FAB 2. Bucs Running Game Is Grounded
Almost a year ago I suggested that it was time to blow up the Bucs’ backfield and start over at running back in a previous SR’s Fab 5 column. I questioned whether or not Doug Martin could rebound into form as a 1,000-yard rusher following his rehab and subsequent suspension, and wondered whether Charles Sims could stay healthy and be more productive in a contract year.
With Tampa Bay’s season nearly three-fourths complete, Martin has rushed for 376 yards and two touchdowns with a 3.2-yard average along with seven catches for 60 yards, while Sims has rushed for 57 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry along with 26 catches for 178 yards (6.8 avg.) and one touchdown.
Martin, who will turn 29 next year, is set to make $6.75 million next year, which is way too much for a player that might struggle to reach 600 yards rushing this season. Martin’s suspension last year voided the guaranteed money in his contract, which means the Bucs can cut him next year without any salary cap hit if they choose.
Jacquizz Rodgers’ 217 yards (3.6 avg.) and one touchdown, and Peyton Barber’s 88 yards (2.9 avg.) and two touchdowns haven’t shown they are the tonic to what ails the running game, either.
“In my opinion, [Martin] is not the reason we’re not moving the ball on offense,” said Bucs head coach and playcaller Dirk Koetter. “If you look at the tape, Doug’s making a little bit out of not too much more often than not.”
There is no doubt that the Bucs need to make some changes upfront along the offensive line, whether it is personnel, scheme or coaching. That’s a big part of Tampa Bay’s struggling running game, but that’s another column for another day.
The focus of this SR’s Fab 5 is the Bucs’ stable of running backs that scares no one. Tampa Bay’s ground game currently ranks 28th in the league, averaging 81.1 yards per game. That’s a big drop off from last year when the Bucs’ rushing attack ranked 24th in the league, averaging 101 yards per game.
The return of Martin from a three-game suspension to start the season was expected to spark the running game, but that hasn’t happened. Two weeks ago at Miami, Martin rushed for just 38 yards on 19 carries (2.0 avg.). Now he’s in concussion protocol after rushing for 33 yards on seven carries last week in Atlanta.
That wasn’t Martin’s worst rushing performance of the year. That came at New Orleans five weeks ago when he had seven yards on eight carries – in the worst rushing performance of his career.
It’s been 23 games since Martin last rushed for 100 yards. That came on November 29, 2015 when he rushed for 235 yards and 27 carries in a 45-17 win at Philadelphia.
That was just over two calendar years ago – a long time.
Martin is currently the 36th ranked rusher in the league behind Minnesota’s Jerick McKinnon and ahead of Green Bay rookie Aaron Jones. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson (401) has more rushing yards than Martin does.
It’s time for the Bucs to move on.
Sims had the game-winning touchdown catch against the New York Jets four weeks ago. The last meaningful game Sims had was catching a touchdown in a 31-24 win in the 2016 season opening win at Atlanta. Sims totaled 124 yards and a touchdown against the Rams last year, but also had a pass go through his hands and into Rams linebacker Mark Barron’s that led to a touchdown. That’s three solid games in the last 18.
Sims is a one-dimensional pass-catching back that shouldn’t be re-signed.
It’s time for the Bucs to move on from Sims, too.
“Believe me, if we thought Gale Sayers was sitting back there behind Doug, he’d be in there,” Koetter said. “I haven’t seen Gale out there.”
Koetter is right. Martin and Sims had a great year for Tampa Bay in 2015, but past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.
Neither Rodgers nor Barber is a dynamic runner. I’d keep the 23-year old Barber, Tampa Bay’s fourth-string runner, around for one more year as he’ll be an exclusive rights free agent, but I would move on from the 27-year old Rodgers, who is due $1.6 million next year.
The Bucs have just 892 rushing yards on the season and only three teams average less than Tampa Bay does at 3.5 yards per carry.
Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell leads the league with 981 yards rushing and five scores, followed by Kansas City rookie Kareem Hunt, who has 890 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Jacksonville rookie Leonard Fournette, who was drafted third overall, has totaled 765 yards and six touchdowns this season and ranks sixth in the league.
Despite PewterReport.com proclaiming running back to be a big need in last year’s draft and listing Hunt as a Bucs’ Best Bet for Tampa Bay, the Bucs waited until the fifth round to draft Boise State rusher Jeremy McNichols, who couldn’t grasp the playbook and wouldn’t hit the hole hard during training camp and the preseason. He was released in the final roster cut-downs and opted to sign with San Francisco’s practice squad.
There were a bumper crop of running backs in last year draft – a total of 30 rushers were drafted in 2017, including 15 in the first four rounds. A total of eight rookie running backs have rushed for at least 300 yards this season, and four rookies – Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Tarik Cohen and Hunt – have at least 30 receptions.
The great news for the Bucs is if a good deal of juniors come out, this year’s draft class could be just as robust, and for a Tampa Bay team that needs to draft at least one, that’s welcomed news. Here is a list of some of the potential prospects with an asterisk (*) for underclassmen:
Potential Round 1 RBs In 2018
*Penn State RB Saquon Barkley – 5-11, 230 – 4.49
*LSU RB Derrius Guice – 5-11, 212 – 4.52
Potential Round 2 RBs In 2018
*Alabama RB Damien Harris – 5-10, 216 – 4.55
*Stanford RB Bryce Love – 5-9, 191 – 4.36
*USC RB Ronald Jones II – 6-0, 200 – 4.42
San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny – 5-10, 220 – 4.52
Georgia RB Nick Chubb – 5-10, 225 – 4.56
*Notre Dame RB Josh Adams – 6-1, 219 – 4.48
Georgia RB Sony Michel – 5-11, 215 – 4.53
Potential Rounds 3-4 RBs In 2018
Oregon RB Royce Freeman – 5-10, 234 – 4.54
*Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson – 5-11, 212 – 4.45
*Miami RB Mark Walton – 5-9, 195 – 4.49
*Washington RB Myles Gaskin – 5-9, 191 – 4.50
*Tennessee RB John Kelly – 5-9, 212 – 4.53
Iowa RB Akrum Wadley – 5-10, 191 – 4.54
*Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough – 6-1, 232 – 4.59
Potential Rounds 5-7 RBs In 2018
*North Carolina State RB Nyheim Hines – 5-8, 197 – 4.50
Colorado RB Phillip Lindsay – 5-7, 190 – 4.49
Fordham RB Chase Edmonds – 5-9, 202 – 4.57
Old Dominion RB Ray Lawry – 5-10, 204 – 4.54
West Virginia RB Justin Crawford – 5-10, 198 – 4.53
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson – 5-10, 193 – 4.52
Washington RB Lavon Coleman – 5-11, 228 – 4.59
Arizona State RB Kalen Ballage – 6-2, 227 – 4.56
TCU RB Kyle Hicks – 5-10, 210 – 4.52
Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb – 5-9, 202 – 4.50
Not all of these underclassmen will likely come out, but there will be at least a dozen very good running backs for the Bucs to choose from in the first four rounds of the draft.