We all know the story. Guy gets drafted. Guy gets starting running back job. Guy excels in his rookie year. Guy gets drafted in top half of the first round in fantasy. Guy underperforms. Guy gets hurt. Okay, so maybe this isn’t the most common story in the world, but it is Doug Martin’s story. So what’s Dougie Fresh going to do this year? In short, I’m not sure, and I don’t think anyone really is.
Doug Martin is a conundrum for those of us trying to figure out his fantasy value, mostly because there are so many unknowns in the equation. The Bucs have a brand new coaching staff, a brand new offensive line, and a collection of new skill players. It’s difficult to say whether these new components will help or hurt Martin.
It’s also difficult for us to really be sure if Martin, himself, is a good NFL running back. Sure, he looked great in 2012, but you can make the argument that he was outplayed by Bobby frickin’ Rainey last year. With all this in mind, let’s go piece-by-piece to try to figure out what 2014 holds for Doug Martin and his fantasy value.
The Man, The Myth, The Muscle Hamster
First, we’ll attempt to answer whether Doug Martin is a legitimate NFL running back. He was certainly productive at Boise State, leading his conference in rushing yardage in both 2010 and 2011 (Note: Boise State moved from the WAC to the MWC in 2011). He also found the endzone with regularity and showed ability in the passing game, recording 28 catches per year in his junior and senior years. The consensus among most scouts, coming out of college, was that Martin was a solid, well-rounded running back, though he didn’t excel in any particular area.
In the NFL, Martin’s shown flashes of brilliance. He’s also shown flashes of being terrible. Is there any sort of pattern with these flashes that we can take advantage of? I’m glad you asked.
If we take a look at his game splits using Rotoviz’s Game Splits App, we can see that Martin’s been significantly better against bottom-half-of-the-league rush defenses that top-half-of-the-league. He’s also played a lot more games against bottom-half defenses. So basically, Doug Martin’s been matchup dependent, and has benefited from good matchups early in his career. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s something we’ll keep in mind and come back to later.
The Offensive Line
According to Pro Football Focus, the Buccaneer offensive line was 19th in the NFL in run blocking for 2012. Not great, but certainly not awful. In 2013, they were 28th in run blocking. That’s a pretty significant drop, and it definitely could explain some of Martin’s drop in production. So will the line be better this year? It’s hard to tell.
The only starter left from 2013 is RT Demar Dotson. The rest of the line is a group of free agents and former backups that certainly doesn’t scare anyone on paper. The group also struggled mightily in Tampa’s first preseason game, for whatever that’s worth. It’s hard to do much worse than 28th in the league, but it certainly doesn’t seem like the line will do too much better in 2014.
The Skill Positions
The Bucs have a lot more weapons than they did a year ago. Mike Evans will pair with Vincent Jackson at WR, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Brandon Myers will both join Tim Wright at TE, and rookie Charles Sims has been added to a running back corp that already includes Martin, Mike James, and Bobby Rainey. There are two ways your thinking can go with this. The optimist says that the increased offensive fire power will free up room for Martin to run wild.
The pessimist says that with four pass catchers over 6’4”, rushing opportunities within the redzone might decrease for Martin, and they were low to begin with (Martin only saw two carries inside the 5-yard-line during his 6 games last year). Furthermore, James and Rainey both had effective games last year and may get themselves some more playing time. Charles Sims is also a good pass-catching back who may carve himself out a role on passing downs. The collection of players here seems to point perhaps to increased efficiency for Martin, but definitely to less volume than in the past.
The Coaching Staff
Jeff Tedford, the new offensive coordinator in town, has expressed interest in using multiple backs. This doesn’t mean that Doug Martin will be useless, but it does mean he’s less valuable. Over his first two years, Martin has averaged 23 touches per game. Any back getting that much work is a fantasy starter. There has been talk, though, of Martin seeing somewhere around 16-18 touches per game in Tedford’s new offense.
If Martin plays efficiently and sees plenty of redzone work, that’s completely fine. He can put up enough points to be a low RB1 or high RB2. Those are some pretty big ifs though. A struggling offensive line can ruin efficiency, and redzone work may be few and far between. Tedford’s presumed offense could take away much of Martin’s value.
I spoke before about Doug Martin’s splits versus good and bad rush defenses and how they paint him as a matchup-dependent guy. Here’s the good news: Doug Martin and the Bucs play 11 games against Pro Football Focus’s bottom-half rush defenses from 2013. You have to take preseason strength of schedule analysis with a grain of salt, but there is definitely a takeaway from this. If Martin puts up starter numbers in 11 games, he’s probably worth his current ADP as the 27th overall pick (according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com).
At the beginning of the year, I reluctantly ranked Doug Martin as my RB10. I say reluctantly because it was almost a cop-out ranking. I didn’t really know who to put there, so I put Martin. I’ve moved him down since then, but it’s not like I really love Gio Bernard or LeVeon Bell or even Arian Foster being my RB10.
The truth is that all the running backs in that range have significant red flags, whether it’s workload, small sample size, injury risk, or talent. Ideally, Martin’s splits make him a matchup-based play, but his current ADP doesn’t really allow you to use him as such.
I won’t be drafting Martin in many leagues this year, but that’s because I’ve been going WR-heavy in most drafts. If you find yourself in the mid-to-late third round with the elite (top-10ish) receivers off the board, by all means go ahead and draft Doug Martin. The key is to give yourself a back-up plan. If you’re drafting Doug Martin as your RB1 or RB2, stockpile some mid-round backs who have upside. If Doug busts and one of your mid-round guys hits, you’re fine. Not every pick will be safe, but every pick can still have value.See Our Other Player Profiles for 2014
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