Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Is Darren McFading?

Darren McFadden has been one of my favorite college football players over the past 3 years, and if he was eligible to leave last season, he may have been a certain No. 1 overall pick. Now that his '07 season is complete, speculation has him sliding down many draft boards. With the Dolphins and Rams assured the tops spots in the upcoming draft, I can easily see why they would pass on this Arkansas talent, but I'm still left to wonder why the others would bypass a McFadden on the board and choose someone else.

As I look at McFadden's college career, the numbers are extremely impressive, especially when you consider the bulk of his production came against SEC defenses. He completed this season with 1,830 yards and 16 Tds, giving him a career total of 4, 590 yards, finding the endzone 41 times. But what if we look outside the box, would we see what NFL scouts and draft gurus are seeing? What would be the weakness for this young man that has been so productive against stacked boxes?

In 3 seasons, Darren McFadden has appeared in 2 bowl games, with his team losing both. Most recently, the Hogs were defeated by the Missouri Tigers. And while scouts appeared in the Cotton Bowl to spy McFadden's 105 yards on 25 carries, and 1 score, it was Mizzou's Tony Temple that set a Cotton Bowl ground record with 281 yards. In last season's bowl loss to Wisconsin, the Badgers didn't have a back to overshadow McFadden's performance, but against Wisconsin's defense, he failed to crack the 100 yard mark, carrying the ball 19 times for 89 yards and no touchdowns. He was overshadowed by his own teammate, Felix Jones, who ran for 150 and 2 scores.

I took it upon myself to search for a trend, still trying to find a reason for the slide. I took McFadden out of the SEC and placed him on fields against out of conference opponents. What I found was Darren romping at will against the mid-majors, but not as productive against the BCS conferences. In his 3 years at Arkansas, the Razorbacks have only played 4 BCS teams out of conference, with the aforementioned bowl games being 2 of them. The other 2 were regular season matchups against Southern Cal. In his freshman year, he carried 9 times for 42 yards against USC, followed by a sophmore performance of 13 carries for 88 yards. He failed to find the endzone in either meeting. In fact, when calculating his out of conference performances against BCS programs, his one touchdown in this year's Cotton bowl is his grand total for all 4 games.

It's easy to assess his lack of production in his two meetings with USC. The first meeting showed a 70-17 Trojan victory in Los Angeles, followed by a 50-14 victory in Fayetteville. It's obvious in those lopsided affairs that the hogs were forced to abandon the run game, but was Wisconsin's stacked box greater than the stacks in the SEC? Maybe the contributing factor for Missouri and Wisconsin's success is the time given to prepare before a bowl game, but the Arkansas game plan hardly changes from week to week. It's easy to predict the 80% run and 20% pass team that's marked as the next opponent on your calendar, regardless of how much time is given to prepare.

I still hold the belief that McFadden will be one of those special NFL players, because of everything he has to offer. But scouts seem to be changing their minds, and Darren has gone from N0. 1 overall to middle 10 or lower. Maybe it's about a team's neccessities, and not so much about McFadden at all. But then again, maybe it's his lack of production on some of the bigger stages, which would make a franchise less willing to give up some of those guaranteed signing bonuses. Is he worthy of top 5 NFL money? I guess that question will be answered in September.

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