PewterReport.com continues its daily feature previewing the upcoming NFL Draft with position-by-position analysis. PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook analyzes what the Bucs have currently on their roster at each position and Trevor Sikkema provides a comprehensive overall ranking of the top players at that position going into the draft. Scott Reynolds makes his projections for Tampa Bay with PewterReport.com’s Bucs’ Best Bets – one early round pick, and one from the later rounds.

The series began with quarterbacks, and today brings the running back preview and Bucs’ Best Bets at that position.

WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT RUNNING BACK
The Bucs return the top two running backs that began the 2016 season. But boy have things changed in 12 months. A year ago, the last thing Tampa Bay was concerned about was their running game, something most felt was the strongest unit on the roster. With the NFL’s top running back duo in 2015, Doug Martin, who was coming off a Pro Bowl season and received a five-year contract extension worth $35.75 million, and Charles Sims back, there was good reason to believe the two would just continue where they left off the season before.

But a simple running play in Week 2 at Arizona changed things, as Martin went down with a hamstring injury that cost him a good part of the season. Insert Sims, who was given the opportunity to be a feature back but the experiment failed miserably. And then Sims was hurt against the Broncos, costing him a chunk of the 2016 season as well. The two injuries were a big reason the Bucs missed the playoffs, as most feel if they production of the 2015 season was the same in 2016, it certainly would have helped Tampa Bay’s offense and in turn caused the team to win a few more games. One more win would have gotten Tampa Bay into the postseason. 

RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

To make matters worse, when Martin did return late in the season he was largely ineffective, then was suspended by the NFL for four games, missing the last two games of the year – one due to Dirk Koetter making him inactive in Week 16 at New Orleans and the other due to violation of the NFL’s ban of performance enhancing drugs, which cost him the season finale against Carolina in Week 17. He finished the season with just 421 yards and three touchdowns.

It is hard to believe, but there is a small possibility that both Martin and Sims may not even be Buccaneers when the season begins, depending of course what happens in the upcoming NFL Draft and the months that follow. Depending on how much progress he shows in the offseason workouts, the Bucs may keep Martin all the way through his suspension, which ends after Week 3 of the 2017 campaign, or they may part ways him before or during training camp.

Tampa Bay re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers, who was on the street when the regular season began. Fortunately for the Bucs, the former Falcon was able to help somewhat salvage the season, leading the team in rushing with 560 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Tampa Bay also returns former Auburn rusher Peyton Barber, and on-and-off practice squad running back Russell Hansbrough. Tampa Bay also has former Alabama scrambling quarterback Blake Sims on the roster as a running back to start the 2017 offseason program, in addition to fullbacks Quayvon Hicks and Austin Johnson.

WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT RUNNING BACK
Where is Martin at physically and mentally? That will go a long way in determining the future of the position. If the team is convinced Martin is ready to rebound – and if they feel they can trust his personal demons are behind him after his stint in rehab – then having the former Pro Bowler on the roster is a luxury. But it most likely doesn’t prevent the Bucs from adding at least one running back in the draft, potentially in the first round. If Tampa Bay does in fact draft a running back early, then Martin’s days in Tampa Bay could be numbered. The Bucs obviously like what Rodgers brings to the table, evidenced by the team bringing him back on the first day of free agency even after he missed time last season with a foot injury. 

More than anything, the Bucs need to have running backs they can trust, and are more durable than than they had last season. Injuries are part of football, and it is hard to blame the players, but for whatever reason the Bucs were hit as hard with injuries at that position as they have in the 41-year history of the franchise.

CLICK PAGE 2 FOR THE RB RANKINGS

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BigSombrero
4 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this scouting report on the team needs and comparisons between the RB prospects PR Team.

WIth so much depth at the position the Bucs should be able to add to the room, but if they don’t I won’t fret. I like the stable of running backs they currently have rostered and know that if healthy, they could return to dominance…as is.

surferdudes
4 years ago

The draft can’t get here soon enough already. It should be held in March so the rooks can begin the off season work outs with their teams in April. The roller coaster ride you mention their draft stock is on is all media driven B.S.. As Licht mentioned yesterday scouts have been on these kids for years. The Bucs, like all other 31 teams draft boards have been set long ago. Only if a player gets busted, or injured doing another silly work out for some team will that change. Enjoy the best bets segment, but enough of the stock… Read more »

BigSombrero
Reply to  surferdudes
4 years ago

One example… Last year I really liked OL Jack Conklin. I thought he would be perfect for the Bucs at #9. Bucs needed a replacement for Mankins. He was mocked anywhere from #10 to the 20’s. The more teams researched him though, the more his STOCK rose. Tennessee traded up to #8 to draft him ahead of the Bucs. Of course, Tampa then traded back two spots and took VH3 and said he was the target all along. So, in essence surferdudes, stocks do rise and fall just like wall street. That is what makes the draft so much fun… Read more »

cgmaster27
Reply to  BucWild02
4 years ago

I’m still of the thought that the Bucs wanted Conklin all along and then Tennessee traded ahead of us to get him.

