Commentary

McFadden offers Raiders a chance at rejuvenation

Al Davis just couldn't resist selecting Arkansas RB Darren McFadden with the fourth overall pick. And you know what? The boss finally might have gotten a top-10 selection right.

Originally Published: April 26, 2008
By Bill Williamson | ESPN.com

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- On Thursday, Raiders coach Lane Kiffin reiterated what he had said earlier this month: Darren McFadden wasn't needed in Oakland because the Raiders are loaded at the position.

This week, McFadden's mother, Mini Muhammad, was quoted as saying she thought the Bay Area was too big for her Little Rock, Ark., bred son -- thus she didn't want him to be drafted by the Raiders.

What Kiffin and McFadden's mother failed to realize is that Al Davis runs the Oakland Raiders. Davis wanted McFadden and there was no way Davis wasn't going to get him, regardless of the concerns expressed by Kiffin and Muhammad.

Oakland made the University of Arkansas halfback the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft Saturday. McFadden is a Raider because Davis couldn't pass up on the speedy game-breaker who many in the NFL project will have the same immediate impact as Adrian Peterson did last season as a rookie in Minnesota.

Davis just couldn't resist. And you know what? The boss finally might have nailed a draft pick.

The Raiders, who have failed miserably in the draft for the past five years, need an identity. They need a face of the franchise. They need a superstar player who can help turn around the fortunes of perhaps the worst professional sports franchise. In the past five seasons, the Raiders have won 19 games combined -- just three more victories than the New England Patriots captured in the 2007 regular season.

There is no fast fix here, but McFadden gives instant hope to one of the worst offenses in NFL history. Adding one spectacular player who can be a building block is a smart move. McFadden is the right choice.

Sure, Oakland passed on LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who was taken one spot later by AFC West rival Kansas City. Oakland needs a defensive lineman. Dorsey is likely going to be a longtime stalwart who will make multiple Pro Bowl trips.

But Dorsey wouldn't make Oakland relevant. McFadden can. The Vikings are being chatted up as an NFC contender this year because of Peterson's presence. Star running backs bring that type of cachet to a team. McFadden has a chance to be that guy for Oakland. And do the Raiders ever need him to step up and be that guy.

Kiffin has made the point that the Raiders have plenty of running backs.

Between Justin Fargas (who just re-signed with the Raiders this offseason), Dominic Rhodes, LaMont Jordan and Michael Bush, who still is recovering from a serious college leg injury, the Raiders didn't seem to have room for McFadden.

With all due respect to Fargas, Rhodes, Jordan and Bush, the Raiders do have room for McFadden. This is a player who can rush for 1,500 yards and be a threat to score every time he touches the ball. The other Raiders running backs are serviceable. And now they are serviceable reserves. Any team that can throw fresh backs at an opponent in the second half is going to be a team that wins a lot of games.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell and Darren McFadden
Rich Kane/US PresswireDarren McFadden (right) took his first NFL handoff Saturday, courtesy of commissioner Roger Goodell.

Plus, McFadden is versatile. Kiffin said Saturday that there might be some instances in which McFadden is spread out as a receiver.

"I think I can fit in that offense well," McFadden said Saturday. "I'm a downhill runner who likes to run."

Kiffin might have wanted to go in another direction, but he is an offensive coach, and he said McFadden gives his team options. He also might improve Kiffin's job security, which is in a permanently fluid situation in Oakland.

McFadden is Oakland's best chance of getting out of its black hole offensively. McFadden's impact on Raiders second-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, can't be underestimated. Russell fell way behind last year because of a contract holdout that lasted until September. The presence of McFadden will give Russell security and help him ease into his role.

Even though the Raiders signed receivers Javon Walker and Drew Carter this offseason, they are not receiver-rich. They need a centerpiece, and McFadden can be that player.

If the Raiders are going to break out of their losing rut, it will be because the top picks of the 2007 and 2008 drafts become stars. Russell's life just got easier because of McFadden. Going into this season, the Raiders' offense may no longer be an opposing defensive coordinator's dream. The Raiders, who Kiffin said may have traded down if McFadden wasn't on the board at No. 4, now offer a challenge to defenses.

Oakland is due to hit on a top pick after years of swinging and missing. Tackle/guard Robert Gallery was a gigantic miss in 2004 at No. 2 overall. Safety Michael Huff, the No. 7 pick in 2006, has been nondescript. He was picked ahead of quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler.

And there is no guarantee Russell will be worth his No. 1 pick. With McFadden, though, the Raiders have a real chance for success.

Davis' moves can be maddening. But give him credit on this one. The Raiders need a savior, and McFadden might be it.

Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter