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.
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.
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.
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.