FAB 3. KOETTER NEEDS CATCHERS OUT OF THE BACKFIELD
There are a slew of very good running backs in the 2017 NFL Draft, and that’s good news for a team like Tampa Bay that needs a new, young runner as Doug Martin is likely on the way out after a bad season in which he was suspended four games for drug use. Three of those suspended games will come at the start of the 2017 season.

Three running backs could be drafted in the first round and a total of 10 could be gone by the third round. According to NFLDraftScout.com, as many as 25 running backs carry draftable grades.

But you can cross about half of them off because they don’t have good hands and didn’t demonstrate that they could reliably catch the ball in college. To play running back in Dirk Koetter’s offense a player has to be able to catch the ball. That not only adds diversity and another dimension to the running back’s ability, it also keeps defenses honest and prevents them from keying on running plays.

Bucs RB Charles Sims - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Getty Images

Martin doesn’t have the best hands, but he did catch 49 passes for 472 yards and a touchdown during his rookie season. In his first season in Koetter’s offense in 2015, Martin caught 33 passes for 271 yards (8.2 avg.) and one touchdown, in addition to 14 passes for 134 yards in eight games last season.

Charles Sims is the designated pass-catching running back, hauling in 51 receptions for 561 yards (11 avg.) and four touchdowns, which were tied for the team-high in 2015. Sims wound up as the second-leading receiver in Tampa Bay in 2015 behind Mike Evans, who had 74 catches. Despite playing in just seven games last year, Sims caught 24 passes for 190 yards (7.9 avg.) and one touchdown, which came in Week 1 in Tampa Bay’s 31-24 win at Atlanta.

Yet after rushing for 529 yards on 107 carries (4.9 avg.) in 2015 as a complementary back, the team found out that Sims isn’t much of a threat as a running back as he regressed in that area last year. Sims rushed for 149 yards and one touchdown on 51 carries (2.9 avg.) in 2016 when given the chance to start for the injured Martin.

Jacquizz Rodgers, the team’s leading rusher last year with 560 yards and two touchdowns on 129 carries (4.3 avg.), caught 13 passes for 98 yards (7.5 avg.) and has decent hands. So when scouting running backs for Tampa Bay, look for backs that can catch the ball because it’s a big part of Koetter’s offense.

That’s what rates Florida State’s Dalvin Cook higher in Tampa Bay than LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Cook had 33 receptions for 488 yards (14.8 avg.) and one touchdown last year, and 79 catches for 935 yards and two touchdowns in his career. Fournette had just 41 catches for 526 and one score in his entire Tigers career.

Stanford’s McCaffrey was even more productive as a receiver with 99 catches for 1,206 yards (12.2 avg.) and 10 touchdowns in his career. As a sophomore, McCaffrey had 45 receptions for 645 yards (14.3 avg.) and five touchdowns, including a 75-yarder. That has to excite Koetter.

Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey – Photo by: Getty Images

Receiving ability is what has Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon and Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara ranked as high as the second round. Mixon rushed for 1,274 yards and 10 touchdowns this year while splitting carries with Samaje Perine, but hauled in 28 catches for 538 yards (14.5 avg.) and five scores. He totaled 65 receptions for 894 yards and nine TDs in his two years with the Sooners.

Kamara split time with Jalen Hurd at Tennessee, but caught 40 passes for 392 yards (9.8 avg.) and four touchdowns. In his two years for the Volunteers, Kamara had 74 catches for 683 yards and seven scores.

Some NFL scouts view Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel as a running back, while some view him as a wide receiver. The 5-foot-11, 197-pound Buckeye did both in his career, totaling 1,286 yards and 15 touchdowns on 172 carries, while catching 107 passes for 1,249 yards and seven touchdowns. Samuel lined up at both positions and has some of the best hands among this year’s group of running backs – if that’s what he ends up playing in the NFL.

Receiving ability puts Boise State junior Jeremy McNichols in play for Tampa Bay in the middle rounds. He rushed for 1,709 yards and 23 touchdowns this year, giving him 3,205 yards and 44 scores in his Broncos career. But he also caught 103 passes for 1,089 yards and 11 touchdowns.

USF’s Marlon Mack had three 1,000-yard seasons for the Bulls and has intriguing breakaway speed for a 6-foot, 210-pound back. Mack, a mid-round pick, has decent hands and had plenty of opportunities to catch the ball, evidenced by 65 career catches, including 28 last year, but didn’t do much with them. He totaled 498 yards and one touchdown, but averaged just 7.6 yards per reception.

Toledo’s Kareem Hunt didn’t have many opportunities to catch the ball earlier in his career with just 32 catches in his first three seasons for 152 yards. But as the Rockets’ playbook opened up during his senior year, he demonstrated his receiving ability by catching 41 passes for 403 yards (9.8 avg.), including a 71-yard touchdown.

There are a couple of late-round receiving options at the running back position. San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, the FBS all-time leading rusher with 6,405 yards and 62 touchdowns for the Aztecs, was also an accomplished receiver. He caught 100 passes – and no fewer than 22 in a season – for 1,041 yards and five scores.

