The signing of Greg Hardy was the most talked about move by the Dallas Cowboys this year. It continues to generate huge controversy as he remains defiantly unrepentant about the events that led to his four-game suspension and has been emotional and demonstrative on the sidelines. His deal with all its baggage overshadowed the other moves the Cowboys made, but one that was the subject of a very different form of criticism was bringing in Darren McFadden. While no one doubted Hardy's ability on the field, many thought McFadden was already washed up.
McFadden is a talented player, but with a somewhat limited skill set when compared with other running backs. He is more of a straight line runner who needs to have some space to work with to be effective. During his career with the Oakland Raiders, he never proved that he was a capable featured back. Since his signing by Dallas came on the heels of the loss of DeMarco Murray to the free-spending Chip Kelly Eagles, there were many comparisons between the two, not in favor of McFadden. But the real logic behind his signing was not that he was to take Murray's place as the lead back. Dallas was expected to go with the more prevalent approach of running back by committee. Joseph Randle was the likely candidate to be the starter, with McFadden there to relieve him. At the time, the draft was still in the future and everyone expected the Cowboys to add another back from what was seen as a deep class. McFadden also served as a bit of insurance if things did not work out so well during the draft.
As we are all well aware, things never fell in place for the Cowboys to take a running back. They felt in every round that there were more valuable options at other positions. This led to the Cowboys going into the season with three backs to comprise their committee, Randle, McFadden, and Lance Dunbar.
After an impressive start to his season, Dunbar would be lost to injury, leading the Cowboys to trade for Christine Michael and also claim Rod Smith, both from the Seattle Seahawks. And now, with Randle having problems with an oblique strain and facing a possible suspension from the off-field incident in Kansas last spring, McFadden is suddenly the lead dog. In his first opportunity to provide the main punch for the running attack, he was simply outstanding, gaining 152 yards and scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants. It was an opportunity that could have been Randle's if not for his injury issue, since he got 24 yards on the two carries before he went out. But DMC stepped up and proved that he was a very valuable player for Dallas when they needed him the most.
This also reflects the second part of the insurance policy he represented when he was signed. The Cowboys' staff was well aware that the NFL was investigating the incident Randle was involved in, and knew that a suspension was possible, and perhaps very likely. While the Randle injury is given as the reason that McFadden has been designated the starter for the Seahawks game this Sunday, his off-the-field issues are probably also driving the move.
Hand in hand with the change at running back is the apparent solution of the woes of the offensive line. After struggling through the first five games to consistently open up the kinds of running lanes we were so used to seeing last season, they seemed to get that back on track. McFadden (plus Randle in his two carries and Lucky Whitehead in his new role running jet sweeps) exploited those fully. It really seemed like old times.
Cowboys OC Scott Linehan says with how OL blocked and Darren McFadden ran vs #Giants, it felt like 2014 with DeMarco Murray.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) October 29, 2015
An additional plus for McFadden was that he looked quite good in pass protection on Sunday.
Great blitz pickup by 20 https://t.co/zwBGmhXEnJ— Patrick Conn (@DraftCowboys) October 29, 2015
McFadden's emergence could not have come at a better time with the murky situation that Randle is in. He was hampered in Oakland by poor offensive line play, and now he may be able to finally live up to the potential that led to him being taken fourth overall in the draft. The team may need him to hang onto the lead back spot for the rest of the season, or it may just need him to hold down the fort until Randle gets all his injury and personal issues resolved. But either way, signing him is looking more and more like another solid move by the Cowboys, especially Will McClay and the scouting department.