Darren McFadden's health is the key

We knew this was likely going to happen, and the Raiders really had no choice. But now they have to deal with no longer having a special running game.

Oakland can’t be criticized for giving safety Tyvon Branch the franchise tag over reserve running back Michael Bush. Branch is a starter and a key part of a defense in transition. He had to stay. However, that decision likely meant that Oakland's wicked run attack would take a hit.

That became official Thursday when Bush signed with the Bears, joining former Oakland starting quarterback Jason Campbell in Chicago.

Now, the Raiders have to hope starting RB Darren McFadden can somehow become durable. When McFadden went down with a season-ending foot injury in October, Bush took over. When McFadden was healthy, he and Bush were a dynamic 1-2 punch.

Currently, small and injury prone second-year player Taiwan Jones is McFadden’s backup. Jones is super fast and he is a weapon, but I see him more as a change-of-pace guy and as a third-down weapon. I’m not sure if he could hold up if he had to start for a long period of time.

McFadden has missed 19 games in four seasons and has never missed fewer than three games in a season. Fullback Marcel Reece is a terrific all-around player, but he has just 47 career rush attempts.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. believes if McFadden can stay healthy, the loss of Bush will be survived.

“I love McFadden, but he is always hurt and I think his running style lends itself to injuries,” Williamson said. “Jones is very intriguing going into his second year, but he certainly can’t carry the load. I do expect Jones to be a big-play guy this year that develops in the passing game Reece is interesting. He isn’t at all the average fullback. He just does everything, including playing a major role in the passing game.”