Expect McFadden to be fantasy gold

05/02/2008 4:16 AM

05/02/2008 4:18 AM

Al Davis got a whole lot smarter, JaMarcus Russell a whole lot better and the Oakland Raiders' outlook a whole lot brighter last weekend.

And for that they can thank Darren McFadden, the game-breaking running back who will literally and figuratively carry them back to prominence and impact Fantasy Football the same way Adrian Peterson did as a record-setting rookie last season for Minnesota.

McFadden is special, a home-run back with a knack for finding defensive gaps and an extra gear that allows him to turn nowhere plays into jaw-dropping, field-length touchdown sprints.

McFadden is the rare individual difference-maker in the ultimate team sport. He's 1,500 yards and 15 TDs waiting to happen.

He's Bo Jackson with a good hip and Marcus Allen's hands and vision.

Without having played a down in the NFL, he's also a should-be first-round fantasy draft pick and the answer to Raider Nation's prayers.

Since reaching the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, the Raiders have unwittingly provided the NFL's "How Not To" template on, well, pretty much everything.

There have been draft-day fumbles (like taking technique-challenged Robert Gallery with the second pick in the 2004 draft over current NFL stars Larry Fitzgerald and Ben Roethlisberger), failed forays into free agency (put your hands together for Ted Washington, Kerry Collins and Dominic Rhodes) and much ballyhooed but ultimately inconsequential trades (glad you found your motivation in New England, Randy Moss).

The result of those and so many other missteps has been five consecutive last-place finishes and a combined 19-61 record during that span for a once-proud franchise that is now a quarter-century removed from its last championship.

But despair gave way to optimism last Saturday when the Silver and Black hitched its wagon to McFadden by making the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up the fourth pick in the 2008 NFL draft.

So what if they already re-signed 1,000-yard back Justin Fargas and probably would have been better off saving the millions they threw at defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and giving them instead to LSU standout DT Glenn Dorsey, who went to AFC West rival Kansas City one pick after McFadden. McFadden was simply too good to pass on.

Raiders coach Lane Kiffin likens McFadden to Reggie Bush, who Kiffin coached while he was USC's offensive coordinator and Bush the Trojans' Heisman Trophy-winning tailback.

While both are versatile backs with shifty moves and game-changing speed, what sets McFadden apart is a 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound frame that is perfectly suited to handling the rigors of being an every-down back in the NFL. Bush, who stands 6 feet and weighs 200 pounds, isn't built to withstand the physical punishment 20 to 25 carries a week would promise, and his disappointing sophomore season with the Saints emphasized the point.

A better comparison can be drawn between McFadden and the 6-1, 217-pound Peterson, who rushed for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 5.6 yards per carry for the Vikings during his breakout rookie season.

Both have the speed to make the rest of the world look like it's moving in slow motion, and they even put up similar college numbers with McFadden rushing for 4,590 yards and 41 touchdowns in 785 attempts and Peterson going for 4,045 yards and 41 touchdowns in 747 rushes at Oklahoma.

McFadden's presence will not only make Gallery a better blocker (without Gallery having to do anything differently), it will take considerable pressure off Russell, the Raiders' unproven second-year quarterback. Now, Russell has a backfield mate who can dominate games on the ground and serve as a secondary receiving target who can bail him out when receivers are covered downfield or when the pocket collapses and Russell is forced to improvise.

Everybody with a vested interest in the Silver and Black -- fantasy owners included -- wins with McFadden in the mix.

Now, just give him the ball, baby, and watch him fly.

Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports column runs Fridays. He can be reached at srosenberg@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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