Vikings firmly in Jackson's corner

Raiders rookie RB Darren McFadden has impressed many onlookers, including John Clayton. Kirby Lee/US Presswire

Darren McFadden was widely regarded as the best athlete in the 2008 draft.

After watching him dart around the Raiders' practice field in Napa, Calif., Tuesday, I have no doubt the scouting report is true. McFadden is the real deal. He catches the ball on screens and passes in the flat better than anticipated. His ability to make inside zone runs is electrifying. On a Raiders team that has some pretty good athletes, McFadden is clearly the star.

At minicamp, Raiders coaches said they had modest expectations for McFadden as a rookie. They planned to make Justin Fargas the workhorse back. Things have changed. Fargas is still the starter, but McFadden is too talented to bring along slowly. He's a treasure.

Let's dive into the mailbag:

From the inbox

Q: Doesn't all this talk about Brett Favre have to be playing with Tarvaris Jackson's mind quite a lot? Until a few weeks ago, all the talk was about how Jackson could raise his game to the next level, that he was the key to whether the Vikes could make the playoffs, and his coaches were talking him up. Now, he's the guy whose career could be derailed by one of the Vikings' former worst enemies. Seems to me like his coaches haven't done him any favors.

Kurt in Grand Junction, Colo.

A: Coach Brad Childress and Jackson have handled everything perfectly. At no time did Childress acknowledge interest in Favre. Instead, he voiced full support for Jackson. The failure of the Packers to prove a tampering charge involving Favre also gives Childress a clear conscience. Jackson improved his footwork during the offseason. He's throwing with more accuracy. The offense now has some deep options, particularly with the addition of Bernard Berrian. Jackson is the key to the Vikings' season. They are a quarterback away from winning the NFC North. Jackson has to prove he's that quarterback.

Q: If the Cowboys are seriously looking for a guy opposite T.O., why are they not pursuing Koren Robinson, who is a free agent and still available? And what's the word on him anyway? I've heard he's gotten his act together, but he hasn't drawn much interest.

Jeremy in Houston

A: The Cowboys probably won't take a chance on him, even though Robinson has cleaned up his act. Robinson's time away from football for his off-the-field problems has temporarily ceased conversation about Robinson coming to a team as a starter. At best, he could come to a team and move to the No. 3 receiver role and make some impact as a returner. For Robinson to regain starting status, he'd have to spend two seasons with a team. Considering the Cowboys are looking for someone now, Robinson doesn't fit. Knowing Robinson from his Seahawks days, I would endorse any team signing him. He still has talent. He'll land somewhere this season with a team that suffers an injury at wide receiver.

Q: John, aside from getting to watch LB Patrick Willis knock the stuffing out of ball carriers for another season, do 49ers fans have anything to look forward to? I'm excited about the Mike Martz acquisition, but I have doubts as to how effective the offense can be with Alex Smith's questionable accuracy and grandpa Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson as the top wideouts.

Michael in San Gabriel

A: Michael, the defense looks impressive. I think it does have a chance to crack the top 15. Linebacker Manny Lawson is back to full speed. Defensive end Justin Smith will turn out to be a better acquisition than expected. He's relentless. The 49ers' defense has good speed. The secondary is solid.

As for the offense, it's a work in progress, and there is no indication as to when coach Mike Nolan will pick a starting quarterback. Don't be surprised if J.T. O'Sullivan makes a push to win the job over Alex Smith, which could finish him as a quarterback in San Francisco. Smith is working with his fourth offensive coordinator in four years, and the team is sharing the first-team snaps among three quarterbacks. The positive story in San Francisco is the defense.

Q: John, big Steelers fan here and wanted to see if you think there are or will be any good (or even serviceable) O- or D-linemen available that the team can pick up to help add some sorely needed depth.

Mike in St. Pete, Fla.

A: If it gets to that point, the Steelers are in deep trouble. They found a gem off the street when they signed Justin Hartwig, who could beat out Sean Mahan for the starting job at center. With Max Starks as the sixth offensive lineman, they are deep enough to handle an injury at tackle. Trai Essex looked serviceable at guard when he filled in for Chris Kemoeatu, who was on the physically unable to perform list. The Steelers don't need additions at the back end of their offensive line. They need good efforts at the top and continuity. It's the key to their season.

