Two years later than most expected, Raiders running back Darren McFadden finally is making good on the hype and promise that surrounded him when he entered the NFL in 2008 as a so-called can't-miss prospect.
Those who questioned his ability as an every-down back now are resigned to singing McFadden's praises.
"I've been familiar with Darren for a long time and his style and the great explosive plays he has in him," said coach Pete Carroll, whose Seattle Seahawks will play the Raiders on Sunday. "He's just growing."
McFadden's teammates are of the mind that he always has been capable of being the dominant player he has been this season. The difference now is that McFadden is healthy, confident and getting a chance to be the featured back.
McFadden battled toe, shoulder and knee injuries in his first two seasons, missing seven games. He totaled 856 yards rushing and averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. He also had a penchant for fumbling.
This season, despite a right hamstring injury in Week 4 that caused him to miss two games, McFadden has performed at a level comparable to the league's top backs.
He is eighth overall in rushing with 557 yards, has caught 18 passes for 193 yards, has scored six touchdowns and has not fumbled in five games. He's averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
"Do I think he can become an elite player? Yes," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "We thought that when we drafted him. You've just got to keep him on the field, healthy, and he's been productive. This year he's probably taken it to a new level, no question."
An NFC running backs coach said McFadden is just scratching the surface of his potential.
"He's healthy, that's the biggest thing," the running backs coach said, on condition of anonymity. "He just hasn't been able to stay healthy, so you never really knew what he could do. If he doesn't get hurt, the sky's the limit. It'll be interesting to see if he can do it."
Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts broadcast the Raiders game against the Denver Broncos last Sunday. He witnessed McFadden rush for a career-high 165 yards and score a career-high four touchdowns in a 196-yard all-around performance.
"He is healthy, and that is the most important thing," Fouts said. "He ran hard and fast against an outmanned Denver defense. McFadden, when healthy, is one of those home-run hitters that have to be respected. He showed a lot against Denver, but now the questions are: Can he stay healthy and can he be consistent?"
McFadden has rushed for at least 95 yards in four of the five games he has played this season -- he left the Houston Texans game with the hamstring injury after gaining only 47 yards -- and is hitting the holes hard, running over defenders and outrunning would-be tacklers. Simply, he's running in a way the Raiders envisioned when they selected him with the fourth pick of the 2008 NFL draft out of Arkansas.
Tennessee Titans scouting coordinator Blake Beddingfield said the broken thumb suffered by running back Michael Bush during an exhibition game paved the way for McFadden to blossom.
With Bush out the first two games, Beddingfield said, the Raiders "used Darren as the focal point of their offense instead of as a complementary back to Michael Bush or as a guy splitting time. Darren became the guy.
"Even at Arkansas, he split time with Felix Jones, but when he was in there, they focused on him. He is used to being used. "... The more a good running back touches the ball, the more he has that feel. Darren is finally getting that."
McFadden, 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, already has surpassed his career high for rushing. He amassed 499 yards his rookie season and 357 last season. He averaged 8.7 carries per game both seasons. He is at 20.2 this season.
Carroll said what McFadden has accomplished so far is not surprising. Carroll recalled coaching against McFadden when at USC and seeing a rare talent.
"As their whole team improves, he's going to get better as they give him more chances and more opportunities to get in some space," Carroll said. "He's a killer in the open field.
"He just is so fast and can run through tackles. He's not just a speed guy because he's big and strong, too, and he can catch it and he can throw it. He's an amazing athlete. No surprises to me at all. He's always been really good, and I don't think he's improved that much."
Seattle (4-2) at Raiders (3-4), 1:15 p.m. FOX
Raiders will be blacked out at home for 11th straight time. Page 8