Draft Day Decision: Prioritizing Tampa Bay’s Backfield: Is Doug Martin The Back To Own?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

When you read quotes like this one, courtesy of NFL.com’s Kevin Patra (click here for the full article), it’s easy to get excited about Doug Martin and his outlook for the upcoming season:

“I had a conversation with [Licht]. He said, ‘[Martin] looks lean, he looks like he’s finishing his runs — obviously, there is no contact in the spring — but it looks like he’s finishing his runs. He looks like he’s got that burst. He looks like the Doug Martin of 2015,’” Garafolo said Thursday on NFL Network’s Inside Minicamp Live.

Martin has been one of the more frustrating running backs since entering the league in 2012, at times looking like an elite runner (in 2015 he racked up 1,402 yards and 6 TD).  Of course he’s only played in 16 games twice, and won’t again in ’17 as he will miss the first three games as he finishes his 4 game suspension for PED use.  While he may look good in the spring, that’s already a knock against him as you have to wonder if another could step up and claim the starting job in his absence…

Enter Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims, who figure to fight for the role while Martin is on the sidelines.  Rodgers figures to get the first shot, especially after shining in fives game with 15+ carries a year ago:

Opponent
Carries
Yards
YPC
TD
vs. Carolina17754.40
at New Orleans15634.21
vs. Oakland19693.61
at San Francisco261545.90
at Carolina301013.40
Totals1074624.32

Those are some nice numbers, and as long as he’s producing reasonably close to that line there’s a good chance he at least shares the role with Martin upon his return.  What if he’s producing gaudy numbers, though?  Would the team really be so quick to yank him?

Sims is a dark horse, but it wasn’t long ago that there were high expectations.  A third round draft pick, NFL.com said this of him prior to the 2014 draft:

“Athletic, competitive, tough, upright slasher who is an asset as a receiver — hands rate among the best on a RB in recent years. Cannot project as a bellcow, but offers playmaking ability as part of a tandem in a zone scheme.”

He’s shown that pass catching ability, with 94 catches over 31 career games (including 51 in ’15).  The biggest issue has been his health, being held to 8 games or fewer in two of his three NFL seasons.  He should operate as a change-of-pace/pass catcher this season, and could grab an even bigger role with a strong start to the season.

Fifth round selection Jeremy McNichols does have the potential to challenge Sims for that role, however, with 88 catches for 10 TD over his final two years at Boise St.  If you are looking for a real deep sleeper, he’s the gamble.

As far as how we’d prioritize the running backs on draft day:

  1. Jacquizz Rodgers
  2. Doug Martin
  3. Charles Sims
  4. Jeremy McNichols

It may look odd to have Rodgers sitting at the top, but opportunity is king and he’s going to have a shot at claiming the early down work over the first month of the season.  That would cripple Martin’s value, as he’s not a back who will assume third down/pass catching duties.  Keep that in mind when setting your draft board.  Also remember that we aren’t endorsing an early round selection of Rodgers or any of these backs.  Instead look at the top two as RB3 types with upside, while Sims is more of a PPR flier.

Sources – ESPN, NFL.com

Make sure to check out our early 2017 Rankings:

Breaking Down The Backfield: San Francisco 49ers: Is Carlos Hyde or Joe Williams The Better Target?
Late Round Target: Could The Bills' Zay Jones Prove To Be A Worthy Gamble?

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