2017 Fantasy Football Running Backs: The Bucs Backfield
Training camps are now open and Doug Martin's suspension presents unique opportunities for others. Dan Malin breaks down the players worth taking late in your drafts!
Training camps are in full swing and after a couple player profiles it’s time to focus on one backfield in particular: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The backfield is headlined by Doug Martin with Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Peyton Barber, and rookie Jeremy McNichols rounding out the group. Without a doubt it’s one of the more intriguing backfields in all of the NFL largely due to the opportunities that will present themselves to the lesser-known players.
Doug Martin is set to miss the first 3 games of the season as he’s serving a suspension for a wellness policy violation. This opens the door for somebody to make waves in those 3 games against the Dolphins, Bears, and Vikings. In 2016 those teams gave up 140.4, 121.9, and 106.9 rushing yards per game respectively. So there is certainly an opportunity for somebody to make an impact during Martin’s absence.
What’s especially unique about this situation is the Bucs have expressed hesitancy in the past to fully commit to Martin. The Muscle Hamster has posted 2 seasons with more than 1,400 rushing yards. But he’s also posted 3 seasons with less than 500 rushing yards. Consistency is obviously a big concern for him. After an explosive 2015 season, Martin was rewarded with a 5-year deal that would lock him up with the Bucs through 2020. So you may think that because of the remaining years on the deal, Tampa Bay is forced to stick with him, right? Wrong.
Because of his suspension at the end of the 2016 season, Martin forfeited $15 million in guaranteed money. He’s shown up to camp in great shape and the front office is pleased with what he’s done so far. But recent comments from GM Jason Licht suggest that Martin’s job might not be secure when he returns week 4 against the Giants (which is a horrible fantasy matchup by the way).
Here’s a look at the current ADP’s for Tampa’s notable running backs:
- Doug Martin (RB 28): 70th overall
- Jacquizz Rodgers (RB 49): 149th overall
- Charles Sims (RB 69): 227th overall
- Jeremy McNichols (RB 73): 237th overall
- Peyton Barber: Mostly going undrafted
So for the first three games of the season, there is an opportunity to grab a running back in the later rounds of your draft that could potentially bring you value in the first few weeks.
By The Numbers
Taking a peak at last season can shed some light on how the first few games could unfold in the Bucs’ backfield. Martin missed 8 games last year, and even when he did play he didn’t have a single 100-yard rushing game. He averaged a career-worst 2.9 yards per attempt when given the ball. And yes, he missed half the season but also saw the fewest targets of his career in 2016. Outside of his two great seasons where he managed to stay healthy, Martin typically sees only 2 targets per game. With the emergence of Sims, there’s been less reliance on Martin as a pass-catcher.
By comparison, Jacquizz Rodgers also missed some playing time, but he stepped up when Martin was out. In Weeks 5, 7, 8, and 16 (all games Martin missed) Rodgers would record at least 13 points in PPR formats in each of those games. Most importantly is that when Martin is out the Bucs aren’t afraid to feed Rodgers. In those same 4 games last season, and in addition Week 17, with Martin out Rodgers was able to secure at least 15 touches in each of those five games. In two games where he totaled over 100 rushing yards he touched the ball 25+ times in both games. He had only 13 catches total last season and 5 of those came in 1 game so he’ll be relied on more in the ground game.
Even in PPR Rodgers will likely still be drafted above Sims, but Tampa will look to Sims as the pass-catching option out of the backfield the first 3 weeks. Sims himself managed to miss 9 games last season, but what’s comforting is that even when Martin was healthy Sims would still get work. Sims production, unlike Rodgers, isn’t as dependent on Martin’s status, but rather its reliant on his own health. Sims will typically see 4-5 targets per game and in the 7 games he did appear in last season Sims hauled in at least 3 catches in 6 of them.
Peyton Barber is viewed more as a short-yardage running back. He’s pretty thick and can fight for a few yards without putting any other running back at risk. Jeremy McNichols will be worth keeping an eye on during training camp since it’s no guarantee he’ll find reps early on. The two most popular candidates to earn snaps in the backfield are easily Rodgers and Sims. Rodgers, regardless of format, should be taken before Sims as he could see 15-18 touches in the first 3 games. Sims will be worth using a flyer on with a very late pick.
Now it's also worth noting that Tampa Bay has a pretty bad offensive line. Martin's suspension and struggles to run the ball effectively last year with this group are cause for concern. However, don't let this deter you from taking Rodgers or Sims in the later rounds. Late round draft picks are meant for players with upside. Rodgers, especially, has an opportunity to help fantasy owners out with a heavy workload early on.