BigSombrero
Reply to  surferdudes
4 years ago

Also, NFL rules prevent college students to participate until their semester has ended. So having the draft in March wouldn’t help.

Devasher
Reply to  surferdudes
4 years ago

While it’s true that scouts have been on these players for years, however the scouts aren’t making the picks, the GM is with influence from the coaching staff. When you get the other people involved, you most definitely will see changes in preference of a player (stock up, stock down). So say SE Scout Brian Hudspeth really rates Marlon Mack highly, sees him as a first round value at RB and has been following him for years. Licht knows of Mack, among his many, many duties as GM and is aware of Brian’s glowing report, but then Dirk Koetter comes… Read more »

chetthevette
4 years ago

You said Mixon had other red flags, “among other things” exactly. What are those?
This looks to be a great RB class. Still hoping for Cook just because it would be entertaining to watch a Jameis and Dalvin reunion.
But you guys are right on with the Marlon Mack pick. Is our second pick to early do you think?
GO BUCS

BigSombrero
Reply to  chetthevette
4 years ago

A reunion? They barely played together. And I shudder to think of how many fumbles those two would combine for. Bucs need to create takeaways, not giveaways. Draft defense for Mike Smith who stayed.

chetthevette
Reply to  BucWild02
4 years ago

How ever short it is still a reunion, 2 Nole’s together again. And your right about the fumbles. It would be like kick ball out there. Still be fun to watch.
GO BUCS

BigSombrero
Reply to  chetthevette
4 years ago

Touche. I guess in the strictest sense of the word reunion, you would be correct sir.

Go Bucs!

Brobear
Reply to  BucWild02
4 years ago

Winston had Cook in the backfield for half of his college career. How is that barely playing together?

cgmaster27
Reply to  Brobear
4 years ago

Jameis only played with cook in Cook’s freshman season, when they lost to Oregon

VTBucs
4 years ago

I would think the BUCs would have to use their 2nd pick to draft Mack. I don’t think he’ll be there in the 3rd.

Buc 1976
Reply to  VTBucs
4 years ago

I agree VT. I think M MACK has more upside than Cook the reason is the shoulder injuries to D Cook. Also if you compare combine stats they are very similar.

surferdudes
4 years ago

Another dumb rule Bucwild, kids having to wait till their class graduates. Tennessee had that guard rated on their board at #8, and that’s where they went up and got him. You wanted the Bucs to grab him at #9. Just because the “experts” had him going anywhere from 10, to 20, doesn’t mean his stock rose any. Obviously Tenn moved up because they felt other teams had him rated higher then where the “experts” thought he would go. Since none of us, media included get to see any teams draft boards, it’s all just a dog, and pony show… Read more »

BigSombrero
Reply to  surferdudes
4 years ago

Interesting take surferdudes…thanks for sharing.

BTownBucFan
4 years ago

I look forward to these articles every year. Even back in the printed BucMag days. I would sit with that issue every draft weekend.

toofamiliar17
4 years ago

This is the potential issue with one piece being split up and written by different parts of the staff – if it isn’t planned well, you get directly conflicting pieces of information from one paragraph to the next. On the first page, whoever wrote that had Dalvin at #3 among RBs, saying that it clearly looks like he’s going to go late, maybe even the second round. Then, on the “Best Bets” page, you’ve got that writer saying that all of Fournette, Cook, and McCaffrey are likely to be off the board by our pick at 19. Can’t have that… Read more »

RootsCrew
RootsCrew
4 years ago

My theory is that unless Cook or McCarffrey falls to #19, any RB we draft is going to be a younger replacement for Sims, who can’t stay healthy/on the field. I just have a feeling Doug is going to be part of the team next year. They’ll restructure his deal & it’ll be a 3 headed RB committee. In that scenario, most likely won’t draft a RB until the 4th or 5th round. Hunt, Joe Williams, Brian Hill, McNichols & Mack all potentially fit that bill. The draft can’t get here soon enough.

Ken Grant
4 years ago

Please, please please, all I ask for in this draft is Kareem Hunt.