Darren McFadden did more than shred the New York Jets Sunday -- he sprinted into the minds of the national media.
After rushing for 171 yards vs. the Jets, including a scintillating 70-yard breakaway for a touchdown in a 34-24 victory, his name was being mentioned along with Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson as perhaps the NFL’s best running back.
Though he rushed for 1,157 yards last season, was the fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft and was the runner-up for the HeHHeisman Trophy while at Arkansas in 2007, somehow McFadden has been running a bit below the national radar.
But after his performance against a physical defense from the nation’s No. 1 media market, the accolades poured in after Sunday’s performance.
-- From Pro Football Weekly: “Is there a more underappreciated star in the game? … McFadden is a big, fast thoroughbred and the game’s best home-run hitter now.”
-- From Sports Illustrated: “He proved he belongs in the discussion as the best back in football. He’s averaging 131 yards per game with the kind of speed and power very few backs have.”
Even before Sunday’s game, Matt Williamson of Scouts, Inc., told ESPN: “He’s become a complete player. I’ve become a believer.”
Raiders head coach Hue Jackson always has been a believer. After Sunday’s game, Jackson said, “He’s the best back in football, bar none.”
That his performance came against the Jets was noteworthy, too. Since Rex Ryan became head coach in 2009, his team had allowed only two backs to rush for 100 yards. Sunday, McFadden was over 100 by halftime. His 70-yard TD run was the longest against the Jets since 1998.
Ryan noted that McFadden’s combination of speed, size and cut-back ability make him difficult to contain.
“You have to set edges on this guy,” Ryan told the San Jose Mercury News. “We never did that and we know he’s got great speed.”
At this pace, McFadden would rush for more than 2,000 yards (2,096) with 16 TDs. That, of course, is a difficult task. Injuries and a long season take their toll. But there’s no doubt McFadden now has the NFL’s attention.
He and the Raiders will be on the national stage a second straight week, when they play host to the Patriots Sunday.
Wrote Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports: “I’m not ready to declare McFadden the best – that distinction belongs to the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson – but after watching the Titans’ Chris Johnson struggle through his third consecutive, no-impact performance of 2011, I’d say No. 20 is No. 2 with a bullet.”
For his part, McFadden hopes he can be considered one of the NFL’s best.
“I believe it,” he told reporters. “I try to go out there and show it every Sunday on the field.”