This year, as previously discussed, Darren McFadden is a clear first-round fantasy pick. However, there are certain weeks during which he is an absolute must-start player even more so than usual and has an excellent chance to have a huge day for both the Raiders and his fantasy owners. For a few of these games, provided he is healthy and starting, he has a good shot to be considered the #1 overall fantasy option for that week.
Week 9 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa had the worst rushing defense in football last year, allowing an insane 156 rush yards per game. They chose not to address this directly during the draft, but instead took a best player available approach, selecting defensive players in S Mark Barron and LB LaVonte David in the first and third rounds respectively. Both of those players are good against the run but that is not their primary responsibility. Tampa's failure to stop the run is strange, considering a few years ago the team used both its top selections in the draft on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. Tampa also has two good young defensive ends in Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, but their primary responsibility is pass rushing. Tampa's weakness against the run is likely a primary cause of Raheem Morris' firing, and it remains to be seen how effective Greg Schiano's staff will be at improving that area of the defense. At this point, without any real turnover in personnel, we can assume that this will be a game during which Darren McFadden has a good opportunity to have a huge game and may be the top overall player in fantasy rankings going in.
Week 13 vs. Cleveland Browns: The Browns ranked 30th in rush defense last year, giving up over 147 rush yards per game, and they did very little to improve themselves in the offseason. They drafted two offensive skill players in the first round of April's NFL Draft. While that was probably the smart move and Trent Richardson at least was clearly the best player available, it also means that Cleveland is unlikely to improve its rush defense considerably. DT Phil Taylor is a massive human being with good potential as a run-stuffer, but the Browns have very little around him in the front seven. Cleveland's strength on defense is in the secondary with CB Joe Haden and S T.J. Ward. McFadden (with the obvious disclaimer If He Is Healthy) is going to go absolutely nuts in Week 13.
Week 16 vs. Carolina Panthers: This game is the most important one of all because it will be during the fantasy playoffs, and may even be the championship week depending on your league's schedule. The Panthers ranked 25th in rush defense last year, giving up just over 130 yards a game on the ground. If McFadden should remain healthy to this point, it means the Raiders are likely in good shape, but the AFC West will be so competitive this year that McFadden will probably get more of a workload than usual to keep the Raiders on the right path. A workhorse back with home-run potential is exactly what you look for in starting a player in the fantasy playoffs.
That being said, the Panthers are the only team on this list that made an effort to bolster its defense by adding an impact player in the front seven in the first round of the draft. The Panthers did so by drafting LB Luke Kuechly out of Boston College, who is a terror against both the run and the pass. By week 16 he should be quite settled in to his role on the team and will likely be a strong candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The defensive line is full of no-names and the only other impact player in the front seven is LB Thomas Davis. The Raider offensive line should have little trouble handling the Panthers defensive line, and McFadden will find holes with ease. It would not surprise me to see McFadden with over 150 yards and a couple of scores in the penultimate week of the season, which if you own him could spell a league championship for you.