McFadden situation may look bad, but won't be

Darren McFadden appears to have stumbled into a horrid situation in Oakland.

The rookie so accustomed to winning at Arkansas now belongs to a team that hasn't cleared five wins since 2002. The offense ranked 25th last year and only punched in 11 rushing TDs. The backfield is loaded with veteran competition, and his quarterback has just four games of NFL experience.

The good news is, you can ignore all that bad news. The only thing fantasy football players need to know is that McFadden was the first running back taken in the April draft, meaning the stats will be there.

It just always happens that way. (Almost always. Sorry, Curtis Enis.)

Even if you include Enis' invisible 1998 stats, the numbers over the past decade are impressive. The first back taken averages just over 1,000 yards rushing, 300 yards receiving and eight scores in his first season. Eight of the 10 went over 1,000 total yards, and four topped 1,600.

It's hard to imagine McFadden surpassing the top rookie of the past decade, Edgerrin James, who rushed for 1,553 yards, went over 2,000 total yards and scored 17 times for the Colts in 1999.

It's also hard to imagine him tanking like Enis. Drafted by the Bears with the fifth pick, Enis played in only nine games as a rookie. He rushed for 497 yards and didn't score in the first of his three uneventful NFL seasons.

Things worked out well even when the first back drafted was too hurt to play as a rookie. The Bills took Willis McGahee 23rd despite a major knee injury that sidelined him for the 2003 season. He debuted the next year with over 1,100 yards rushing and 13 scores.

McFadden should be much closer to James or McGahee than Enis.

The fourth pick in the draft averaged just over 1,500 yards, 14 touchdowns and 5.8 yards a carry in three seasons at Arkansas. He went over 100 yards in 22 of 38 games in the rugged Southeastern Conference.

Still, what about all those pitfalls in Oakland?

There's no getting around the horrid performance of the offense last year, but history shows top picks can energize their lousy new teams.

Last year Adrian Peterson ran for over 1,300 yards and had 12 scores for a Vikings team that couldn't score and struggled to move the ball in winning only six games in 2006.

That was the year Reggie Bush joined a New Orleans team fresh off a three-win season in which it ranked 31st in scoring. He wasn't much as a runner but caught 88 passes and went for about 1,300 total yards and eight scores.

Peterson and Bush also might ease concerns that McFadden has too much company in the backfield.

The Vikings took Peterson at No. 7 a year after Chester Taylor went over 1,200 yards. They actually even tried to hold Peterson back, listing him as the backup for weeks after it became plain to everyone (except maybe Taylor) that Peterson was far more explosive.

Bush was taken at No. 2 while Deuce McAllister was a perennial 1,000-yard rusher who was just 27 and recovering well from an injury the year before.

While McFadden will compete for carries, a closer look shows holes in his competitors' credentials.

Justin Fargas is coming off his first 1,000-yard season, but he couldn't finish the season after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Before that he was a four-year backup who'd racked up all of two touchdowns. LaMont Jordan is also a former 1,000-yard rusher, but his days appear to be numbered in Oakland. Promising youngster Michael Bush has yet to play an NFL down.

There's also that quarterback question, because it's still not clear if JaMarcus Russell can keep defenses honest. If not, McFadden could regularly be staring at mobs of defenders gathered along the line of scrimmage.

Again, based on the past 10 backs drafted first, that doesn't matter much.

Jamal Lewis had over 1,600 yards as a rookie in Baltimore behind not only Trent Dilfer (eight starts), but also Tony Banks (eight starts). LaDainian Tomlinson went over 1,600 total yards and scored 10 times with 39-year-old Doug Flutie. Peterson was paired with Tarvaris Jackson. Even William Green, the first back selected in 2002, hit 1,000 total yards and six TDs with woeful Tim Couch at the helm.

All things considered, it seems even the Raiders can't mess this one up. But fantasy owners certainly can, so it's crucial not to draft McFadden too early.

McFadden is probably best as your second running back. He'll probably be gone before you draft a third back, and you can't bank on him as your No. 1 guy because it may take him a little time to adjust to the NFL or the Raiders may feel sorry for Fargas and keep him starting for a while.

So resist the temptation to be that fantasy owner with the guts to snare the top rookie early. Just don't wait too long.

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