Great uncertainty continues to surround the Oakland Raiders’ rushing attack, including how Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece will be utilized in upcoming weeks. Much of the discussion involves McFadden, who has performed the role of highly drafted disappointment for fantasy owners throughout the season. A high ankle sprain has sidelined him since Week 9, and enabled the versatile Reece to become both a critical component in Oakland's attack, and a highly coveted roster addition for many of those same owners.
However, there were other prevailing factors that created questions about McFadden and the team’s failed efforts to run the ball throughout most of the season.
Not the least of which was the ill-fated belief that an extremely productive rushing attack required a strategic transformation. Which provides another reason why the first year in the collective tenure of General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Dennis Allen as decision makers, can be summarized as a collection of decisions that dismantled areas in which the team had succeeded prior to their arrival, and a simultaneous failure to improve the aspects of the team that were deficient. Allen decided to stop employing a power blocking scheme that had produced positive results for the past two seasons, in favor of a zone blocking scheme that had failed previously in Oakland. This is noteworthy for multiple reasons, including its massive contribution to the disappointing numbers that McFadden has delivered so far this year.
McFadden entered the NFL in 2008, and struggled mightily with zone blocking schemes during his first two NFL seasons. Most of which were under the supervision of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who was hired by Allen to resume that role this season. McFadden accumulated just 856 rushing yards and five TDs during that span, and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. But in 2010, former head coach Hue Jackson joined the team as offensive coordinator, and decided to implement blocking schemes that were more conducive to McFadden’s strengths. This opened up new opportunities for the former Razorback, who responded by accumulating over 1,650 total yards, and producing 10 touchdowns in 13 games. He then averaged 5.4 yards per carry while amassing 614 yards in the first seven games of 2011, before a foot injury prematurely concluded his season. His efforts helped Oakland generate the NFL’s second best rushing attack in 2010, while gashing opponents for 156 yards per game. Last season, their running game ranked seventh, and averaged 132 yards per game.
But behind a zone blocking scheme that does not utilize the strengths of McFadden or the offensive line, substandard production has returned this season. He has only manufactured 455 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. And what had been considered an elite rushing attack has experienced a similar plunge, as the team ranked 31st, and averaged just 77 yards per game heading into their Week 11 matchup with New Orleans.
There is sufficient history involving McFadden and the zone blocking scheme to become skeptical that he will ever flourish this season whenever he does return to action. That revolves the discussion back to Reece, who has vaulted into prominence as a highly effective yardage producer. He has rushed for 151 yards on 32 attempts the past two games, including 103 on 19 carries in Week 11 against New Orleans. While the Saints are not renowned as run stoppers, Reece’s 100+-yard performance was just one less than McFadden had manufactured in eight starts this year. He is also a reliable and dangerous receiver, who has assembled 241 yards on 19 receptions, while also cementing the trust of quarterback Carson Palmer.
How will the touches be allotted once McFadden does return to the field? It is difficult to ascertain how quickly he will be available to the Raiders, but it is likely, that it will soon. When it does, the belief here is that Reece will maintain a sizable role in Oakland’s offense, while sharing touches with McFadden. He has blossomed in the current blocking scheme, while McFadden has been unsuccessful despite his infinite talent. The coaching staff believes in their blocking system, and will therefore have incentive to continue the utilization of a back who has success with it. Anyone who owns Reece should remain confident that he will help you as the fantasy postseason approaches. Conversely, anyone who has McFadden should keep him reserved after he returns. Even when he does return, it is very likely that his output will be similar to the results that he attained earlier this season.