Q: Hey John, question for you regarding the Vikings' defensive line: How well are opposing offensive lines going to hold up against these guys, and who do you see getting double-teamed? In Week 1, it should be interesting to watch Jared Allen welcoming the new Packers' QB into his starting role.

Rob in Baltimore

A: The Vikings will create headaches for any offensive line blocking them. Kevin Williams and Allen will draw most of the double-team blocks. That could mean Ray Edwards could have a big season if he can stay healthy. He may go weeks without being doubled. Allen is relentless. Williams can be unblockable at times. The Vikings have a clear advantage because Kevin and Pat Williams are so good at stopping the run, they make opposing offenses one-dimensional, forcing teams to pass more on first and second downs. That's where Allen will be a big factor. On first and second downs, he can push for sacks that will kill opposing drives.

Q: What is the true story about Robert Meachem, wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints? What happened last year? He initially got his knee scoped just a little after OTAs (organized team activities) and then we never saw him on the field. Is he a bust or what can we expect to see something from him this year?

Sacha in Toronto

A: I consider Meachem the first major victim of NFL overscouting. Like many first-round prospects, Meachem was asked to fly around the country in March and April of 2007 for individual team interviews. I don't know the exact number, but Meachem made about a dozen stops. During those trips, you don't eat right and you don't work out. Meachem arrived in New Orleans a little overweight and not in great condition. That contributed to his suffering a minor knee injury and he never rebounded. Everything is different this summer. Meachem had a good offseason and it looks like he's ready to challenge for a starting job. He's not a bust.

Q: Hey John, with the Browns revamping the defensive line, will they still need another starting-caliber cornerback to be efficient.

Tom in Canton, Ohio

A: I think they could use two additional corners. They head into the season with Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald as their starting corners; both were rookies last season. McDonald was a pleasant surprise as a No. 3 corner in the second half of last season, but going to No. 2 is a big jump. General manager Phil Savage will make one or two moves before the start of the season. I'm betting that he'll pick up Ashton Youboty from the Bills in late August.

Q: Hey John, big fan. I'm assuming the Vikings' offense will see many eight-in-the-box defensive formations in an attempt to stop Adrian Peterson. Will this open up the Vikings' passing game enough for Jackson, Berrian and Sidney Rice?

Andrew in Minneapolis

A: As long as Jackson can take advantage of the situation, he could open up the offense. It's scary how good Peterson can be. It also helps to have Chester Taylor coming off the bench to keep Peterson fresh for big plays in the second halves of games. Last year, the Vikings didn't have the speed to go deep to take full advantage of the play-action. Even though he isn't fast, Rice is developing nicely with his crossing routes. Berrian should be a factor going keep. Jackson and Berrian spent a month together after OTAs trying to work on those types of routes.

Q: John, in this year's draft, the Colts picked up another running back, Mike Hart, which I'm excited about. The Colts now have four RBs -- Hart, Joseph Addai, Dominic Rhodes and Kenton Keith. How do you see the situation shaking out now with four backs?

Tom in Indiana

A: Hart is running with the third team, and I thought he was one of the sleeper additions in the draft. Even though Hart doesn't have great speed, he can still run the stretch plays and could be a factor as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Getting Rhodes back was a bonus. Addai looks great. Rhodes is extra-motivated after the bad experience in Oakland. Hart can be groomed to be Rhodes' eventual replacement. The Colts are loaded in the backfield.

Q: Hey John, I was just wondering what you think of the Arizona Cardinals. Do you think they can finally win the NFC West or is Seattle still the team to beat? Do you see an extension for Anquan Boldin or can we kiss him goodbye after the current contract?

Ryan in Seattle

A: Hmm, a Cardinals fan in Seattle. Interesting. Just went to Cardinals camp and liked what I saw. I've always been a believer in Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm. Quarterback Matt Leinart is showing progress and WR Larry Fitzgerald looks even better than he did last year when he showed all the signs of having a breakout year. Even though Boldin isn't happy with his contract, he's a pro and a leader and will do his best. He'll just have to hope the team will review his contract after the season. Depth is the biggest worry for the Cardinals. I consider the Cardinals one of the thinnest teams in football for backups. If they stay healthy, they have a chance.

John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.