I probably should have just called this the Darren McFadden preview.
Notable additions: Josh Cribbs
Notable Draft picks: Menelik Watson, Tyler Wilson, Latavius Murray, Mychal Rivera, Nick Kasa
The Marquee men (the elitest of the elite)
Darren McFadden (ADP: 30.6): I know, you just puked. And you did it again. And again. You should probably go home for the day.
For the common fantasy fiend, McFadden ranks high on the list of players you’d least like to own. You’re frequently left with little choice but to select the beleaguered and oft-injured runner because of the extreme scarcity at his position, an obligation which usually ends in tears.
In medical terms, this fear is called Fadden-phobia, and it’s treatable only through one difficult challenge: forget about McFadden’s brutally brittle body, and remember that with the forthcoming scheme change, he could return to being a straight line burner when healthy.
I can’t predict or forecast injuries accurately, and neither can you. Primarily, injuries are random events rooted in bad luck. And when we look down the list of his various breaks and rips, there’s very few voodoo spells that haven’t been cast on McFadden. Over five seasons he’s played in only 57 of a possible 80 games, missing time due to toe, knee, hamstring, shoulder, and ankle injuries. Seriously, there are very few parts of the body McFadden hasn’t broken.
But as his value falls and often settles around an ADP of about 30th overall, eventually here’s what you need to ask yourself regarding his injury proneness: so what?
Initially, the answer to that question will be to point an accusing finger at his 2012 season. Missing games is part of the McFadden package, as his single-season high is still just 13 game appearances, and an ankle injury in 2011 limited him to only seven games. You’re willing to accept that as long as he still produces when healthy, and he dramatically failed to do that last year. In 2012, McFadden appeared in 12 games (again, pretty standard), and he finished with only 707 rushing yards, and an especially alarming career low of 3.3 yards per carry. What’s worse is that of those 12 games, he finished four of them with 40 yards or less. To best illustrate his staggering fall, consider that McFadden also played in only 13 games in 2010, yet he finished with 1,157 rushing yards that year.
There’s much more at play here than McFadden’s frequent breaking. The problem last year was the zone-blocking scheme installed by former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, a scheme that has since been scuttled because it took McFadden far away from what he does best: identify a hole, cut once, and fly (not literally, though that would be cool). He’s able to do those things again now, which means that at the right value — and his current ADP above is the right value — McFadden is a great high-upside buy.
Again, accept and embrace the potential for injury, and if you draft McFadden compensate for his combusting by pursuing a third running back earlier than usual. If you’re in a late-August draft (as you should be) some clarity around the St. Louis backfield should have emerged by then, and whoever emerges will be a fine target to chase. But as a mid-to-late third rounder, McFadden is worth the risk.
No joke. This isn’t last year when McFadden cost you a first-round pick, as now the risk is sufficiently lower to create a more comfortable buy low situation, with a history of proven upside in a traditional power-running scheme. When he was in that scheme in 2011, McFadden averaged 5.9 rushing yards when running behind or outside his offensive tackles, and 5.2 in 2010. Last year, with the emphasis on patience, and waiting for blocks to develop, that average dropped to just 2.6 yards. Stunningly, his yards per game fell by about 30 compared to the previous two seasons.
The likelihood of elite production provided by the scheme change trumps the injury concerns which cause an immediate outbreak of hives. Also, it’s important to remember that 12-ish games of top tier production (which is roughly the equivalent of the fantasy regular season), is better than 16 games of average production, which is what you’d be getting from many of the options currently available behind McFadden.
Take the plunge. You won’t do it.
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
Denarius Moore (ADP: 120.4): As you’re about to see, beyond McFadden there’s a lot of tears among the rest of the Raiders’ primary offensive and fantasy weapons. The optimistic among us will say that means there’s also an opportunity to gobble up a handful of high-upside sleepers with zero risk. That’s not wrong, but many toxic elements have to mix together just right for success to be achieved.
