Run, pass, catch. Darren McFadden did it all at Arkansas. Heck, he even returned kicks. And he did everything well.
So impressed were the Raiders that they made him the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Twenty-seven games into McFadden's NFL career, the Raiders still are searching for the best way to use him.
It remains to be seen if McFadden will ever become the game-changing player many projected him to be when he ruled the college landscape. The Raiders paid him $26 million guaranteed to be a cornerstone of their offense.
So far, his career has followed an arc similar to the one of New Orleans Saints all-purpose back Reggie Bush.
Bush, too, was regarded as a can't-miss prospect entering the 2006 NFL draft based upon his dominance at Southern Cal. The New Orleans Saints selected Bush at No. 2 and soon discovered that he wasn't an every-down back.
The Saints toyed with ways to get the most out of Bush before deciding to capitalize on his versatility. Bush receives a handful of carries each game, but he makes his biggest impact as a receiver and punt returner.
On Thursday, McFadden spent most of his time lined up wide as a receiver against the Dallas Cowboys. He caught four passes for 43 yards and rushed six times for 23 yards.
It was McFadden's most productive game since the season opener, when he rushed for 68 yards and caught two passes for 25 yards as the starting running back against the San Diego Chargers.
It's the latest attempt by Raiders coach Tom Cable to make the best use of McFadden's skills.
"He's feeling better and that's what we're more comfortable with, is being able to use him multiple ways," Cable said.
McFadden has remained patient through the injuries, spotty playing time and inconsistent workload.
He missed four games this season because of a knee injury he suffered against the Houston Texans on Oct. 4 that required surgery. Upon his return, he played behind Michael Bush and Justin Fargas.
"It's a process you have to go through," McFadden said. "You don't go to the bottom and jump right back to the top. You've got to go out there and work for it. Right now I'm just working myself back in."
McFadden was the first of 22 running backs selected in 2008, but he's been far from the most productive.
The Tennessee Titans drafted Chris Johnson 20 spots after the Raiders nabbed McFadden. Johnson leads the NFL with 1,242 yards rushing this season. He also rushed for 1,228 yards last season, one of three rookies who topped the 1,000-yard mark. McFadden has 704 yards during the same period, 205 coming this season.
What's more, Johnson has averaged 5.5 yards and scored 17 touchdowns in his first two seasons. McFadden has averaged only 4 yards a carry and scored five touchdowns.
Entering today's games, McFadden ranks 62nd in rushing this season. Michael Bush (385) and Fargas (399) have far more rushing yards than McFadden, validating Cable's decision to keep three backs the past two seasons rather than make McFadden the every-down back.
In fairness, McFadden has had to deal with four injuries during his brief NFL career — turf-toe on each foot and a shoulder problem in 2008, causing him to miss three games, and torn knee cartilage this season. The shoulder and knee injuries required surgery.
To date, the Raiders have no indication that McFadden can withstand the rigors of a full workload the way he did when he averaged 262 carries in three seasons in college.
The Raiders also have used McFadden as a quarterback out of their so-called Wild Hog formation the past two seasons. Not even that has yielded the desired results.
"My feeling is Darren brings a lot to the table," Cable said. "I feel like we've got to keep moving forward, trying to figure out what is going to help him be at his best."
The Raiders' Darren McFadden was the first of 22 running backs selected in the 2008 NFL draft. Here is a look at how those running backs have fared this season:
Player, Team selection 2009 yards per carry TDs
Darren McFadden, Raiders 4 205 3.3 1
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers 13 509 4.6 6
Felix Jones, Cowboys 22 421 6.9 2
R. Mendenhall, Steelers 23 689 5.1 4
Chris Johnson, Titans 24 1,242 6.2 8
Matt Forte, Bears 44 516 3.3 3
Ray Rice, Ravens 55 733 5.0 6
Kevin Smith, Lions 64 603 3.4 3
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs 73 313 4.9 1
Steve Slaton, Texans 89 380 3.1 3
Tashard Choice, Cowboys 122 330 5.7 3
Ryan Torain, Broncos 139 0 0.0 0
Tim Hightower, Cardinals 149 430 4.2 5
Thomas Brown, Falcons 172 0 0.0 0
Jalen Parmele, Dolphins 176 0 0.0 0
Xavier Omon, Bills 179 22 4.4 0
Mike Hart, Colts 202 0 0.0 0
Lex Hilliard, Dolphins 204 24 6.0 0
Chauncey Washington, Jaguars 213 0 0.0 0
Justin Forsett, Seahawks 233 255 5.7 2
Cory Boyd, Buccaneers 238 0 0.0 0
Allen Patrick, Ravens 240 0 0.0 0