The owner of a high first round pick has an important decision to make. The player selected will be the cornerstone of their franchise, especially because nearly two dozen top players will be off the board by the time they draft again – this makes the right first round pick that much more critical. With the stakes high, Brian Bulmer and I present our arguments for two of the running backs you may be trying to decide between: Cleveland’s Trent Richardson and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin. DLF’s May ADP shows mock drafters prefer Richardson slightly as the top dynasty running back over Martin, but it’s a tight race. Brian and I hope this article helps you decide one way or the other.
Brian’s argument for Trent Richardson
To argue Trent Richardson against Doug Martin is like arguing a hot blonde versus a hot brunette. Both of these players were great as rookies and will continue to produce throughout their careers. There is a divide in fantasy circles between these two. With both players considered as the top overall pick in a dynasty start up, is there a wrong answer here?
I always like to start with the bad news. The primary argument against Richardson at this point in his career is his injury history. He missed his rookie preseason when he had his knee scoped. He played with broken ribs from week six until week 16. He currently has a lower leg injury that will cause him to miss most of OTA’s. Will durability continue to be a concern for him?
I will add to another compelling argument against Richardson. He plays on a team with a questionable quarterback in a tough defensive division. Richardson gets to play Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and the Ravens twice a year – these are all tough matchups for a team that has questionable quarterback play.
Tying to the last argument is Richardson finishing with 3.6 yards per carry (YPC) last season. He had 267 rushing attempts (11th among all running backs). His 3.6 YPC is terribly low for a guy as talented as he is as well. This is a red flag to many dynasty owners as they try to decide why they would spend the top overall pick on him.
Age – The good news for Richardson is he will be turning 22 in July and Doug Martin turned 24 in January. Both are young, but in the NFL the proverbial “cliff” for running backs is 30. At this point, Richardson has a couple more years to produce in the NFL before reaching Martin’s age. A young running back is a commodity in dynasty leagues and Trent Richardson’s age is a slight premium.
Toughness – Trent Richardson did play banged up last season. He had his knee scoped and missed all or preseason. He had limited reps to prepare him for the year as well. Richardson is in a similar situation this year with a current lower leg injury labeled as “not serious.” Richardson injured is ribs in a game on October 14th versus the Cincinnati Bengals. The report on ESPN said, “Richardson had to sleep propped up in a chair for four weeks following the injury.” He followed that injury up averaging 12.33 points in standard leagues and averaging 25 touches per game. In weeks 9,11, and 12, Richardson touched the ball 30+ times per game. If he can finish as the ninth running back in fantasy football with broken ribs and no preseason games, I will be interested to see what he could do in a season of full health.
Stats like LaDainian Tomlinson? – In Ladainian Tomlinson’s rookie season, he finished with 3.6 yards per carry. The starting quarterback for his team that season was Doug Flutie – talk about connections between two players. Poor quarterback play allowed teams to scheme for the rookie running backs. Tomlinson did outproduce Richardson in his rookie season, but the connections are hard to ignore. Tomlinson had 339 rushing attempts and caught 59 passes compared to Richardson’s 267 rushing attempts and 51 receptions. Richardson also played in one less game that season compared to Tomlinson.
The Norv Turner Effect – In 15 of Turner’s 21 seasons he has had a running back rush for over 1,000 yards. Names like Emmitt Smith, Terry Allen, Stephen Davis, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams, LaMont Jordan, Frank Gore, and Ryan Mathews all were running backs with Norv calling the plays. He also loves to pass out of the backfield. Many running backs also caught a lot of passes with Turner calling plays. Emmitt Smith averaged 55 receptions per season. Terry Allen and Stephen Davis averaged over 31 receptions per season. Lamont Jordan had 70 receptions with Ricky Williams averaging 45 receptions. With Norv Turner in Cleveland, I look for him to utilize Trent Richardson in many ways. T-Rich could easily exceed 1,000 yards rushing and catch 50+ passes.