With essentially a rookie quarterback no matter who’s under center (more on that sadness below), there’s only one certainty: McFadden will be ridden until he busts again, and then new offensive coordinator Greg Olsen will pick up the pieces, glue him together, and smash him into brick walls (um, again). But if there’s one Raiders receiver who’s worthy of a late-round pick and consistent consideration in a flex role, it’s Moore.
After missing Week 1 last year, Moore quietly had a productive first half, averaging 71.9 receiving yards over his first eight games, with 34 catches. His downward spiral nearly matched the beginning of McFadden’s four-game absence, and although I’m not sure that cause = effect there, the near complete absence of a running game certainly didn’t help matters when Carson Palmer was trying to find holes in coverage downfield. Marcel Reece had one productive week conventionally on the ground (Week 11, with 103 yards), but he was primarily a hybrid back and a receiver by trade who happened to take a few handoffs.
Like McFadden, Moore offers terrific value at his current ADP, especially with his deep ball ability. Of his 51 receptions last year (only 17 came from Week 11 onwards, a product of the offense’s inconsistency under Palmer), nearly a quarter of them were for 20 yards or more. And despite that general and patented Raiders sucking, Moore still somehow scored seven touchdowns. With his minimal receptions, that’s a touchdown every 7.3 catches.
Of course, the problem for a receiver like Moore who thrives in a vertical setting instead of on intermediate routes down the middle is that the guy throwing the ball has to be able to, you know, throw it. Accurately. And far.
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
Matt Flynn/Terrelle Pryor/Tyler Wilson (undrafted): The starter here should be Flynn, as although his starting experience is something that barely exists, at least he’s shown flashes of greatness at times, and OK-ness at others. He’s shown something, and despite their apparent brimming potential (especially Wilson’s), that’s more than we can say for the other two, one of whom is a fourth-round rookie and they have one start between them.
But I’ve listed all three together here because Flynn’s experience factor is only a minor advantage, as he has a meager two career starts. So you’re seeing how this could end in despair: Flynn enters training camp as the starter and the favorite to maintain that title, and he’s then unseated by a mid-round rookie named Wilson. Again.
Right now, that seems unlikely. But a year ago Russell Wilson appeared raw and far from ready too, and although he called Flynn the starter, comments from Raiders head coach Dennis Allen (Flynn is the starting quarterback “until the competition dictates otherwise”) have left the door more than slightly ajar.
Only Flynn is draft worthy in the deepest leagues where some crazy knucklehead takes the late-round QB thing way too far. His poor deep arm will limit Moore’s ceiling.
Rod Streater (undrafted): The Darrius Heyward-Bey era has reached its logical conclusion, leaving sophomore Rod Streater to ascend the depth chart to play alongside Moore. What exactly this means of course hinges on the quarterback quandary/underwhelming mess above, but if nothing else, we can hang Streater’s sleeper value on a spike in production over the final five games of 2012 after a minor increase in targets. Starting in Week 13, Streater averaged 70.2 yards per game (he had averaged 23.3 throughout the rest of the season).
Juron Criner (undrafted): He’ll compete with Streater to start, which means he’s shoehorned into the same sleeper category, though he’s an even deeper deep sleeper after just 16 catches in his rookie year. Criner could be featured outside in three-receiver sets, with Streater in the slot.
The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)
David Ausberry/Richard Gordon/Mychal Rivera/Nick Kasa (ADP: undrafted): Another grouping, and another dumpster fire. But as I explored in a post the other day, don’t shrug off hidden value somewhere on the Raiders’ tight end depth chart, and other similar messes elsewhere at the position. Tight end streaming is and should be a thing, and your goal is to seek and exploit a favorable matchup for just one week with ilk like Ausberry.
Rashad Jennings/Latavius Murray (ADP: undrafted): With his pass-catching ability and the matchup problems he creates, Reece is better suited as a fullback or H-back. That leaves Jennings and Murray, the promising rookie, battling for the backup RB role behind McFadden. Monitor this closely, because taking that McFadden plunge requires handcuffing someone. Anyone, really.