off as McFadden and the Raiders work through their problems.
Fantasy & Reality
Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.
Fantasy: Greg Jennings and Pierre Garcon will be major Fantasy contributors in 2012. The ugly truth: Sometimes football teams aren't completely honest about injuries. Garcon has been a non-factor since hurting his toe in Week 1 and Jennings has been M.I.A. since aggravating what was described as a groin injury in Week 4. Both guys appear to be lost for an extended period of time, at least through Week 10 in the case of Garcon. Your record should dictate what you do with these guys: If you're on a losing team fighting for wins, you have to trade them for whatever you can get that helps your roster. If you're on a winning team with bright playoff hopes, stashing these guys could give your roster a boost late in the season. Expect impatient Fantasy owners to begin dropping injured receivers like these in the coming days.
Reality: Now is the time to break out the handcuffs. The responsible Fantasy owner might have rounded out his or her draft by taking his best running back's backup. But most of us would rather gamble on a breakout player than carry a stud rusher's caddy. But over the last two weeks we've seen DeMarco Murray and Maurice Jones-Drew go down with injuries that kept them off the field and kept the waiver wire burning with hot pickups. There's no excuse: If you don't have at least one of your starting running backs' handcuff on the bench, you're playing with fire.
Fantasy: Owners can't trust Philip Rivers or any Browns players this week. Don't be surprised if both Philip Rivers and Brandon Weeden end up with big games in Week 8. Rivers' numbers haven't been hot but he comes out of the bye taking on a defense that's allowed every quarterback to total two or more scores with four throwing for three touchdowns. Weeden has tossed two touchdowns in each of his last three and faces a Chargers pass defense that has yielded at least two passing scores in each of their last four! Expect a shootout in Northeast Ohio.
Reality: If you're in a pinch at receiver this week look to London, but not the Patriots. The Patriots have allowed 290 or more passing yards to each of the last five offenses they've faced, including the lowly Jets last week on their own turf. Now in London, they'll take on an upstart Rams team with some pretty surprising receivers in Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens. Givens is more explosive -- he has a 50-yard catch in each of his last four games -- but Gibson is a steady outside receiver with 16 targets over his last two games. Best of all, Gibson is still unowned in 49 percent of CBSSports.com leagues and Givens is out there in 83 percent of leagues! It's like stealing.
DST sleepers for Week 8
All of our DST sleepers are owned in 50 percent of CBSSports.com leagues or less.
Last week's DST sleepers: Raiders (11 Fantasy points), Bills (eight points) and Panthers (six points). We've had better weeks.
Dolphins (at Jets) ... Three of the last four DSTs to play the Jets have totaled at least 13 Fantasy points with the one team not accomplishing the mark being the Colts, whose defense leaves a lot to be desired. The Dolphins allowed 23 points to the Jets in Week 3 but registered a pair of sacks and interceptions. Miami's defense is coming off a bye and has plenty of good, underrated talent.
Lions (vs. Seahawks) ... The Lions' defense has its fair share of issues, but they hung in there against the Bears on Monday, holding them to just 13 points and 296 yards. Three of the last four DSTs against Seattle have posted at least 14 Fantasy points. Russell Wilson has taken at least two sacks in all but one game this season and has thrown six picks in his last four games. The only negative here is that the Seahawks haven't played since last Thursday while the Lions lost last Monday, so the Seahawks should be better rested.
Raiders (at Chiefs) ... Two words: Brady Quinn. Twenty-one more: Every DST to play the Chiefs has posted at least 11 Fantasy points, including the bottom-of-the-barrel Saints and Bills. The Raiders don't have a terrific defense by any stretch but they should be able to contain the Chiefs, especially if they can build any kind of lead.
Chiefs (vs. Raiders) ... If we're going to play the "DSTs have done well against this offense" game like we did with the Raiders, then we have to do it with the Chiefs. Defenses against Oakland have posted double-digit Fantasy points in each of the last three weeks including the Jaguars last week, even though they allowed 26 points and 351 total yards. Sometimes we do crazy things when we're desperate and using the Chiefs DST could be one of those things.
Two more things
• Had a talk with my colleague Brian Westbrook about why the Eagles are so darn good coming out of their bye week. Westbrook told us on Fantasy Football Today that coach Andy Reid self-evaluates his coaching, his players and his tendencies and also gets a beat on his upcoming opponent. As a result the Eagles do some new things that aren't on film and look for specific things that the opponents have done before. A pessimist might say that every team does this during the bye week, but Reid's undefeated record coming off the bye (13-0) is proof that he's a master. Expect the defense to be completely different and far more aggressive and for the Eagles to hand the Falcons their first loss of the season.
• If you're racking your brain looking for reasons why Matthew Stafford and the Lions' offense is struggling, it can be summed up as follows: They're not scoring touchdowns! Our Nando Di Fino did some digging and learned that Stafford has actually thrown for more yards and completed more passes through his first six games this year than he did last year. But through six games last year he had 15 touchdowns; he has just five passing and two rushing so far this season. The hunch is that following this week the Lions' offense will rev up its engine against weaker defenses and Stafford will indeed get back on track. We liked the effort given by Titus Young last week and the addition of rookie Ryan Broyles in the slot should give Stafford a sure-handed receiver (he is the NCAA's all-time receptions leader, after all). Young and Broyles are worth stashing on rosters and Stafford has some buy-low appeal, not just right now, but after his game against the Seahawks.