One year after running back DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing and won NFL offensive player of year honors, Darren McFadden, the replacement for his replacement, is a viable candidate for NFL comeback player of the year.
McFadden, who had just 128 yards after five games and didn’t get his first start until Week 7, finished 1,089 yards on a career-high 239 carries.
He finished fourth in the league in rushing, while averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
McFadden came to the Cowboys following seven disappointing seasons in Oakland looking for a fresh start and got a new lease on his NFL life.
In addition to a Cowboys offensive line that features three Pro Bowlers, McFadden credits running backs coach Gary Brown for his bounce-back success.
“Just being around a guy like coach Brown and him being an experienced player who parlayed in the league helped,” McFadden said. “He brings knowledge to the game. He puts confidence in you to trust yourself. He played the game. He knows it. If you make the wrong cut, he says ‘don’t get down on yourself. Just keep coming and get it right the next play’”.
McFadden said Brown’s helped him mentally and technically, including deepening a half yard when running the wide zone.
“Little things like that helped me out a while lot,” McFadden said. “I love the way he coaches me. He has us prepared and ready to play every Sunday.”
The 2015 season marked the third consecutive year that Brown has coached a 1,000-yard rusher with the Cowboys, following Murray in 2013 and 2014.
But his work this season might have been in best yet, considering the running back room proved to be a revolving door for much of the season.
McFadden shared carries with starter Joseph Randle and third-down back Lance Dunbar at the outset. But that was before Dunbar suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4. Randle started the first seven games, but was undone by a string of off-the-field issues and personal problems. He was eventually released.
Christine Michael was part of the mix, appearing in five games before being released in part because he didn’t wear a suit on road games.
Robert Turbin and Rodney Smith ended the season as McFadden’s backups.
McFadden said Brown provided a steady influence for all the running backs.
“With this situation its something that hard to deal with for anybody,” McFadden said. “Coach Brown said made sure we stayed on the right track and kept it up with how things were going with football and out of football and making sure we were up beat and prepared.”