Last night, I was confused. This is not out of the ordinary during a weeknight or any night, but the reason this time was a little different. The reason was Darren McFadden.
It wasn’t due to McFadden’s lack of overall success as the Raiders staged their on-field circus in which we learned that long snappers are people too. Nope, while he wasn’t necessarily spectacular because, well, no one in black was last night, McFadden was still the lone bright spot for the Raiders when he finished with 118 all-purpose yards.
The confusion lied in how he gained those yards. Only 32 of them came on the ground, a place where although he showed the great burst we’ve come to expect at times, McFadden was mostly stuffed on his 15 carries, finishing with an average of 2.1 yards per carry.
To put that per carry number into the proper perspective, if you’re a Trent Richardson owner you’ve spent all week so far reading and worrying about how crappy he was in his regular-season debut, but you’ve restored a sense of calm by repeatedly telling yourself that he’s still recovering from an injury. And what was Richardson’s per carry average Sunday? 2.1.
But McFadden also had 86 receiving yards on 13 catches. Here’s a list of reasons why that’s absurd:
- Never mind the volume of catches for a second, and consider how much McFadden and McFadden alone was the sole focus of Carson Palmer’s eye. Prior to last night, his career single-game high in receptions was seven, and he was targeted 17 times.
- Those targets exceeded the amount of receptions by the Raiders wideouts. Yes, combined.
- McFadden is no stranger to catching footballs, and during his one season as the featured back in Oakland when he was able to stay sort of healthy (2010), he had 507 receiving yards. However, he did that with 47 receptions at a pace of 3.6 per game (he played 13 games that year), meaning he beat that pace by nearly 10 catches last night.
There are two conclusions we can draw from this dramatic early shift in McFadden’s role. One is nearly certain, while the other is admittedly speculative, but it still gives valid reason for apprehension.
Firstly, while changing Run DMC into Pass DMC is neat and fun, and to some extent it may indeed be the intention of new head coach Dennis Allen — the Raiders’ first offensive-minded head coach in forever — the health or lack of it among the Raiders’ wideouts surely played a role last night.
That’s an easy problem, right? They’ll get healthy eventually, and then McFadden will return to being a running back and focusing on the running part, while Palmer will realize that other players on the field exist. Well, the little hurdle here is that the Raiders’ WRs are never healthy.
Jacoby Ford missed last night’s game. He only resumed jogging last Tuesday, and he hasn’t started sprinting yet. He recently said that he’s suffering from a nearly identical foot injury to the one that kept him out for half the season last year. So even when he returns, there’s a history of a repeating problem here, and therefore the potential for a repeating injury. This is bad.
Then there’s Denarius Moore, who was also a very highly paid and far less attractive cheerleader last night due to a hamstring injury. Luckily, his injury was nearly healed, and Moore almost played. His absence was more a reflection of Allen’s cautiousness early in the season than the severity of the injury. But he also missed the season opener last year with the same injury, and sat out three games overall.
So while I now resist the urge to reach for the lazy injury prone label unless it can be justified because it’s often completely arbitrary, there’s some evidence for it in both cases here that’s supplied by the repetition. Still shrugging because you don’t care how your fantasy points from your running back accumulate on your weekly scoreboard, as long as they get there? Good, because that’s an easy transition to my second point. Thanks.
In many leagues, more points are awarded for rushing yards, and if he can’t run the ball and Palmer can’t throw the ball to anyone who doesn’t play the running back position, then McFadden will routinely face eight-man fronts. More importantly, the lack of scoring opportunities is concerning, as while yards of any variety are welcomed and hoarded, crossing a white line at the end of a football field with high frequency is where the real fantasy money lies. McFadden only has four career receiving touchdowns on 129 receptions, and he has 16 rushing TDs.
So there’s that, but there’s also another far more important/frightening factoid regarding the rarity of the RB creature and his appearance in the end zone via the pass.
Darren Sproles is the clear RB reception and passing game king, but despite 237 career receptions over seven seasons, only 19 of them ended with him in the end zone. He has his own posh private RB receiving island, though, which sounds like a pretty ballin’ place. While Sproles led all running backs in receiving touchdowns last year with a career-high seven, it was a long tumble down to the next guys. Toby Gerhart, Maurice Jones-Drew, and LeSean McCoy each had three.
The exception to all of this should McFadden’s increased role in the passing game continue is, of course, point-per-reception leagues. You’re laughing heartily, PPR McFadden owners, while the rest of us are outwardly optimistic, and inwardly fearing change and the unknown. Yeah, screw you guys.