FAB 3. Bucs Need A Multi-Purpose Back
When looking for a new running back next year, the Bucs would be well served looking for an all-purpose back that can play all three downs. A quick look at the top running backs in the league shows that they can run the ball and catch it, too.
Of the top 10 running backs in the NFL right now, six of them have near 1,000 rushing and receiving yards or more than 1,000 combined yards.
1. Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell
981 rushing yards, 5 TDs / 61 catches for 396 receiving yards, 0 TDs
2. Kansas City RB Kareem Hunt
890 rushing yards, 4 TDs / 36 catches for 344 receiving yards, 2 TDs
3. Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley
865 rushing yards, 8 TDs / 42 catches for 479 receiving yards, 3 TDs
5. New Orleans Saints RB Mark Ingram
837 rushing yards, 8 TDs / 36 catches for 218 receiving yards, 0 TDs
8. Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy
758 rushing yards, 4 TDs / 46 catches for 295 receiving yards, 1 TD
9. San Diego RB Melvin Gordon
698 rushing yards, 5 TDs / 38 catches for 273 receiving yards, 4 TDs
One name that is missing that would likely be on this list is Arizona’s David Johnson, who has missed most of the year with a wrist injury. Last year, Johnson was the NFL’s eighth leading rusher with 1,239 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground, and 80 catches for 879 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bucs currently have three running backs that are primarily rushers with decent hands in Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber, and one back that is not very good running the ball, but has good hands in Charles Sims. As I stated in Fab 2, the Bucs need to blow up their backfield next year and start over with the exception of Barber, the team’s fourth-string back.
The ideal all-purpose back is the running back that will be the first one off the board – Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who has three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Nittany Lions with 41 touchdowns on the ground. What makes the speedy and shifty Barkley so dangerous is his ability to do everything. He has two kickoff returns for touchdowns, a passing touchdown and eight receiving touchdowns in his Penn State career. Barkley has 95 career catches for 1,157 yards, including career highs of 47 receptions for 594 yards this year.
Barkley will surely be a top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and with the Bucs currently sitting at No. 10 I’m not going to profile him now. That will come later when Tampa Bay’s exact spot in the first round will become known at the end of the 2017 season. Besides, with a more desperate need for a pass-rushing defensive end, a cover cornerback and offensive line help, Tampa Bay may not be able to afford to a running back in the first round.
While Gurley, Ingram and Gordon were first-rounders, Bell and McCoy were second-round picks, and Hunt and Johnson were third-rounders. The Bucs can find what they need in the second or third round, and I’ve got a trio of running backs I’ve followed all season that would fit Tampa Bay’s needs perfectly – whether it’s Dirk Koetter calling the plays or dare I say Jon Gruden?
Depending on how these running backs test at the pro days and the NFL Scouting Combine, both figure to be second- or third-round picks.
I’m talking about Georgia’s Sony Michel, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny and Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson. All three are running backs that have played in the shadow of a more heralded player, yet have the talent to be stars in their own right at the next level. I’ll profile them in Fab 4.