NC State RB Matthew Dayes – Photo by: Getty Images

Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire was a steady receiver with 129 catches in his career and no fewer than 22 in a season. He totaled 1,383 yards receiving and had 10 touchdown catches to go along with his

North Carolina State’s Matthew Dayes had 98 catches for 933 yards and six touchdowns and is a third-down back at the next level.

Because the Bucs might not only want to replace Martin, but also Sims, who is entering a contract year, drafting a running back that can play on all three downs is a must in Tampa Bay. Keep that in mind while scouting running backs, draftniks.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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yuccaneers

Scott – I am guessing, the team has fully boughten into, Tyler Oberly, the team’s Manager of Analytics, Elitics Model, that uses his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) index to help determine a price point for each of the teams free agents based on, the following snippet from you Fab 5 column……. “This is typically done through statistical analysis of a player’s stats with his age, previous contract and overall value to the team (leadership, work ethic, locker room character, age, etc.) factored in.” – in essences, it gives the team a singular grade or point scale – which is then… Read more »

macabee

I get It, you get it! But we got some work to do at home with poppa Koetter. You know he’s the boss! lol.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2588754-dirk-koetter-says-he-doesnt-trust-buccaneers-analytics-department

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JasonOfthetower

Been a fan of McCaffrey for a while now. He’s my draft crush. I’d love to see him in Pewter and Red, but I don’t know if they pull the trigger at 19.

Personally, I don’t think he makes it out of the first round.

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Bucnut2

Totally agree

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cgmaster27

Loving this RB centric Fab 5. I for one am in for cook if he falls to us of course, which would be a small miracle. It all depends on free agency at this point. I am not for trading up too far to get him either as we need picks. If he’s still there like two spots ahead of us, make a move and get him. As for McCaffrey, I’m not a big fan. I wouldn’t mind getting him if we traded back, but not at 19. He’s too small for my liking. He’ll end up going to New… Read more »

jongruden

CG- saying ” I want Cook” doesn’t surprise me since this would be 3rd yr in a row you wanted a Nole in the first round ha I will have to watch FSU Games next yr to see who you want for us in first round next yr, lol Mark Cook will have a whole article dedicated to this as well, I rather get wr Corey Davis who is a beast and is a do it all wr. or I can be on board with OJ Howard as well

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cgmaster27

Jon good to see you take a break from the Arizona team site to pay us folk at pewter report a visit. Haha As for wanting Jalen Ramsey last year, look at any sites rankings and he was the best rookie DB taken last year. Look at Jameis’ rookie season, it speaks for itself. As for cook, there’s a reason he’s number one back in some boards ahead of Fournette. If he’s there at 19 it would be complete stupid not to take him. I’ve stated a couple times I would take Corey Davis all day if he’s there. But… Read more »

scubog

JonnyG: The FSU players we would like to see in red and pewter is because they are good, not because they wore garnet and gold. Maybe if you observed the aforementioned trio during their college careers you too would have trumpeted their virtues. There once was this little LB who some saw as a Safety. He was a “tweener”. Those of us fortunate enough to watch #10 play knew whichever position he was given he’d be a star. He settled at LB, was given #55 and was pretty good. Sometimes, even though you live in the desert, you come off… Read more »

jongruden

FSU Fans are bias to their fore mentioned players forget about the other rb’s like Fournette and McCaffery get FSU Back Cook. I have see countless articles written By FSU Fan Mark Cook for campaigning for his Nole Players in the past like that’s the only school in the country, just calling it like I see “You Can’t handle the truth”- A few good men So I’m a New Yorker now? Ha ok, whatever Scu very few so called fans on this web site or in Tampa know as much of the Bucs as I do and you know this.… Read more »

Bucnut2

SR another GREAT fab 5. thank you. I love MacCaffrey and would not be upset if we take him at 10 even though that might be a reach. The guy can flat out play. I like hunt as well and agree with your comment on Jones. Thanks again Scott.

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Brandonges

I feel like McCaffrey is going to be overdrafted. He should be a nifty utility player, but I don’t see him as an NFL bell cow back (despite the number of college carries listed in the article). Unless Dalvin Cook or Fournette fall (they won’t), I don’t think there is a back worthy of taking at 19. I read an extended piece on Obi Melifonwu recently and this kid is intriguing. Incredible size/speed and good production. I think if Mike Williams and Corey Davis are off the board and an elite DE doesn’t fall, this guy should be the pick.… Read more »

surferdudes

With talent at R.B. deep in this draft, seems no doubt we will up grade an area of need. Why not McCaffery in the first, Hunt in the third? That would be a young cheep dynamic duo moving forward. You could even play them together, moving McCaff all over the field. Draft a good receiver in the second, and we got some fire power.

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Naplesfan

I think the Bucs would be crazy to take any running back in the first round, the position simply doesn’t merit a first round pick. In this particular draft which is heavy on talent at several offensive positions, including running backs, I’d prefer to see the Bucs wait til Day 3 to take any RB. I know that PR writers and quite a few commenters here seem to be seriously intent on digging Martin’s grave, but I am still not convinced the Bucs are going to just cut him. His NFL career is not over til it’s over, he’s still… Read more »

thewbacca

I agree. Keep Martin at a fair contract based on incentive. I think McCaffrey is more at his ceiling than OJ Howard and Corey Davis, they have way more upside.

