Entering the last year of his six year, 60 million dollar rookie contract, Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden needed a healthy, productive season to stake his claim to a long term deal. Instead, he has already missed three games with a hamstring injury, which makes it 35 missed games in six seasons. Even more concerning for the former first round pick is running back Rashad Jennings has thrived with McFadden on the shelf; raising legitimate questions about his future.
McFadden will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014. Despite all the injuries, he will command some serious money in the free agent market. The Raiders will have plenty of cap space next season to make a move for McFadden. However, the running game has looked leaps and bounds better with Jennings as the lead back. So far this season McFadden has 98 carries for 352 yards and four touchdowns. He has accounted for 15 offensive first downs and averages 3.6 yards per carry. Jennings has 98 carries for 480 yards and two touchdowns. He has accounted for 19 first downs and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
“I think Rashad has a nice feel for what we’re doing in the run game, and you know, he hits the thing downhill, and like I said yesterday after the game, it’s a little bit how I envisioned this football team playing and this offensive being,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. “You’re going to have a lot of one-, two- three- and four- [yard run]s and then all of a sudden you’re going to bust out a long run, and that’s how you have the really productive running games.”
So both backs have gotten a similar amount of work this season with Jennings outplaying McFadden by a significant margin. McFadden has the all-important touchdowns in his favor, but that comes down to more opportunities. In the six games McFadden has started, the Raiders have scored 99 points or 16.5 points per game. That is not counting the Philadelphia Eagles game because he left after just five carries early in the game. In the four games, counting the Eagles, that Jennings has started or played the majority, the Raiders have scored 95 points or 23.75 points per game.
In today's NFL, running backs are not only rushers. They are required to help protect the quarterback and catch balls in the passing game. McFadden is a very good receiver and has 13 receptions for 85 yards this year. Jennings has proven to be a more valuable receiver with 23 catches for 188 yards. McFadden is thought of as one of the more explosive backs in the league. His longest rush this season is 30 yards. Jennings tallied an 80 yard touchdown run Sunday against the Houston Texans.
The writing is on the wall for McFadden, especially if he cannot return from injury and make his case. Jennings is also a free agent after this season. His asking price is rising every week he performs well, but it won't be anything the Raiders can't make work. McFadden could be brought back with a significant pay cut. If it comes down to one or the other, Jennings is the far and away leader in the clubhouse.
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