Cowboys Sign Darren McFadden
When McFadden entered the 2008 NFL Draft, multiple reports connected him to the Cowboys, who were rumored to be interested in trading up for him. Jerry Jones never went through with the deal and he opted for McFadden’s teammate Felix Jones instead. Both backs were from Jones’ alma mater, the University of Arkansas. Now that the Cowboys’ need at running back has aligned with McFadden’s free agency, Jones pulled the trigger.
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Entering a contract year in 2014, McFadden managed to stay healthy for all 16 games for the first time in his career. Unfortunately for McFadden, he was caught running behind a blocking unit that graded out as our 30th-best in 2014. With an ineffective offensive line, McFadden trudged his way to 534 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 155 carries at 3.4 yards per carry. He also added 313 receiving yards on 36 receptions. He finished as the RB43 in standard leagues and the RB40 in full-point PPR leagues.
McFadden has never been a running back who wins by making defenders miss. In 2014, he finished with a miserable 16.0 elusive rating after forcing just 17 missed tackles on 190 combined touches and averaging just 1.85 yards after contact.
His straight-line speed gives him an advantage over other runners when it comes to taking advantage of what is blocked for him. In McFadden’s breakout 2011 season, he operated behind a Raiders run-blocking unit (+14.3) that finished with a strong grade. Over 13 games that season, McFadden racked up 1,157 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on just 223 carries – 5.2 yards-per-carry – and added 507 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 47 receptions. McFadden was able to put together a highly effective fantasy football season despite seeing just 223 carries.
The good news for McFadden is that he will be joining a dominant Cowboys run-blocking unit that will return all of its starters in 2015. In 2014, the Cowboys finished with PFF’s second-best run blocking unit. Every Cowboys running back also has the luxury of playing with Dez Bryant, who commands safety coverage over the top.
In order for McFadden to establish any real fantasy value in 2015, he is going to have to beat out his competition first. The three running backs on the roster that he is currently battling are Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, and Ryan Williams. Randle averaged 6.7 yards per carry on 51 rushing attempts in 2014, but he comes with off-field concerns. If the Cowboys are comfortable allocating a heavy workload to Dunbar, they did a poor job of showing it last season. Lastly, Williams hasn’t played a meaningful snap since the 2012 season.
Of course, the Cowboys could look to address the running back position again in free agency or via the draft, but keep in mind that it often takes time for a team to feel comfortable using a rookie running back due to pass protection concerns. You may get a few chuckles on draft day when you call out his name, but McFadden carries upside as a late-round flier. That laughter will soon turn to envy if he is able to establish 200-plus carries behind this offensive line.
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Dan Schneier is a staff writer at PFF Fantasy and he also covers the NFL for FOX Sports. You can find him on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL. You can also add him to your network on Google+ to find all of his past material.