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Naplesfan

By the way, I saw a report today on si.com by Alan Schechter that Roy Cummings was told by the Bucs they intend to hold on to Martin for the foreseeable future. They are not required to make any decisions on him until he completes the third suspended game of the 2017 season … they can void his contract at any point until then and he won’t count against the cap. So basically, they can have him practice and play in the pre-season, no matter whom they draft of pick up in free agency, wait and see who’s actually performing… Read more »

plopes808

That’s great news! I still hope we keep him and he makes a comeback though.

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scubog

That is exactly what I’ve said the Bucs will do with Doug Martin. No need to break up with your girlfriend until you’ve secured another date to the Prom.

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thewbacca

Scott you really make me wish Tampa would draft every player you feature on the Fab 5. I still think Corey Davis will be a gem in the NFL but will be unavailable when the Bucs pick. I think the best mix would be: OJ Howard, Budda Baker, and Kareem Hunt.

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plopes808

IF Cook is there at 19, I’d be for taking him. But I’m torn between that option and trading back, getting McCaffrey AND an extra pick. Lucky for us, the Cook option will likely be off the table by the time we pick. I could also see us grabbing a DE, but with the depth of this draft BPA seems like our best route either way. We have enough holes right now that just about any position we hit will fill a need. Licht will get us some good pieces again this year and push us closer to being consistent… Read more »

drdneast

I agree with you 100 percent about Martin, Naplesfan. I am so tired of the media and fans screaming for the team to cut a valuable resource every time a player does something worse than get a traffic ticket in public. Generally it is the same people who whine and cry about Buc management letting the player go and calling them stupid when the player returns to his All Pro level of a play less than a year later. Martin is doing all the right things to return to the Bucs including checking into a rehab facility. If ASJ had… Read more »

scubog

I don’t disagree with your point about retaining Doug Martin through Training Camp and then making an evaluation of him just like any other hopeful trying to make the roster. I know this much, a repeat of his poor 2016 season this August would be disastrous if Licht doesn’t have a viable replacement to be the lead back.

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kram0789

I don’t think RB is one of our top 3 needs on offense. WR, OL and TE in that order. WR is the obviouse no.1 need. OL is second because we have to protect Winston and we have to open holes for the RB’s. Last year our line was exposed as mediocre. Especially in our losses we were unable to run block and pass protect adequately. No matter how good the skill players are, if we can’t run block and pass protect the offense is going to be inconsistent at best. I think that describes the 2016 Bucs offense. Tight… Read more »

surferdudes

Don’t get the love for Druggie Martin. Even if they kept him, he wouldn’t be able to play until week four. Then he would need time to get into playing shape. This draft is loaded with young cheap legs, the Bucs will draft at least one back, resign Rodgers, and have Barber compete with at least one undrafted walk on. Guy’s like a lost love, let Martin go.

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chetthevette

Good Fab 5 as usual. Why do people think that a new running back will suddenly turn the running game into the juggernaut we fielded 2 years ago. What the difference was and still is one player. Logan Mankins. If Sweezy is as good of run blocker as advertised all our current players can gain big yardage. I can’t see McCaffery lasting more than a couple of years as the bell cow back. NFL linebackers and safeties will make mincemeat out of him. Our #1 pick should be a slam dunk, not some “I hope this works” pick. I’m now… Read more »

GoldsonAges

RB’s are a dime a dozen. I would draft 1 or even 2 and move on from the aging injury prone Martin and Sims. We need to get some young blood in here at rb

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drdneast

You are spot on about the loss of Makin’s resulting in our porous offensive line last year. Surferdudes is the exact type of “fan” I was talking about. He will be the first to call Bucs management stupid if they cut him and he goes on to excel elsewhere. Don’t think for a minute Martin is going to take a huge pay cut from the Bucs in order to run behind an offensive line like last year. He has his pride. Would you take $3 million from the Bucs to run behind last years offensive line or $3 million to… Read more »

scubog

I agree with you that holding onto Doug Martin, albeit with some renegotiated contract terms through his three game suspension, is the smart thing to do. At that point it will be like the hotel commercial “Should he stay or should he go?” I don’t think there are many teams out there who would see Doug Martin’s 2.9 yds/carry, frequent injuries, unnamed drug use, hefty salary and be too eager to sign him in hopes that he can play like he did in 2015. He probably knows his best chance is here. When a guy off the street (Rodgers) who… Read more »

Glen Davies

Aloha from Big Island, Hawaii. A point that’s been bugging me for decades is this…so much of sports injuries are unavoidable. That is, dumb bad luck. It doesn’t get near the coverage that the player is/has become “unreliable” Jameis could be labeled that in any offensive play, @ any time (ask Bo Jackson or Joe Theisman). Bret Favre started > 210 consecutive games. Barry Sanders was the only Detroit offensive threat, yet Kiffin couldn’t stop him. Barry was smaller, as this column points out, and very talented, and lucky. As quarterback, all Jameis can do is rotate his shoulder when… Read more »