One note to take from the Bucs 2017 draft is the apparent vote of confidence in Doug Martin.
Three players were selected Friday night – Texas A&M’s Justin Evans, Penn State’s Chris Godwin and LSU’s Kendall Beckwith – and none of them were running backs. General manager Jason Licht was asked at his (midnight) press conference whether his decisions reaffirm the team’s commitment to Martin moving forward.
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
“Since Doug went through the situation that he’s been in – and it hasn’t been just the last two weeks – we’ve been happy with the trajectory that he’s on,” Licht said, referencing when Martin was in the facility earlier this month. “I’ve said that before but it’s the truth. He’s got the right mindset right now, looks good physically and we still have some time there. But just two years ago he was the second leading rusher in the NFL.”
Tampa Bay did address the running back position Saturday afternoon with the selection of Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols, but he will face a battle to make the roster, much less keep Martin off of it. Another clue the Bucs could be content to roll in Miami with Martin still on the roster: they didn’t sign free agents Adrian Peterson or Jamal Charles and they passed on Dalvin Cook and several other backs before selecting McNichols.
Licht also expressed confidence on Friday in Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims and Peyton Barber, three other backs who would presumably shoulder the load during Martin’s three game suspension.
After an All-Pro year in 2015, he played in just eight games last season, rushing for 421 yards while averaging 2.9 a carry. His fifth campaign ended in a suspension for violating the league’s drug policy and he later entered a treatment facility.
The series of events, and repercussions that followed, continue to leave doubt about his future in Tampa Bay. But, after passing on a few running back prospects, Martin’s place on the Bucs seems more likely now than it has at any point in 2017.
Licht deflected some of the media’s laser focus Friday night away from Martin and the running back position as a whole. He noted that Tampa Bay is far from setting its first depth chart, at any spot. But the Bucs GM seemed optimistic about the sixth-year back’s hopeful rebound.
“With Doug, we’re just going to keep on pace, keep monitoring,” Licht said. “We’ve had great conversations with him. We still have a few rounds left here. There could be a back, there could be a wide receiver, there could be any position really. Until you get them in here – until you get first-hand knowledge of (a player) in the meeting rooms and, more importantly, out there on the field and in preseason games – you can’t predict if anyone is going to beat anyone out. But what I would say right now is that we’re very happy with how things are going with Doug.
“Within the building, we feel comfortable with our guys – and that includes Doug.”