There aren’t many silver linings to take out of a game when you surrender 56 points to a rival team in a 25-point loss (and when your starting quarterback throws four interceptions with a 50% completion percentage), but there is one key silver lining to take out of the Silver and Black’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Well, it’s more of a name than a lining: Rashad Jennings.
Ever since Darren McFadden went down with an injury in Week 9, Jennings has been an absolute monster. In that span, he’s had just one bad game, which was a 17-carry, 35-yard effort on Thanksgiving against the Dallas Cowboys. And even then Jennings was able to scrounge out two rushing touchdowns, which at least salvaged his game for fantasy owners. With six rushing touchdowns in his past six games, Jennings has as many touchdowns as McFadden has had in his past 20 – try that on for size.
While McFadden has plenty of raw talent (more than Jennings), he hasn’t had a successful season since eclipsing 1,100 rushing yards in 2010. It’s been injury, inconsistency, or both for McFadden, who was a massive disappointment last year and is a massive disappointment this year. Set to return next week from his second multi-week injury of the season, McFadden has averaged just 3.5 rushing yards, which is 1.1 points lower than Jennings’s rushing yard total this season. Plus, as I said earlier, he isn’t scoring like Jennings is.
Even though McFadden has the pedigree, talent, and is two years younger, it’s fair to wonder if Rashad Jennings has truly entrenched himself as the Oakland Raiders running back of the future. While the Raiders most important task is to find their QB of the future (even if it isn’t Matt McGloin or Terrelle Pryor), getting the other key piece of their backfield set is also important. And at this point, it looks like McFadden is merely the change-of-pace back here.
It’s clear that Jennings has outproduced McFadden in just about every statistic imaginable this year, and Jennings has been the best player on the Raiders offense this year. Denarius Moore and Rod Streater make up a nice WR duo (Andre Holmes is emerging, too), but nobody has made Jennings’s impact this year. Even though the Raiders were terrible yesterday, Jennings helped make it a game by grounding out 91 rushing yards against the Chiefs defense, including converting two goal-line carries for touchdowns.
That’s the sort of performance that you need out of your running back against a tough defense and with a rookie QB under center, and Jennings has delivered solid performances in most of his appearances as a starter. It’s nice to have a back who has home-run ability, but it does you no good when that RB is as inconsistent on a carry-to-carry basis as McFadden. The requisite feature of a feature back is consistency, and I think that’s exactly what the Raiders have received from Jennings this season. This is a guy who can convert on short-yardage situations, can consistently pick up 4-5 yards per carry, and I don’t think you can say any of that about McFadden, who has major injury issues as well.
The age gap helps McFadden a bit due to the short shelf-life of running backs in this league, but it’s fair to wonder if McFadden’s age flatters his own shelf-life a bit. I mean, he’s actually been in the NFL for one more year than Jennings, and he’s also had more injuries and carried the ball more than Jennings; those are more important numbers than age. And when you crunch the yards per carry averages, it looks like Jennings is the better back.
Talent and big-play ability aren’t the most important things at the running back position, and they are just garnishes to the fish. They help and accentuate the meal, but the meat of it is summed up in one word: consistency. And that’s the big difference between both of these running backs, and it’s why Rashad Jennings truly looks like the Raiders running back of the future. Both guys are free agents after this season, and I would honestly take Jennings over McFadden if it came down to an either-or proposition.
Speaking of free agency, another wrinkle to consider is cost; Jennings is going to be cheaper since McFadden is a “name”, is younger, and will likely have his cost further driven up by the deadly word “upside”.