Darren McFadden is an Arkansas boy through and through. He went to high school in Little Rock where he was three-sport star in football, baseball, and track. In his senior year, McFadden was Parade Magazine's All-American High School player as well as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Player of the Year. McFadden would also win the prestigious Landers Award, given yearly to the top player in the state.
McFadden entered the recruiting process with many suitors including Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee. He was ranked by Rivals.com as the 23rd best football player in the country and third best overall athlete with the highest five-star recruiting status. Though coveted, he opted to end the recruiting process early when he chose the University of Arkansas and Houston Nutt's Arkansas Razorbacks.
Darren played until his junior year when he became eligible for the NFL draft and he shined as the Razorback's brightest star. In his true freshman year of 2005, McFadden lit it up with 1,116 yards on 176 attempts with 11 touchdowns. He had massive outings against Georgia and South Carolina respectively. In those two performances he averaged 188.5 yards per game, earning him SEC Freshman of the Year honors. His sophomore year started slow when he dislocated his toe in an incident at a night club. He would return and rush for a school record of 1,647 yards, 14 touchdowns and three passing touchdowns. McFadden was a consensus All-American and placed second in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Troy Smith.
McFadden soon became the first sophomore to ever receive the Doak Walker Award which is given to the nation's top running back. He would also win the Jim Brown Award that season. In 2006, McFadden became the centerpiece in Arkansas's "Wildcat formation." He was considered a huge threat for his ability to run and pass and often lined up as quarterback for the Razorbacks. He was just starting as McFadden followed up his sophomore year with a monster junior season.
Sporting News named him their National Player of the Year, and considered him a number one overall pick for the NFL. He would win the Doak Walker Award, First Team All-American, SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and won the Walter Camp Award for best player in the nation. McFadden ended his career as the most decorated player in Razorback's history while placing second All-Time in rushing yards behind only Herschel Walker.
McFadden entered the 2008 NFL draft and was selected 4th overall by the Oakland Raiders. At the Combine, he ran an official 4.33 40-yard dash but was recorded at 4.27 unofficially. Depending on who you ask, the Cowboys were very interested in McFadden during the draft process. Some suggested that if McFadden had got past five, that Jerry was willing to trade up to get him. Instead, Dallas ended up selecting his backup at Arkansas Felix Jones with the 22nd overall pick.
In his rookie season, McFadden was off to a decent start before another toe-injury resulted in three missed games and he was seemingly bothered the entire time. He ended his rookie season with 499 yards on 113 attempts.
Subsequently, head coach Lane Kiffin was fired and replaced in the interim by Tom Cable. Soon Cable was announced as the official head coach and came under criticism. Many folks questioned his usage of McFadden as the season wore on. 2009 was an awful year for the running back when a litany of injuries caused him to miss several games. His low point came in October against Houston where he rushed for minus two yards.
In 2010, Cable decided to hire a new offensive coordinator in Hue Jackson and McFadden started to show some promise. That season was his best statistically where he started 13 games had 1,157 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. He also added 506 yards receiving with three receiving touchdowns. Following the 2010 season, Cable was fired in favor of Jackson. Brian Flores from Bleacher Report had an interesting take on the reasoning behind McFadden's new found success:
"When watching McFadden run the ball, it's clear what his running style is. "Elusive" isn't how you would describe it. He looks for contact rather than trying to avoid it. This makes him less effective when running between the tackles.
The only coach who played to McFadden's strengths was Jackson. McFadden is much better in space, so Jackson called plays that let McFadden get to the outside more often.
It's no coincidence that this led to the most successful period of McFadden's career. In 2010, he averaged 5.2 yards per attempt and totaled 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns over 13 games.
And even though his 2011 season was limited to seven games due to injury, McFadden actually improved. Six weeks into the season, he was the NFL's leading rusher. He finished with an average of 5.4 yards per attempt, 614 yards and four touchdowns."
That success wouldn't last long as the Raiders fired Jackson following the season and hired Dennis Allen. Under Allen the offense transferred back to a zone-blocking scheme. That should sound familiar because it's precisely the scheme the Cowboys have implemented. According to Josh Dubow from The Big Story, McFadden is better suited for a power-run scheme and struggles in zone-blocking. The following is a sample from what Dubow wrote last offseason when the Raiders changed offensive systems for a third time:
With new coordinator Greg Olsen bringing back a power running system, the Raiders are hoping to see the old McFadden.
"It feels great," McFadden said of the new offense. "I feel like I'm a downhill runner and it's something that coaches see also. By us getting into a gap scheme offense, being able to get downhill, they feel like that suits me a lot more. I'm looking forward, O-line is doing a great job, getting in there on a double-team and opening holes up."
"Last year is last year," McFadden said. "We put that behind us. We have a lot of new faces here, a new offensive scheme, and there are a lot of new things going on. We're not going to concern ourselves with what went on last year. We'll look forward to this year."
McFadden is much more comfortable in a power system where he is asked to run straight ahead rather than the zone system where he often was called on to run laterally and wait for a hole before cutting up field.
The biggest problem was McFadden's struggles in the zone running scheme that does not fit his style of play. After averaging more than 5 yards per carry in each of his two seasons in Jackson's offense, McFadden averaged just 3.3 last season — the lowest ever for a Raiders back with at least 150 carries in a season.
McFadden has obviously been thrown many curve-balls throughout his career, and I'm certainly not saying he can't be effective for Dallas. However, the two-year deal that looks to be incentive-lading suggests that he is not the solution, but just part of it. He has definitely shown his excitement over what he calls a "fresh start" for him and his family. McFadden has had his many struggles over the years, but he's also never had the opportunity to play behind an offensive line as potentially good as the Cowboys'. When asked about how this all transpired McFadden added:
"I always kept my eye on Dallas," McFadden told the Mothership. "I figured whatever happened with DeMarco Murray's situation would have an impact on my situation. I feel like it worked out great for me."
"It's a fresh start being here in Dallas," McFadden said. "Couldn't have been a better place."
Darren is certainly looking forward to his second chance and the Cowboys are more than willing to bet on his upside. With the recent additions of high draft status guys that have become key contributors, who's to blame them?