After selecting Alabama strong safety Mark Barron with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Tampa Bay traded up into the first round with Denver to take Boise State running back Doug Martin with the 31st overall pick. New head coach Greg Schiano coached running back Ray Rice at Rutgers and envisioned Martin, who at 5-foot-9, 215 pounds has a similar build to the Pro Bowler, as being a Rice clone.
While Martin has beat out LeGarrette Blount, a two-year starter at running back, for the starting job in Tampa Bay, he has yet to show he is a special running back worthy of being drafted in the first round through the first three games of the 2012 regular season. And he’s certainly not in Rice’s class yet.
Rice, who is Rutgers' all-time leading rusher with 4,926 yards, has rushed for 4,645 yards over his five-year career with the Ravens, and has averaged 4.6 yards per carry since entering the league in 2008. He is currently averaging 5.8 yards per carry in 2012, with 268 yards and three touchdowns on 46 carries.
It should be noted that Martin is currently the leading rookie rusher in the NFL through Week 3 with 63 carries for 214 yards (3.4 avg.) and one touchdown. The only other rookie running back who is starting this year is Cleveland’s Trent Richardson, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Richardson, who is second in the NFL among rookie running backs, has rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns in 50 carries (3.5 avg.), and has also caught 11 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown.
Richardson’s best game came in Week 2 against Cincinnati when Richardson had 109 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries (5.7 avg.) and also posted four catches for 36 yards and a score. Martin came close to rushing for 100 yards in his NFL debut against Carolina, a 16-10 victory for Tampa Bay, but has seen his rushing production decline each week.
What is holding Martin back from even better statistics is the lack of consistent, big, breakout runs. He did rip off a 17-yard gain at Dallas, which was the longest of his young NFL career. But take away that run and Martin averaged just 2.0 yards per carry against the Cowboys on Sunday.
The Bucs are obviously still high on Martin despite an underwhelming start that has seen other rookie running backs in franchise history accomplish much more through their first three starts in terms of rushing average, big runs and touchdowns. Here is a look at the last five rookie rushers, including Martin, to start for the Buccaneers and how they fared in order in their first three games with at least eight carries.Cadillac Williams’ rushing production – first 3 starts in 2005
27 carries for 148 yards (5.5 avg.) with a 71-yard touchdown run
24 carries for 128 yards (5.3 avg.) and a touchdown with a long of 31 yards
37 carries for 158 yards (4.3 avg.) with a long of 26 yardsWarrick Dunn’s rushing production – first 3 starts in 1997
Eight carries for 37 yards (4.6) with a long of 15 yards
24 carries for 130 yards (5.4) and two touchdowns with a long of 49 yards
16 carries for 101 yards (6.3) with a 52-yard touchdown runLeGarrette Blount’s rushing production – first 3 starts in 2010
11 carries for 72 yards (6.5 avg.) with a long of 17 yards
22 carries for 120 yards (5.5 avg.) and two touchdowns with a long of 48 yards
13 carries for 46 yards (3.5 avg.) with a long of 21 yardsDoug Martin’s rushing production – first 3 starts in 2012
24 carries for 95 yards (4.0 avg.) with a long of 15 yards
20 carries for 66 yards (3.3 avg.) and one TD with a long of 12 yards
19 carries for 53 yards (2.8 avg.) with a long of 17 yardsErrict Rhett’s rushing production – first 3 starts in 1992
11 carries for 49 yards (4.5) with a long of 12 yards
13 carries for 36 yards (2.8) with a long of 7 yards
15 carries for 34 yards (2.3) with a long of 7 yardsBucs rookie RB performances over first three games with at least 8 carries
Williams – 88 carries for 434 yards (4.9 avg.) and two touchdowns
Dunn – 48 carries for 268 yards (5.6 avg.) and two touchdowns
Blount – 46 carries for 238 yards (5.2 avg.) and two touchdownsMartin – 63 carries for 214 yards (3.4 avg.) and one touchdown
Rhett – 39 carries for 119 yards (3.1 avg.) and no touchdowns
In analyzing the statistics of all five rushers, the thing that stands out is the lack of a big run for Martin. Not only did Williams, Dunn and Blount all have a run over 20 yards, which is something Martin hasn’t accomplished yet, all three displayed big-play ability with a run over 40 yards, too.
