Darren McFadden Is a Solid Late-Round Fantasy Option

You finally don't have to spend an early-round selection on Darren McFadden, and this year he may be more valuable than he has before.

Oakland Raiders’ running back Darren McFadden has experienced an NFL career that has been plagued by injury. He hasn’t played in more than 12 games in a single season since 2010 - his durability is obviously a concern, especially considering he’ll only be 27 this season.

However, McFadden has a real shot at redemption in 2014 for a number of reasons. To prove it, let’s dive into his numbers. At numberFire, we employ an advanced metric known as Net Expected Points, or NEP. Net Expected Points tracks the total number of points a player either adds or subtracts from his team over the course of a season through the plays he makes on the field. You can read more about it in our glossary.

For a running back like McFadden, we’d specifically be concerned with his Rushing NEP, which is the number of expected points a rusher acquires via the ground game. Admittedly, McFadden's numbers weren't incredibly strong last year - his Rushing NEP ranked 11th out of 13 running backs with 90 to 140 rushes, and he didn't do an awful lot through the air (Reception NEP).

But generally speaking, McFadden has also shown that, when healthy, he can be a top running in this league.

In his breakout season in 2010, McFadden ranked 16th overall in Rushing NEP among all running backs, and that was only in 13 games of action. On top of that, he ranked an astounding fourth in Rushing NEP in 2010 with runners who saw a similar volume of carries. If you recall, that was the season McFadden finished sixth among running backs in fantasy scoring, despite missing three contests.

The potential is there - mostly because we've seen it before - but can it become a reality again?

Well, first and foremost, he finally seems to have a clean bill of health in 2014. But just as important, he's finally playing behind a solid offensive line that really excels in run blocking - free agent acquisition and guard Austin Howard helped lead the New York Jets to the sixth best rushing attack last season. Donald Penn, the newly signed tackle, played a major role in Doug Martin’s breakout season in 2012.

Let’s also not forget that newly acquired Raiders running back Maurice Jones-Drew should be an excellent mentor and sidekick for McFadden. They exhibit opposite running styles that should compliment each other very nicely - Jones-Drew is the workhorse, and McFadden is the speedster who will be the ideal change-of-pace back.

If McFadden can stay healthy (a big if, mind you), he should have plenty of opportunities this year. Penn said as much in a recent interview with Sirius XM NFL radio.

“We’re gonna run the ball, run the ball, then run it again, until the defense stops us.”

This should come as no surprise, with newly signed quarterback Matt Schaub still trying to regain confidence after his disastrous 2013 season in Houston. It should be an expectation that the Raiders will rely heavily on their ground game, because they don't have another choice.

Still, fantasy owners aren't confident, and the main reason McFadden sits as a player to target is because of his relative value in fake football. As of August 15th, he’s being drafted in the 10th round of 12-team standard leagues. This ADP is a full two round drop since the middle of July, most likely resulting from strong rookie running back play in the preseason from players like Carlos Hyde, pushing McFadden down.

Let’s not forget that McFadden has also flashed in the preseason thus far - although he only carried the ball one time against the Minnesota Vikings, he busted through the secondary and picked up 23 yards. That’s the type of explosiveness he’s capable of.

This is why McFadden is shaping up to be a smart and reliable pick in the later rounds of a draft. He’s finally healthy, he’s in a great situation with the Raiders’ offensive game plan, and his offensive line excels in the running game.

Now remember, numberFire’s very own JJ Zachariason told us that it’s incredibly difficult to hit on a late-round running back.

So why go with McFadden, then? Because we know the upside is there, and if you do indeed miss with him, your chance of hitting elsewhere that late at the position is just as slim. Why not take a guy that’s proven he’s done it before and is setup for success in 2014?

With his stock in a continuous downward spiral, now is the perfect time to take a gamble and draft McFadden in the final rounds of your fantasy draft.