Scoutlook: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Backfield
Buccaneers new head coach Lovie Smith has repeatedly insisted his team will be using a running back by-committee approach this season. Smith and new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford will have a dramatic effect on how the Bucs' RBs will be deployed. The ball distribution and pass-run split will play a major role in each player's fantasy value. The backs who will be competing for touches are favorite Doug Martin, third-round rookie Charles Sims, last year's surprisingly productive rookie Mike James and a recently surging Bobby Rainey. We will delve in to these players and break down their roles and fantasy values.
A huge positive for the Bucs' runners is that Tedford prefers to deploy a run-heavy offense. During his tenure of more than a decade in the college game, his offenses ran the ball 54 percent of the time. From 2010-13, they ran the ball 58 percent of the time (1,862 rushes, 1,337 passes). The increase may have a lot to do with the fact that Tedford had some awful quarterbacks and some good running backs. Tedford will more than likely have a run-dominant offense, but he's not afraid to adjust to his personnel when necessary. He is also sure to adjust his offense's tempo as needed. Smith has a tendency to veer toward conservative offenses, which should also bode well for Tampa's RBs.
Martin is all but assured to be the Bucs' No. 1 RB. He is fully recovered from the torn shoulder labrum that he suffered in Week 7 last year. The Boise State alum had a tremendous rookie campaign, in which he compiled 49 receptions, 1,926 yards from scrimmage and 12 TDs. He also averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 319 attempts. He followed up this outstanding performance up with a disappointing sophomore showing. In just six games, Martin totaled only 12 receptions, 522 yards from scrimmage and one TD. His YPC fell full yard, 3.6.
There is a lot to like about Martin, but there is also a lot to fear. The "Muscle Hamster" was badly outperformed by his replacements last season and may be on a short leash. The good news for the third-year back is Tedford tends to give 66 percent of the carries to his lead back. Although as stated before, Tedford is not afraid to adjust. The former University of California head coach has also evenly split carries at times between two backs. The point is while there is no guarantee, you can in all likelihood count on Martin to receive about 60 percent of the carries. How he is incorporated in the passing game remains to be seen. That being said, with an ADP of 28.11 (RB No. 12) Martin is being overvalued. There are RBs being drafted in the third (Andre Ellington), fourth (Shane Vereen), fifth (Ryan Mathews) and even sixth round (Rashad Jennings) who show just as much promise as Martin. Coming off a major injury and a poor performance in 2013, he's just not worth his current price.
The current favorite to be Martin's primary backup is Sims. The 214-pounder does not run with the power you would expect from a back his size. Nevertheless, he's an elite level pass-catcher. During his college career, he caught 203 passes for 2,108 yards and 11 TDs. As a senior at West Virginia, he rushed for a career-high 1,095 yards on 208 carries. He also scored 40 rushing touchdowns in four college years. The rookie is considered one of the best pass blockers in this year's class. He has an explosive first step and accelerates very quickly. If he could develop his game and start breaking some tackles, he has supreme potential as an NFL runner. It's hard to gauge exactly how rookie RBs will produce as they adjust to the pros, but Sims is as good a swing-for-the-fences rookie as any other back not named Bishop Sankey. He has a legitimate chance to lead all rookie RBs in receptions and is not being drafted in most non-dynasty leagues.
James played extremely well for a stretch after Martin went down last season. Unfortunately, the former Miami Hurricane lasted only three games as the starter before breaking his ankle. James average 4.9 YPC and had a 158-yard rushing performance against the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. The 223-pounder averaged 2.33 yards after contact, second among all RBs with a minimum of 40 carries. The powerful runner may earn backup carries season and will likely vulture some goal-line TDs. James is currently going undrafted in most drafts, but if you can get him in the last round, he has major upside and could be an excellent handcuff at worst. If Martin is injured once again or falters, James may be in for a major workload. Don't be afraid to grab James late in your draft as he holds as much value as almost any other handcuff in the league if he holds off Sims and Rainey.
Rainey, after being considered the odd man out in the Tampa's backfield for most of this offseason, has recently made a major push for the No. 2 spot. He was actually listed as the RB2 on the Bucs' first official depth chart on Aug. 5 and was the second Bucs running back to play in Tampa Bay's preseason game Friday. This does not necessarily launch Rainey in to relevancy, but it's a huge step in the right direction. After Martin and James went down last season, he stepped in and played admirably. In nine games, he carried the ball 137 times for 532 yards and scored six total TDs. He did not finish strong, rushing for less than 100 combined yards in his last three games, and he was not nearly as impressive as James was as the starter. Still, Rainey has managed to show enough in camp that he is slotted as Martin's primary backup for the time being. You should still be very wary of Rainey; he may end up being the No. 4 RB in the Bucs' crowded backfield.