The concern for the Buccaneers might be Martin’s lack of speed, as his statistical start puts him in a class with Rhett more so than faster Tampa Bay running backs like Dunn and Williams. Even in the preseason, Martin’s lack of breakaway speed was evident as his longest play was only a 10-yard run, and his longest catch traveled just seven yards.
Through three games in the regular season and three in the preseason, Martin’s longest play from scrimmage has been his 17-yard dash at Dallas, and unfortunately for the Bucs, he hasn’t shown an elite burst or acceleration that Rice possesses. Rice ran a 4.47 at the Combine and a 4.42 at his pro day before he was drafted in the second round by Baltimore in 2008. Martin ran a 4.55 at the Combine and did not run the 40-yard dash again at his pro day at Boise State this past spring.
Martin was a model of consistency his last two years for the Broncos, rushing for 1,260 yards and 12 touchdowns on 201 carries (6.3 avg.) as a junior and 1,299 yards and 16 scores on 263 carries (4.9 avg.) as a senior. Yet he was the only running back that was taken in the first four rounds that didn’t average at least five yards per carry.2011 rushing averages of the RBs drafted in the first four rounds in 2012
First round – Alabama RB Trent Richardson – 5.93 avg.First round – Boise State RB Doug Martin – 4.94 avg.
First round – Virginia Tech RB David Wilson – 5.89 avg.
Second round – Cincinnati Isaiah Pead – 5.31 avg.
Second round – Oregon LaMichael James – 7.31 avg.
Third round – San Diego State Ronnie Hillman – 5.50 avg.
Third round – Temple RB Bernard Pierce – 5.42 avg.
Fourth round – Miami (FL) RB Lamar Miller – 5.60 avg.
Fourth round – Utah State RB Robert Turbin – 6.09 avg.
The truth is that neither Martin nor Blount really shined in the first three preseason games that each rusher played in. The rookie carried the ball 27 times for 97 yards (3.6 avg.) and scored two touchdowns, while Blount had 22 carries for 63 yards (2.9 avg.) and scored once. Martin’s longest run in the preseason was only a 10-yard run.
Martin did show more ability as a receiver out of the backfield, catching four passes for 19 yards (4.8 avg.) and was solid in pass protection during the preseason, and that was the deciding factor in him being named the starter over Blount, who had just one catch for three yards in the preseason and has struggled protecting quarterback Josh Freeman when called upon to do so.
But Tampa Bay needs more big plays and production from its first-round pick. If the Bucs feel like he is ready to start than he needs to produce like a starting running back regardless of the fact that he’s a rookie or not. Gaining less yardage in each of the three games is a trend that Martin needs to reverse in a hurry as Tampa Bay’s once promising 1-0 start to the 2012 season has turned into a 1-2 record with the 1-2 Washington Redskins coming to town.
While the Bucs have two new starting offensive linemen on the right side in tackle Demar Dotson and Ted Larsen, who is replacing injured Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph, that can’t be used as an excuse of Martin’s lack of big runs as the team still has Pro Bowl blockers in left tackle Donald Penn and left guard Carl Nicks. Center Jeremy Zuttah has also played well at the start of the 2012 season, justifying the four-year, $16.3-million contract extension he signed this offseason. Tampa Bay still has plenty of talent up front to block and create holes for Martin.
Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has to do a better job of getting Martin outside where his quickness can be used to make defenders miss and pick up bigger chunks of yardage. Against Dallas, Martin was used between the tackles too much, especially on first downs, and wasn't able to average more than two yards per carry doing so.
Martin’s lack of elite speed may put his career track in Tampa Bay on a similar path to that of Rhett’s rather than Williams or Dunn. But it should be noted that Rhett had a successful rookie season, rushing for 1,011 yards and seven touchdowns on 284 carries (3.6 avg.) with a long of 27 yards.
As a rookie, Rhett’s bright spot was lighting up the Washington Redskins for 192 yards and one touchdown on 40 carries (4.8 avg.), but his longest run of that game was only 23 yards in Tampa Bay’s 26-21 victory. The Bucs would love to have Martin have a similar type of break out game this week against the Redskins.
Until Martin can show he can break off 20-yard runs consistently, along with a run of 40 yards or more, the comparisons to Rice need to be shelved. If Martin can’t make the big plays that the Buccaneers envisioned him doing when the team traded back into the first round to select him, Blount, who averaged 4.9 yards on his four carries on Saturday at Dallas and 4.6 yards per carry over his first two years in the NFL, could reclaim the starting job at some point this season.
So Martin better start impressing – fast.
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