McFadden looking for a breakout season

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The good news for Darren McFadden was that it didn't take him long to prove he could make an impact in the NFL.

In Week 2 last season, McFadden exploded for 164 yards on 21 carries, leading the Raiders to a win at Kansas City. McFadden had a 50-yard run and quickly displayed why Oakland took him with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft. It was a great start to his career.

The bad news: That performance was the last impactful game of his rookie season. He never ran for more than 46 yards or had more than 14 carries in a game the rest of the season. Because of nasty turf toe injuries, the former Arkansas game-breaker was unable to live up to expectations. He missed three games because of the injuries and had only 113 carries and 29 receptions.

"Last year wasn't what I expected," McFadden said recently at Oakland's training camp. "It was frustrating, but I know I can do it ... I think about that Kansas City game, because it showed what I can do. But it was just one game. I have to put it all together."

There is little doubt in Oakland that McFadden can put it all together as a second-year player. Health is the key and now McFadden is completely recovered from his injuries. He looked crisp and explosive in the training camp practices I saw. His speed is off the charts.

McFadden's true value is his versatility, and it's the primary reason why Oakland bypassed other pressing needs in 2008's draft. In addition to being a gifted runner, he is dangerous as a receiver and he can return kicks if needed. And don't be surprised if McFadden, who was a Wildcat star in college, is used in the formation more in his second year than the Raiders did last year.

Watch for McFadden to line up wide as a receiver in several formations. This can confuse opposing defenses, and with an unproven receiving crew, McFadden can help give life to the passing game.

It is clear that Raiders coach Tom Cable is counting the days to unleash the many faces of Darren McFadden.

"It's better for everyone," Cable said of McFadden's ability to play receiver. "It's a real key for us."

I simply get the feeling that the McFadden we all expected to see will show himself in his second season. If Oakland's offense makes significant strides, it will be because of a strong reliance on McFadden.

There are, of course, limitations. McFadden will make an impact but he is probably more Reggie Bush than Adrian Peterson. He would have a difficult time being a workhorse because of he isn't the biggest back in the league and he has a history of injuries. McFadden will be much more effective carrying the ball 15 to 18 times a game rather than 25 to 30.

That is a realistic proposition. Oakland is as deep as any team in the NFL at tailback. The Raiders also posses intriguing power back Michael Bush and yardage-eater Justin Fargas. The Raiders want McFadden to be the first option, but he'll have help.

McFadden believes the three-headed monster will work in Oakland after some rough spots last season.

"I love that we have three guys," McFadden said. "We can really throw different things at defenses. Plus, every running back in the NFL is going to get banged up. Having three guys will keep us fresh ... We can be really dangerous."

McFadden can be the most dangerous of all three. His performance thus far in training camp shows there could be many days ahead that will make people remember Week 2 of the 2008 season.

"That game gave me a good taste," McFadden said. "I can't wait to show people that I can do that on a regular basis. That's what I'm looking to do in 2009."