The talent of Richardson cannot be denied. He is playing in a tough division on a team with questionable quarterback play. The addition of Drew Brees in San Diego increased Ladainian Tomlinson’s stock significantly. If the Browns were to add a new quarterback next season, Richardson’s stock goes up. Considering he is already a top five dynasty pick, how much higher can he go?
Jaron’s argument for Doug Martin
As you can see here, Doug Martin is my top dynasty player overall. Trent Richardson is the third running back (after Martin and LeSean McCoy) and fifth overall, so it’s not like I don’t think highly of the Cleveland star. Quite simply, Martin is the franchise cornerstone I’m targeting in dynasty startups. Though Brian makes a great argument for Richardson, give him the field and I’ll take the Muscle Hamster.
The major concern for Richardson has been a complete non-factor for Martin: injuries. In 2012, while Martin was never mentioned on an injury report, Richardson was listed 15 times with knee, chest, rib, and finger injuries, not to mention the ankle injury that kept him out week 17 and recent offseason shin injury. The mounting laundry list of ailments in his first NFL season only supplements the torn ankle ligaments and torn MCL that worried scouts heading into the 2012 draft.
An improved supporting cast will only help Martin and there is no question that offensive line play contributes to a running back’s performance. In 2012, Tampa Bay arguably lost their two best offensive lineman in Davin Joseph (knee) and Carl Nicks (toe), after which Martin still played at a high level. Vision, awareness, lateral quickness and quick acceleration led to Martin gaining more than 1,000 yards after contact. With the return of key linemen, particularly that of the elite run-blocker Nicks, Tampa Bay will be in an even better position to open up running lanes for Martin.
All other factors considered, the bottom line always will be how well the player performs on the field. In all formats in 2012, Martin far surpassed Richardson in fantasy scoring, finishing in the top five in rushing yards (1,454) and rushing touchdowns (11). In 12 of his 16 games, Martin totaled 100+ yards and/or a touchdown and caught four of every five passes sent his way. His 1,926 total yards from scrimmage for the 2012 season was third among all players (regardless of position), behind only Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson. All told, Martin averaged 16.4 PPR fantasy points per game, good for second among running backs behind Peterson, compared with Richardson’s 13.6 points per game and ninth place finish at the position. With averages of 4.6 rushing yards per carry and 9.6 yards per reception for Martin versus 3.6 rushing yards per carry and 7.2 yards per reception for Richardson, the Buccaneer simply outperformed his rookie counterpart.
Additionally, while both backs went through the rookie growing pains, Richardson disappeared too often. In addition to missing game 17 due to an ankle injury, he produced only six PPR fantasy points or fewer in four of 15 games. Martin, on the other hand, only had two of 16 games with similar poor production. For the knocks on how the Oakland game (251 yards and four touchdowns) skewed Martin’s statistics, he was the more consistent fantasy player throughout the season.
Looking ahead to 2013 specifically, Martin and the Buccaneers play half their games against defenses ranked in the bottom third against the run in 2012: New Orleans twice (#32), Buffalo (#31), Arizona (#28), New York Jets (#26), Philadelphia (#23), and Atlanta twice (#21). After shipping LeGarrette Blount to the Patriots, Martin has become the clear #1 running back in Tampa Bay, now with nobody around to really even attempt to take away goal line carries. A combination of Brian Leonard, Mike James and Michael Smith will battle for backup duties but are no threat to the three down back in Martin (an excellent receiver and effective blocker). Best among running backs with 300+ rushing attempts, Martin only fumbled once (to Richardson’s three in more limited action) giving more validity to the solid and reliable reputation for the Muscle Hamster.
In DLF June mock drafts, Richardson was selected ahead of Martin in all of the first four iterations. The spots flipped for the fifth and sixth mocks, so this is clearly a close call. Richardson is younger and has a new coach with a history of coaching top fantasy running backs, while Martin has durability and posted top-3 fantasy statistics as a rookie. Our goal here is to give you the facts and rationale behind our own preferences to help you to make the right choice for your own team.
So, who would you choose?
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