Darren McFadden: Why 2012 Will Be the Best Season of McFadden's Career

Alex Crawford@@dr_crawfContributor IIIJune 28, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 16:  Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns at O.co Coliseum on October 16, 2011 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The obstacles Darren McFadden must overcome to have the best season of his career are not very mighty. 

Up to this point, the best season of his career came two years ago when he rushed for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging a nice 5.2 yards per carry.  Besides that, McFadden has failed to crack 650 yards rushing or four TDs in his other three seasons. 

McFadden hasn’t exactly set a high bar for the 2012-13 NFL season. 

That being said, Darren McFadden is a very talented professional running back. 

He has been plagued by injuries throughout his four-year career.  The one year when he wasn’t injured, he had the most runs of 20-plus yards in the entire league, as well as the third-most yards per carry of any running back with more than 200 carries.  

If you watched him last year, you know how well was doing until he got hurt against the Chiefs on October 23.  At that point, he was averaging 5.4 yards per carry and was a major force in the 4-2 (at that point) Raiders offense. 

I think this year will be the second year of Darren McFadden’s career where he doesn’t face any major injuries. 

Raiders fans should rejoice that McFadden didn’t play in the Raiders final 11 games.  His injured foot has gotten plenty of rest  and, according to ESPN.com, McFadden looked healthy at OTAs.  As of right now, he is ready to crack some skulls in 2012. 

This will be the first season in McFadden's career where he doesn’t have to be the cornerstone of the Raiders offense. 

The Raiders have lacked consistent quarterback play in every one of McFadden’s seasons.  In 2008 and 2009, Oakland’s quarterback was JaMarcus Russell...Enough said.  In 2010, Jason Campbell was a game manager, and the Raiders relied on McFadden to carry the load.  Last year, Oakland traded for a retired quarterback midseason and McFadden got early anyways. 

This season, I have high hopes for Carson Palmer.  He has had an entire offseason to learn the playbook and work with the receivers.  Not to mention, this is Carson Palmer coming into the season as the established starter, not Carson Palmer thrown into a game midseason after being a rich, retired QB sitting on his leather couch playing Madden just days earlier. 

Palmer is poised to return to 2008 form, and he has a good squad of receivers around him. DeNarius Moore, Jacob Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey are all young, extremely fast and poised for breakout years. 

If those three can live up to their potential (and that’s a big if), defenses will be forced to account for them, leaving McFadden with running lanes wider than the gap in Michael Strahan’s teeth. 

I know that the two previous reasons why I believe 2012 will be Darren McFadden’s best season yet are huge assumptions.  There is absolutely no way of knowing if Darren McFadden will stay healthy, and Carson Palmer could very easily be washed up. The third reason I think Run-DMC will kill it next year is not an assumption, however. 

Fact: The Raiders' new offensive coordinator is Gregg Knapp.  

Fact: Gregg Knapp runs a zone-running scheme, and his running backs tend to be very successful in it.  

As reported by NFL.com, Knapp explained the successes of his zone scheme to the Cover 2 Podcast, saying:


I've been at four different places once I acquired the knowledge of it: Atlanta, you mentioned Warrick Dunn had his career-best season; then I came out here (to Oakland), Justin Fargas had a 1,000-yard rushing season; then I go to Seattle, Justin Forsett averaged 5.4 yards per carry and had 600 yards in half a season; and then I go to Houston, where they're known for their zone scheme, and an undrafted player (Arian Foster) leads the NFL in rushing.

Of course, Knapp is going to toot his own horn, but it is a pretty impressive track record.  Still, there are some doubts about McFadden’s ability to adapt to the zone scheme.  Knapp was Oakland’s OC in 2008, and McFadden finished with a measly 499 yards and four touchdowns.   

McFadden had his best season in 2010, when the Raiders didn’t run a zone scheme.  Personally, I think McFadden’s struggles in Knapp’s system in 2008 had more to do with McFadden being a rookie than anything else. 

Darren McFadden has matured as a player over the last couple of years.  If you watch his play during his rookie year and compare it to him last season, it is two different worlds. McFadden learned how to be an NFL running back and has obviously benefited from that. 

Gregg Knapp’s system will be great for Run-DMC.  That, coupled with a much improved passing game and (fingers crossed) a healthy McFadden, will lead to 2012 being the best of his career.