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Monday, June 9, 2014

The Curious Case of Doug Martin

Personally, one of the hardest running backs to rank for the upcoming 2014 season is Doug Martin. I imagine if you do your own personal rankings (which all fantasy football players should), he will be hard to rank for you as well. Martin ended his 2012 rookie campaign scoring the most points out of any running back not named Adrian Peterson. However, about 18% of his total fantasy value in 2012 came off of one game- which he scored 51 points. Then came 2013, which was marred by injury early on and a lack of productivity when he was healthy. In 5 full games in 2013, he only had 1 TD and one game of rushing for over 100 yards. So will the real Doug Martin please stand up?

In this article I'd like to just address the points I've been hearing about Doug Martin. I don't know that there will be a clear answer on where you should rank Doug Martin, because I think at the end of the day, there's just too small of a sample size to truly accurately predict how Doug Martin will perform in 2014.


Currently, I have Doug Martin ranked behind Rams RB Zac Stacy and Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell. A friend of mine (and it just so happened to be the person who defeated me in the finals last year) saw this ranking and asked me, "Doug Martin's a more talented running back than either Bell, and especially Stacy, right?"

Martin certainly comes with the pedigree as he was a first round draft pick in 2012 and the second RB off the board. However, pedigree doesn't necessarily equate to talent. The first running back drafted in 2012 was Trent Richardson, and after two full seasons of evaluating his on-the-filed talent, he looks awful. Mark Ingram, Reggie Bush (at least early in his career), and Jahvid Best are all first round draft picks of recent years that were not productive in the NFL. 

Arian Foster went undrafted and has had a stellar NFL career. Zac Stacy was a 5th round draft pick that looked like one of NFL's best- and in a system where no other RB flourished. 

Now with all of that being said, I do think Doug Martin is talented. You don't get to have the rookie season Martin had without having SOME talent. Now is he more talented than guys like Zac Stacy or Le'Veon Bell? Maybe, maybe not. I just don't know that we've seen enough of Martin to know if he's reached his true potential or what his "true" talent level is. And I think that's part of the problem when it comes to ranking him.


First of all, every game counts. It's not like Martin rushed for 251 yards with 4 TDs in an exhibition game. If you started Doug Martin that week against the Raiders in 2012, you absolutely won your week. However, I understand the sentiment. Scoring 51 points in a game is an unsustainable outlier. When trying to predict how a player will perform, it's best not to look at the outlier, because they are by their very nature random and not repeatable. Therefore, what I've tried to do is to normalize the outlier to see how "truly" good Martin's 2012 campaign was. 

So what I've done to "normalize" Doug Martin's 51 point game is I've turned the "51" into a "20". Here is my logic behind that. First, Doug Martin was going to have a great game against the Oakland Raiders that week. You can't completely erase the "51" completely because Doug Martin was going to run well that particular week and he was going to help his fantasy owners. Secondly, I picked "20" because outside of his 51 point day, the most points he ever scored in a given week was "19"- which he did twice. By giving Martin 20 points instead of 51, I'm still giving him credit for having his best fantasy week ever, while also giving him a realistic fantasy number well within his (and the league's) range of outcomes. 

Even you if you subtract 31 points from Doug Martin's overall 2012 numbers, he still would have ended up as the 5th best RB of 2012. Martin finished 2012 with 262.60 points, just 0.50 points better than Arian Foster. If you subtract 31 points from that total, you'd end up with 231.60 points, which means he would have been 10 points behind now 4th place Alfred Morris and still 9.5 points better behind 6th place Ray Rice. 


When Martin was officially deemed out of the year, Mike James stepped up to the plate, and when he went out for the year, Bobby Rainey became the starter. On ESPN's Fantasy Focus podcast, Nate Ravitz and Matthew Berry discuss how productive Rainey and James were in Martin's absence. I think this might be an example of selective memory.

Mike James started two full games, finished a game for Martin after the injury, and started a third game but got injured after 5 carries. In that four game span, James never got a touchdown, and only broke 50 yards once. Against Seattle, an extremely tough opponent, Mike James rushed for 158 yards, but he also got 28 carries. Granted, that's still over 5 yards per carry, but Doug Martin also had a 5+ YPC/140+ yards/25+ carry game as well. 

Bobby Rainey started 7 game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played a significant amount of time in the 8th after Mike James got injured. Rainey had two 5+ YPC/ 120+ yards/25+ carry games, but he also had a significant amount of stinkers as well. In five out of the seven games Rainey started, he failed to rush for over 65 yards and in four of those games he failed to rush for over 35 yards. Rainey only scored a touchdown once out of those five non 5/120/25 games as well. 

It's possible that Doug Martin would have done better in the clunker games that Rainey and James had and would have at least done just as well in the games that Rainey and James did well. It's entirely within the realm of possibility that the Buccaneers had great blocking and schemes in certain games, and Doug Martin would have taken advantage of that just like Rainey and James did. Or maybe the pattern of having great games mixed in with some terrible games was just the Buccaneers M.O. In Martin's 5 games, he had two good fantasy days and three terrible ones. That trend seemed to repeat for both James and Rainey. 

Frankly, though, I think you need to discard Rainey and James from the Doug Martin equation, and I think it's foolish to say those guys "ran better" than Doug Martin did.


Tampa Bay didn't waste any time firing Greg Schiano and hiring former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith this past off season. Smith in turn hired Cal's coach Jeff Tedford to be the Bucs offensive coordinator. Honestly, there are multiple story lines that can be construed with these two coaching decisions that we'll just have to wait to see what they actually do. Lovie Smith is known as a "run first" guy, and as a life long Chicago Bears fan, I can attest to this. However, the Bears, specifically under Matt Forte and Lovie Smith, were never ones to be successful at rushing for touchdowns. Between 2008 and 2012, the Chicago Bears were either average or below average in rushing TDs per game and rushing touchdown percentage according to Team Rankings. 

On the other hand, Jeff Tedford is considered a QB guru and with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, it's possible the Bucs just throw it all over opponents. If that's the case, does Doug Martin lose carries because the Bucs throw instead of run?

But to bring it full circle, you can look to Matt Forte and the 2013 Chicago Bears with a QB guru in the coaching staff and coincidentally, the same QB (both Forte last year and Martin in 2014 will have Josh McCown under center). Last year, Forte his best rushing year ever. Forte scored the most rushing touchdowns in his career (9) and tied his career in total touchdowns (12). In turns out, by throwing the ball a lot, it opens up some running lanes. 

Either way, I think Doug Martin will get significant carries and that in turn is a recipe for fantasy success. Whether the Bucs are a run-first or a pass-first team, I think that will be irrelevant for Martin. As long as he's "the guy" he'll be fine. 

By the way, I can guarantee you that Martin will be "the guy" for the Buccaneers next year. The notion that the Bucs drafted a RB decently high in 2014 and the fact that this current staff technically has "no loyalty" to Martin means nothing to me. As much as we don't know what Doug Martin's "true talent" is, he's by far and away the most talented running back on the roster, and unless he's injured, he's going to get carries like he's a starter.


Currently, I have Doug Martin ranked as my 11th best running back. However, I'm constantly flip flopping on Doug Martin. I'm sure he'll move up and down a million times between now and early September. I will say this though, Doug Martin will not be on any of my teams. I like to pick risk averse players early on and Doug Martin is too risky for my blood. He may very well be a top 5 RB next year, but he won't be a top running back for my team. But that's just my own personal preference.


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