To say that the Oakland Raiders haven't been productive from a fantasy perspective in recent seasons is a huge understatement. In fact, you could call this team the Black Hole of fantasy football (JaMarcus Russell, anyone?). But to the delight of Raider Nation and fantasy leaguers alike, improvements appear to be on the horizon.
Jason Campbell has replaced Russell as the team's quarterback - he's worth a late-round look in drafts. Receivers such as Chaz Schilens and Zach Miller could turn into viable bargains on draft day, and even rookie disappointment Darrius Heyward-Bey is getting some positive press. But where the potential for the most fantasy value lies with this new-look offense is in the backfield, where an important battle is being waged between Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.
Regardless of who wins this competition, though, coach Tom Cable has indicated that he will utilize a backfield committee rather than choose one runner in a lead role.
"I think they're both doing something exciting each day, whether it's running the ball or pass protecting," Cable told the Oakland Tribune. "Each one of them has their own strength but they both show up every time we come out here. I actually think they're both (No. 1s) and I think it's a great deal we got going here."
The fact that both backs have very different skill sets will make it simple for Cable to use them to compliment each other. McFadden is a quick, elusive runner with the potential to score every time he touches the football. He's also a good pass catcher out of the backfield. At 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, Bush is more of a between-the-tackles banger. He's also shown flashes of potential at the NFL level -- even more so than McFadden, who was a high-first round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Bush has averaged an impressive 4.6 yards per carry in two seasons with the Raiders. He's also had some memorable stat lines, including a 133-yard performance against the Broncos last season and a 177-yard, two-touchdown explosion against the Buccaneers in the 2008 finale. Bush's major problem has been consistency, as he's lost carries to both McFadden and Justin Fargas in the past. It's also been hard to post strong numbers when your team is behind often and forced to abandon the run in the second half.
McFadden has had just one 100-yard game in his pro career, and that came in September 2008. Last season, he averaged a mere 3.4 yards per carry and was forced to miss four games due to injuries. That's been a major problem for McFadden, who's been forced to miss a combined seven contests due to various ailments.
Unfortunately, that lack of durability has continued into the team's 2010 training camp.
While it's not considered a major issue, McFadden has already been held out recent practices due to a tight hamstring. The Tribune also reports that he is not expected to play in the Raiders' preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night. When you're competing against a player with upside like Bush, well, that's not going to help your chances of securing a starting role. It's also not going to help earn the trust of Cable, who has had to deal with McFadden's proneness to injuries in the past.
While I am expecting some sort of shared workload to emerge, I'd have more faith in Bush in standard fantasy leagues. Simply put, he's shown better potential to post solid numbers while McFadden has floundered. Bush has also been the more durable back, and Fargas is no longer in the mix to take carries. Owners should also keep in mind that the Raiders have one of the more favorable schedules for running backs, facing the Broncos (2), Chiefs (2), Chargers (2), Colts, Titans, Rams and Seahawks.
This remains a battle to watch, as McFadden will no doubt return from his hamstring ailment and state his case for a prominent role between the white lines. But in my opinion, it's time to look past McFadden's lofty draft position two years ago and instead examine the numbers. And when we look at the stats, it's obvious that Bush is the Raiders runner to target in drafts.
» Cardinals RB Beanie Wells suffered a rib injury in Monday's practice and had to be carted off the field. However, the ailment isn't considered serious and Wells is listed as day to day. A major sleeper on NFL.com, Wells appears to have avoided what could have been a disastrous situation. Barring setbacks, he should still be seen as a potential second- or third-round pick in drafts.
» According to Texans coach Gary Kubiak, rookie RB Ben Tate has had an "up-and-down" training camp to this point. He points out that Tate is talented, but missing time during OTAs with a hamstring ailment has put him behind Arian Foster and Steve Slaton on the depth chart. I still like Tate's potential, but Foster is now the back to draft out of this trio.
» Patriots RB Laurence Maroney appears to have fallen behind Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris on the depth chart, according to the Boston Herald. Taylor has been running with the first team, though he's no lock to open Week 1 atop the depth chart. Maroney, who is in a contract year, could be getting a little motivational "push" from coach Bill Belichick. Regardless, you don't want to draft any of these three backs for a prominent role on your fantasy team.
» The Herald is also reporting that Wes Welker (ACL surgery) participated fully in the Patriots' joint practice with the Saints on Tuesday. While he might not be as fast, Welker was able to catch a few passes over the middle during the session. It's hard to expect him to post another season with 100-plus catches, but Welker still looks like a good bet to be back in time for Week 1. He's moving up our fantasy rank lists.
» Vikings WR Sidney Rice has been absence from practice due to a lingering hip injury, and reports are surfacing that he's not rushing back due to his contract situation. He's in the final year of his rookie deal and will make just $550,000 this season. Rice and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, have maintained that he's on target to return in time for Week 1, but with his value has still fallen a bit due to the hip ailment and questions about Brett Favre's return in 2010.