It’s 2012. We all know to be wary of a running back with a history of injuries. But there is a difference between factoring injury risk into your draft sheets and assuming an injury is inevitable. Based on the fantasy rankings that I’ve seen for Darren McFadden, most analysts are assuming that he will play eight games at most. It’s true that McFadden finished only six games in 2011. But he played in thirteen the previous season, and wasn’t seriously injured in his first two seasons, albeit with a smaller role in the Oakland offense. Isn’t it reasonable to expect about twelve games from Run DMC? Isn’t it possible that he stays healthy all year? If McFadden was expected to play all sixteen games for the Raiders, I’d be touting him as a top-two ball-carrier. Predicting a likely twelve games, he is still in the top five.
Comparing McFadden to Chris Johnson exposes the error quite easily. For the record, I agree with the consensus on where to draft Chris Johnson. The Titan back is a second rounder, a top-ten fantasy back but not a top-five guy. You draft CJ2K hoping he finds his groove running behind an improved Titan line or at least finds the endzone a few extra times in 2012 while being wary that he could maintain his lowly 2011 standards. McFadden represents a significant increase in fantasy value over Johnson and here’s why: in six games last year, McFadden scored more touchdowns than Johnson did in sixteen. If you extrapolate Run DMC’s numbers to just twelve games, he would have put up 200 more yards on the ground than Johnson did
To rate Johnson ahead of McFadden for 2012, you have to assume not that the Raider star is likely to get injured, but that he will certainly go out for a good portion of the season. Johnson put up four games in 2011 that made his owners happy. There were twelve games in which he totaled less than 65 yards. This is a fantasy disaster worse than injury. Even if McFadden is missing time, at least he leaves a roster spot open. If you take McFadden, you get a guy who will produce when he is on the field, and when he’s off, allows you to use a replacement. Twelve games of Darren McFadden and four of Taiwon Jones (since you clearly want a handcuff) will produce more than Chris Johnson will. And that assumes you don’t snag a better third fantasy running back in the mid-rounds.
After six games, McFadden led all backs in fantasy points last year. He was ahead of Adrian Peterson, who many currently rank of a tier with McFads. This seems absurd. McFadden represents a possibility of an injury. Peterson is injured now. Right now. Could McFadden get injured in week four and leave you high and dry? Yeah, this is the NFL. Any running back can. But for 2012, I will take the guy that puts up numbers and doesn’t leave you with two-point days.
Finally, McFadden is one of three backs with a significant chance of being the top back at the end of the season. (Alongside LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster) Sure, I’ll take Ray Rice and Ryan Matthews ahead of him(and debateably Maurice Jones-Drew), because their floors are higher. With a ceiling as high as anyone's Darren McFadden is a steal in the second round. But I don’t let a guy with McFadden’s potential slip out of the first round. If you end up drawing one of the last picks in your league, it just might be your lucky day.