Dynasty Fantasy Football: Why You Should Buy in on Darren McFadden for 2013

Every fantasy football owner has one.  It’s a simple list of names.  A list that includes all of players you will never have on a fantasy team ever again.

Most players make their way onto the list because we, as fantasy owners, have continued to keep them on our roster year after year, but every season the player disappoints us.  We finally get sick of waiting for him to break out and they get a permanent place on the list.

Many owners may be on the verge (if they have not already) of putting Darren McFadden’s name on that list.  Perhaps before doing that though, we should take a closer look at the Raiders ball carrier and what has made him such a fantasy headache to this point.

McFadden entered the league in 2008 as a highly touted tailback out of Arkansas.  He was a two-time Heisman trophy runner-up for the Razorbacks and was regarded as one of the top players to enter the draft in years.

Since being drafted with the fourth overall pick by the Raiders, McFadden has been inconsistent to say the least.  Let’s take a look at what he has done on the field to this point in his career:

Rushing

Receiving

Year

Games

Attempts

Yards

Average

TD

Rec.

Yards

TD

2008

13

113

499

4.4

4

29

285

0

2009

12

104

357

3.4

1

21

245

0

2010

13

223

1,157

5.2

7

47

507

3

2011

7

113

614

5.4

4

19

154

1

2012

12

216

707

3.3

2

42

258

1

As you can see from the statistics above, McFadden’s biggest problem may be staying on the field.  He has only played in 57 of a possible 80 games through five NFL seasons.  Playing in fewer than 75% of games is not going to get any player in the good graces of many fantasy owners.  But before we get overly critical of his injury history, let’s take a moment to focus on the rest of his numbers.

In 2008 and 2009 combined, McFadden averaged less than four yards per carry.  He totaled 50 catches and scored only five touchdowns – those numbers were tallied in 25 total games played.  That’s certainly not very impressive and did not live up to the expectations of dynasty owners who invested a high draft pick into him.

Then in 2010, and through the first seven games of 2011, the light came on for McFadden.  He averaged more than five yards per carry, caught 66 passes and scored a total of 15 touchdowns in just 20 games.  A sprained foot cost him the final nine games of the 2011 season, however.

In 2012, Run-DMC was more like Stumble-DMC – he was dreadful.  His yards per carry dropped to 3.3 and he was terrible around the goal line, scoring only three total times on 258 touches.

So why has McFadden been so inconsistent?  And what will it take for McFadden to fulfill the enormous potential he was beginning to realize in 2010 and 2011?  Let’s dig a little deeper to find out.

When he was drafted in 2008, Lane Kiffin was Oakland’s head coach and Greg Knapp was the offensive coordinator.  The Raiders were running Knapp’s zone blocking scheme with Tom Cable coaching the offensive line.  Four weeks into the season, Al Davis fired Kiffen and promoted Cable to interim head coach.  Knapp stayed on board as the OC through the end of the season and split play calling duties with Cable, but to the dismay of fantasy players, McFadden never got going as a rookie.

In 2009, Davis decided to remove the interim tag from Cable but the team did not retain Knapp’s services.  Cable decided not to hire an OC and to make the offensive calls himself.  The offensive game plan did not change, nor did the results.  The Raiders struggled on offense, especially in the running game, and McFadden didn’t look any better in his sophomore campaign.

After the season, Davis forced Cable to employ a coordinator and give up play calling duties entirely.  He appointed Hue Jackson as his OC.  Jackson scrapped the zone blocking scheme and installed a power running system that is commonly referred to as a gap blocking scheme. The Raiders offense took off as is evidenced by McFadden’s numbers.  He had the most productive season of his career accumulating more than 1,600 total yards and adding ten touchdowns in 13 games.

By the time 2011 came around, Cable had been fired and Jackson was promoted to Head Coach.  He was still calling plays and McFadden started out well again until a foot injury popped up during the Raiders week seven match-up against the Chiefs.  Through the first six weeks of 2011, McFadden averaged more than 100 yards per game on the ground and scored four rushing touchdowns.  He added 18 receptions in those games for 151 yards and a touchdown catch.  McFadden was on pace for another career year in the gap scheme employed by Jackson before the injury derailed his season.

The Raiders went through a complete change of leadership before the 2012 season.  Al Davis had passed away and Reggie McKenzie was hired to oversee the Oakland front office.  McKenzie fired Jackson and chose Dennis Allen as the fourth head coach of the Raiders since McFadden had been drafted.

So, who did Allen hire to run the Raiders offense and call plays before last season?  It was none other than Greg Knapp.  That’s right, the same Greg Knapp that was the Raiders OC during McFadden’s rookie season.

Knapp re-installed the zone blocking scheme that McFadden struggled with during his first two years in the NFL.  As we all saw throughout the 2012 season, DMC didn’t look any better in Knapp’s offense the second time around.  He ran for a career low 3.27 yards per carry, looked terrible and lost the trust of most fantasy owners in the process.

Knapp was fired the day after the season ended.  To replace him, Allen hired former Lions, Rams and Buccaneers OC Greg Olson on January 18.

Since being hired, Olson has indicated that he plans on implementing a power rushing attack centered on McFadden’s downhill running.  The 2013 Raiders will feature a gap blocking scheme, the same scheme that McFadden thrived in during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.  Remember, he averaged more than five yards per carry during those seasons and scored 15 touchdowns in 20 games playing in a power running offense – this should be music to fantasy owner’s ears.

If Olson and the Raiders follow through with what they have said to this point in the off-season, there is no reason McFadden can’t return to his five yard per carry average and if he stays healthy, find himself among the leading fantasy running backs in 2013.

In my opinion, the only remaining issue is McFadden’s injury risk.  While I agree that an injury history like his is not something that you can just ignore, McFadden’s upside is still through the roof.  He’s not going to turn 26 until August, so he is in the prime of his career.  He is also one of only a handful of running backs that can stay on the field for all three downs and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field (he runs a sub 4.4 forty yard dash.)  If that’s not enough, he’s in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie and has the added motivation of a lucrative, long-term deal.

Many of McFadden’s dynasty owners are likely to be passive about his prospects for the 2013 season and beyond due to his relative inconsistency and injury history.  If his owner in your league is taking that stance, I believe now is the time to be aggressive and try to make an off-season trade.

Don’t get me wrong.  Due to his injury history I wouldn’t give up a valuable piece to acquire McFadden.  But at this point, he is carrying a deflated price tag which has given fantasy owners the perfect opportunity to buy low.

So if before the 2013 season gets here, you are looking over that list of players you will never have on your fantasy team again and you see Darren McFadden’s name, consider grabbing a pencil and erasing it.  It might be the best decision you make this off-season.

For more great articles, check out Dynasty League Football.

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