Dynasty Mythbusters: Tampa Bay Running Backs

Jacob Feldman

Often in the world of fantasy football we overreact based on what is going on at that exact moment, forgetting all of the weeks, months, and years leading up to that point in time. If you’re ever on twitter during games you see many, many examples of this week in and week out. The hype train often gets rolling much too quickly one way or the other on players.

If you look back at past years one of the prime examples was Kevin Ogletree after his week one blowup last year. Some teams spent nearly their entire free agency allowance on him only to see him put up next to nothing for the rest of the season even after our words of warning.

We don’t want you to make that mistake! The fantasy mythbusters series takes some inspiration from one of my favorite tv shows, it is just too bad that I don’t get to blow anything up! I will examine a potential breakout player from the previous week. The goal is to figure out if their performance was just the tip of the iceberg or if you’re better off letting someone else spend their money and roster spot on them.

While looking through the DLF forums I recently noticed a thread that was basically asking the question of if Doug Martin is a special talent or if he’s just a young running back in a superior situation. It is a very interesting and valid question, especially when you consider the fact that he has actually been out produced by the rest of the running back group since Martin has gone down with an injury. Both former sixth round pick Mike James and Cleveland Brown castoff Bobby Rainey have provided nice fantasy production over recent weeks and it is fair to wonder if this is all about the system. In other words, what happens if (or rather when) the system changes when a new head coach comes into town. Let’s take a deeper look at the Tampa Bay running game with an eye towards the future.


Doug Martin, RB TB

doug-martin2013 Production: 127 rushes for 456 yards (3.6 YPC) and 1 touchdown. 12 receptions for 66 yards. Six games played, one torn labrum in his shoulder.

Heading into this season, the second year running back was near the top of pretty much everyone’s dynasty rankings both at his position and overall. I even know of a few that went so far as to have him as their top overall running back in dynasty leagues. Anyone that went that far is probably back tracking a little bit and at the very least moving the likes of LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles over Martin at the running back position, if not several others as well.

Personally, I wasn’t as high as many on Martin heading into the season (though I did like him much better than Trent Richardson), so let me be up front about that. You’ll see more of what made me hesitate a little bit later, but the biggest item is what I call the “Bryce Brown effect”. In short, this is when one or two eye popping games from a statistical stand point blind everyone to all of the other performances and issues that a player has. The opinion of Martin is inflated, in my opinion, due to a short but spectacular stretch during his rookie year which might have pushed expectations a bit too high.

Many of you have seen the numbers, but let’s look at them one more time. Martin had a two game stretch against Minnesota and Oakland in the middle of last year. These two games accounted for 61 touches, 486 yards, and 6 touchdowns. In terms of his full season production, that was 16.5 percent of his touches but 25.5 percent of his yardage and a massive 50 percent of his touchdown total. Translation, it was a massive two game stretch that single handedly won many owners games those weeks, but the rest of the season wasn’t quite elite. If the other 14 games are the norm and these two are the exception, his season stat line would have been 303 carries for 1221 yards (4.0 YPC) for 7 touchdowns to go with 48 catches for 425 yards. Those are still top 10 running back numbers, so I’m not saying he is terrible, just that he was a little too high up a lot of lists.

The Good: Martin definitely has the skill set and size to be one of a dying breed, the bell cow back. At 5’9” and 215 pounds, he has the build to take a beating and keep coming back for more. He also has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, the speed to break long runs, and showed better than expected pass protection skills as a rookie. He showed very good durability as well, handling 20 or more touches in nine of last ten games last year once he was given the full time role. With a run first game plan and a top ten offensive line that has room to grow, the sky seemed to be the limit for Martin’s fantasy production.

The Bad: It is tough to find a ton of items to not like about Martin heading into this season. The Bryce Brown effect made him a bit higher on a lot of lists than I think he should have been, but he was a good, solid young running back. He did have far too many duds last season though where he looked very much like a volume runner with all of his 90+ yard rushing efforts coming on at least 24 carries. 21 carries for 50 yards doesn’t thrill me. Neither does 9 carries for 16 yards against the league’s worst run defense. He seemed to lack that special quality of being able to make something out of nothing that the great backs have. He is less McCoy and Charles and more Alfred Morris in my eyes, which isn’t a bad thing. It just means he doesn’t fit into the elite category when I watch him.

Watching him this year, all of that seemed even more true. With his only 90+ yard rushing effort coming on 29 carries and his season yards per carry dropping a full yard from his rookie year, there was some concern. Even more concerning is the lack of touchdowns and scaled back role in the passing game. He was only on pace for two total touchdowns with 32 receptions. Granted, the Buccaneers are a terrible team with quarterback issues and they did face two top ten run defenses this year but they also faced two bottom ten run defenses as well. Plus, how can we explain the production of the other running backs since then?


Mike James, RB TB

2013 Production: 60 rushes for 295 yards (4.9 YPC) as well as 10 receptions for 43 yards, one passing touchdown and one destroyed ankle.

