ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) - Darren McFadden started this season the way he ended the last one, making the big runs that ended talk about whether he would be another Oakland Raiders draft bust and started the conversation about where he ranks among elite NFL backs.
McFadden ran for a league-high 150 yards in the season-opening 23-20 victory at Denver on Monday, building on the stellar performance last year when he rushed for 1,157 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
"People laugh at me when I say this and I'm going to say this now and I mean it with my whole heart: Darren McFadden is to me one of the most complete and elite runners in this league," coach Hue Jackson said. "He's a tremendous talent and I'm expecting big things out of him."
Offensive coordinator Al Saunders has compared McFadden to some of the other great backs he has worked with during his career, like Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk and Priest Holmes.
Quarterback Jason Campbell said McFadden should have been a Pro Bowler a year ago and the Raiders believe few backs are as versatile as McFadden, who is a threat as a receiver or a ball carrier.
"I've been fortunate to be around some great running backs, but he's one of those guys you put in that class," Saunders said. "He's a young kid that has just tremendous speed and tremendous potential, he catches the ball extremely well and I think he established what he is last year and he's continuing to follow in that way this year. He's a premier back."
McFadden downplays the praise, saying only that he wants to keep building on what he accomplished last season.
"It's great to get put in that group," McFadden said. "There are a lot of great backs in this league. I feel good about being in there. I want to keep working hard and keep showing what I can do."
Despite missing the entire preseason after he broke an orbital bone in his face in practice, McFadden displayed no signs of rust in the opener, once again showing off the big-play ability that led the Raiders to pick him fourth overall back in 2008.
He helped set up Oakland's first touchdown with a 20-yard run on a third-and-13 draw play, faking out Champ Bailey on the way to the big conversion. He added another 20-yard run on a field-goal drive in the second quarter, lowering his shoulder to get a few extra yards at the end of the run.
McFadden then showed off his elusiveness and speed on a 47-yard run early in the fourth quarter that moved the Raiders inside the 1 and set up Jason Campbell's keeper for the touchdown that gave the Raiders a 23-13 lead.
He was the only player in the league with more than one run of at least 20 yards on opening weekend, a year after leading the league with 14 such runs.
"Whenever you have backs with ability like that out of the backfield you give him just a little seam and he could be gone," offensive lineman Jared Veldheer said. "You never know. You just think stick and finish this block and it could be the play where he breaks it 50 to the house. That's awesome being an o-lineman knowing any play could end up being a touchdown as long as I carry out my assignment."
That wasn't the case in McFadden's first two seasons, when he rushed for just 856 yards and averaged only 3.9 yards per carry while dealing with turf toe and shoulder injuries. He scored just one touchdown in 2009 and had just one run of at least 20 yards during a 23-game stretch spanning his first two seasons.
That all changed last year, when McFadden finally showed the Raiders the skills he displayed in college at Arkansas, when he ran for 41 touchdowns in three seasons, including nine that went for at least 50 yards.
"It was great. It was like a weight off your shoulders," McFadden said of last year's performance. "You come in with a lot of expectations and you just feel like a weight came off your shoulders."
That was the performance his teammates knew could come if only he hadn't gotten hurt.
"Now when you see a healthy Darren McFadden, you see what everybody saw and why he was the first running back taken that year, why he was up for the Heisman that year, why everyone wants to run the wildcat because of him, and why he started at Arkansas with Felix Jones" said Buffalo linebacker Kirk Morrison, who was on the Raiders for McFadden's first two seasons. "It's because he has that breakaway ability. Now when he's healthy, you're starting to see they give him a lot more carries now."
Notes: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey left practice early with a knee injury but expects to play Sunday. ... DT Richard Seymour (ribs), WR Jacoby Ford (hamstring) and S Michael Huff (groin) were among the players who did not practice.
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, N.Y., contributed to this report.
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