Raiders running back Darren McFadden teased with his ability by rushing for 164 yards rushing in his second NFL game. Two years later, he finally is delivering on all the hype that surrounded him coming out of college.
McFadden has totaled 240 rushing yards in Oakland's first two games this season, the second-most in the league. Now second-guessers might be re-evaluating their stance on McFadden as a legitimate every-down back.
"Anytime I have gotten a question about, 'Is Darren all hype? Or can he live up to the hype?' I tell them, 'Just watch. Just watch,' " fullback Marcel Reece said. "I already knew it was coming."
Reece and coach Tom Cable said the key with McFadden's emergence into a top-flight back is owed to better health more than anything.
McFadden, 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, missed three games his rookie season with turf-toe injuries on both feet. He missed four games last season with a knee injury. This year, he has overcome a hamstring injury that dogged him during most of training camp.
Now, McFadden is capitalizing on a thumb injury to Michael Bush, and he outplayed Tennessee's Chris Johnson and St. Louis' Steven Jackson the first two games.
Yet McFadden, the No. 4 overall pick in 2008 out of Arkansas, said he isn't content.
"I don't feel like I've proved anything right now," McFadden said. "I've just shown people that I can (play). But, as far as proving something, I don't think I've done that
For certain, McFadden has heard and read all the criticism the past two years, about how he was too fragile, not tough enough, not an every-down back and not one who holds onto the football.
He never lashed out at his critics, befitting his polite style and peaceful demeanor. Instead, he worked harder on securing the ball, utilizing his open-field moves and using his strong upper body as a weapon against smaller defenders.
McFadden also changed his diet in the offseason in hopes of improving his stamina and durability.
"I tried to change the way I ate a little bit," McFadden said. "For me, it was a lot of fast food and things, but I tried to take a healthy approach as far as eating habits. I feel it's paying off for me right now."
The Raiders also are reaping the dividends. McFadden has averaged 5 yards per carry and helped the Raiders survive without Bush. He carried the ball a career-high 30 times in a 145-yard effort against the Rams on Sunday.
McFadden amassed only 357 yards in 12 games last season and averaged 3.4 yards per carry. He rushed for 499 yards at an average of 4.4 in 2008.
So far this season, McFadden has silenced critics who wondered aloud whether the Raiders erred in taking him ahead of backs such as Johnson, Carolina's Jonathan Stewart, Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall and Dallas' Felix Jones.
"No, he is not better than I thought he was," Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. "I have always thought Darren McFadden is a really good football player."
To that end, Jackson informed McFadden that he would get 30 carries in the Rams game.
"That's what our (primary) runner has to do," Jackson said. "He has to be able to carry the load. I like to get on a back's back and ride him. And that's we did this past weekend. He answered the challenge."
Though it never showed, Bush said the criticism weighed on McFadden and fueled him to greater heights.
"If you think people are down on you and you've been doing good for a long time, it probably tends to get on your nerves," Bush said. "At the same time, he's a competitor. He's very competitive, and he's out there to prove people wrong. That's what drives a lot of athletes, people talking down on you or negative about what you do. That makes you go out there and play much harder."
None of McFadden's teammates are surprised by his performance.
"Once Darren got healthy, once he got confident in this scheme, just watch," Reece said. "He's going to run away with it. I knew it, Darren knew it, this organization has known it, obviously, and now the rest of the world is getting to see it. It's exciting."