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Can MJD regain value with Raiders?

3/28/2014

Oh, how I once worshipped at the altar of Maurice Jones-Drew. Coming off his spectacular 2011 season, MJD had an outside chance at the Hall of Fame. At age 26, he had just won his first rushing title in devastating fashion (beating out the No. 2 man by 242 yards). He had 6,854 career rushing yards and 74 rushing TDs with three or four more prime years ahead of him. It wasn't outrageous to think 12,000 yards and/or 100 TDs was a possibility, and either of those benchmarks gets you to Canton, give or take an Edgerrin James or Shaun Alexander.

But MJD suffered a Lisfranc fracture in '12 that cost him the final 10 games of that season, and he looked like a different player in '13. Whereas, to that point, Jones-Drew had averaged 4.6 yards per carry, last year he averaged 3.4, and, although you can argue that the Jacksonville Jaguars were so terrible on offense that no RB was going to have success, that's still an awful drop-off. And on tape, MJD looks like a shadow of himself. We remember him as a jitterbugging nightmare for defenses, but that lateral agility is mostly gone. He's still occasionally difficult to tackle because he's strong and compact, so when he gets going vertically, it takes a hard hit to stop him. But he doesn't dig with one vicious cut off the corner anymore, and he takes longer to reach top speed. He might still only be 5-foot-7, but he runs like a plodding power back.

On Friday, the Oakland Raiders signed Jones-Drew and added him to their stable of RBs, such as it is. Darren McFadden is back in Oakland, and second-year man Latavius Murray has recovered from his ankle injury and could be in the mix, too. If all three of these guys are on the roster come September, we're looking at the kind of time share that makes fantasy owners weep. McFadden is, as always, a terrible bet to stay healthy, and that's what made Murray such an intriguing potential sleeper. But now, with MJD around, even that looks unclear. The Raiders hope they've improved a terrible offensive line, but Donald Penn at left tackle, Kevin Boothe at left guard, Austin Howard at right guard and especially Menelik Watson at right tackle sound at least marginally shaky. I'm not convinced this team -- which has obsessively assembled aging talent on short-term deals -- is ready to produce even one fantasy-relevant back, let alone two or three.

The best case for Jones-Drew is he looks great in camp and the Raiders decide to release McFadden, who is owed almost no guaranteed money. If that happens, MJD would be the starter and Murray would be his handcuff, and then maybe Jones-Drew would belong somewhere in the top-25 discussion. But we're a long way from there, not least because I'm wholly unconvinced MJD can ever be the same player he was before his foot fracture. For now, he's listed No. 36 in my RB ranks, with McFadden at No. 41 and Murray at No. 50.