The sixth round rookie out of Miami didn’t get a ton of attention this past offseason from NFL teams nor from fantasy circles. He backed up Lamar Miller during the first three years of college before failing to win the fulltime job as a Senior. Instead he split the load with then freshman Duke Johnson, limiting his production. Heading into the draft he was rarely viewed as anything more than a third day draft pick that could be a special teamer or add some depth to a shallow running back group.

During training camp he flashed at times, enough to earn the backup job to Martin. When Martin went down with the injury, James was left to shoulder the load and seemed to be well on his way to a nice rookie season. Then he must have misunderstood when one of his teammates told him that running backs are supposed to break ankles and landed himself on the injured reserve list.

The Good:  Much like Martin, James has ideal size for a running back. At 5’10” and 223 pounds, James has a thick, powerful build that can handle the full load. He runs well, using his power and leg drive to break tackles or at least fall forward when he gets hit. He also shows good patience and balance while waiting for his blockers to open holes. One of the best things that I liked about him is that he showed improvement in each and every game he played. He went from 3.2 YPC during his first game to 3.9, 5.6, and finally 8.2 during the game he was injured. He also showed better timing and did a better job of hitting the holes when they opened up, telling me that he was settling into his role. With his last full game as a starter being 28 carries for 158 yards against the Seahawks in Seattle, I was very excited to see what he could do for the rest of the season.

The Bad:  The broken ankle is obviously very bad news, though it is his first injury even dating back to his college days. The question is if there will be long term effects of the injury. This is especially a concern since James wasn’t the most explosive running back prior to the injury. He didn’t flash any special elusiveness nor speed during the games he played with a season long of only 24 yards. He has good patience and average acceleration, but he isn’t going to break off huge gains or turn nothing into something. In other words, he is a decent backup or committee running back, but his chances of winning and holding a solo starting job are pretty slim.


Bobby Rainey, RB TB

bobby_rainey2013 Production (with Tampa Bay only): 38 rushes for208 yards (5.5 YPC) as well as 3 receptions for 15 yards. Four total touchdowns.

Rainey is a second year pro out of Western Kentucky that made a lot of noise over the last two weeks. He first made people notice during week 10 when he came on for the injured Mike James and spelled veteran Brian Leonard, looking like a much more effective runner than the veteran. Last weekend he really made people notice when he took over the lead role to the tune of a 30 carries, 163 yards and three total touchdowns. He handled almost the entire compliment of carries with Leonard only getting four carries to go with the work in obvious passing down situations.

The Good: Rainey has a Ray Rice type of build to go along with quick feet, good acceleration, and decent top end speed. He catches the ball fairly well out of the backfield, but it isn’t a natural thing for him. During college he showed that he could be a lead back racking up school records at Western Kentucky for yards and carries during his career there. He also showed a nose for the endzone scoring a total of three times, twice from inside the five yard line and once from 43 yards out.

The Bad:  Those that tend to shy away from high mileage running backs should probably look elsewhere. Rainey is already 26 years old and his college carries were one of the highest totals in recent years. Other concerns would be that he couldn’t show enough to stay on the Browns roster when they aren’t exactly flush with talent, the fact that his numbers might be inflated because he lit up a bottom three defense, and that he has struggled running between the tackles from time to time. None of these are absolute strikes against him but rather things to think about. The biggest concern might be that he came off the field in obvious passing downs. If the Bucs are behind, he might not see many touches. They can’t play Atlanta every week.


The Ugly Truth about the Tampa Backfield

This is going to hurt some people to hear, but I don’t think Doug Martin is an elite running back. I think that he is a good but not great running back that is in a favorable situation. Unfortunately for him, his injury has allowed the coaching staff and the rest of the league to realize that the driving force might indeed be the system here. Tampa seems to be a spot, much like Houston and a few other places, where an average running back can look really good.

With the trend in the NFL being one of committees and multiple running backs, I would be concerned if I owned Doug Martin. I think that there will be a coaching change down the road and I think that both James and Rainey are talented enough to make it at least a two if not three headed monster in the backfield. James is a good power runner while Rainey has speed and quickness to be the speed compliment. This would leave Martin, whom seems to be a little bit of a volume runner, with a slightly reduced workload should the new staff decide to follow the trend in the NFL. Overall, I would view Martin as more of a low end RB1 than the top three guy that many had him pegged as prior to this season. Somewhere right around but slightly in front of Alfred Morris would be about right in my eyes.

What about James and Rainey? James is obviously done for the season, but he does have the age and size advantage over Rainey looking long term. Short term Rainey could definitely end up being a solid RB2 for the fantasy playoffs. I don’t think he nor his team have the talent to beat up on good defenses, so I would be worried if I had to count on him each and every week. Against a bad defense you could definitely do a lot worse!

As for James, I liked what I saw from him but he is going to need to make a full recovery from the ankle injury. He can’t afford to lose any of his burst or speed because there wasn’t a whole lot to spare. He’ll compete next year with Rainey to be the compliment to Martin. I fully expect there to be some kind of committee share next year under a new coach, the question is just who is splitting time with Martin. The winner could have some very nice upside should Martin go down. If you’re rebuilding, stashing James if he was dropped wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Be sure to follow Jacob Feldman on Twitter @feldmanjacob


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