Fantasy Football: Is Doug Martin still the answer for the Buccaneers backfield? Adrian Peterson or draft may change formula
Tampa Bay is building an explosive offense, but the running back position is still a question mark. Jamey Eisenberg looks at the Buccaneers backfield that is one to watch for Fantasy owners this year.
PHOENIX -- The Buccaneers offense is starting to look explosive this year. And Fantasy owners are definitely starting to take notice of what’s happening in Tampa Bay.
Jameis Winston is a quarterback on the rise. Mike Evans has established himself as one of the elite receivers in the NFL. DeSean Jackson was added as a free agent, and he remains one of the best big-play threats in the league. And tight end Cameron Brate had a solid year in 2016 and should continue to develop this season.
But what about the backfield? Is there someone Fantasy owners can target this year to take advantage of all these potential points?
That’s what we’re all trying to find out.
There really isn’t an incumbent even though the three main running backs from last year -- Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims -- remain on the roster. Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said at the NFL’s annual meeting that the team will also consider adding a rookie in the upcoming NFL Draft, and he talked about free agent Adrian Peterson.
So, basically, we’re in a holding pattern right now -- kind of like the team. Martin is suspended for the first three games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, but Koetter doesn’t seem ready to give up on him just yet.
Koetter said Martin “looked good, he sounded good” during a recent meeting, and he expects Martin to be part of the offseason program for the Buccaneers. But Koetter also said “we’ve got time on our side” to make a decision about Martin this year.
“Who knows what’s going to happen?” Koetter said. “Are we going to add a running back in the draft? Is Doug going to continue down the path of good health? And we’ve got other guys we like at that position as well. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Martin had a rough year in 2016. He suffered a hamstring injury in Week 2 that knocked him out for six games, and he was originally suspended for four games at the end of the season, which started in Week 17.
He finished the season with 144 carries for 421 yards (2.9-yards per carry) and three touchdowns and 14 catches for 134 yards, which came after he signed a five-year, $35.75 million contract last offseason. Despite his failures last year and his suspension, Koetter remains on his side.
“I’m a Doug Martin fan,” Koetter said. “We would love to have Doug on our team. But when the guy who has been a Pro Bowl running back, you know you’re not going to have him the first three games of the year, how do you do the reps? It’s kind of unique in that last year we got so beat up at running back. By Week 3 we had already played six running backs. That’s how beat up we were. It’s almost like he would be on PUP coming back for Week 4. But we don’t know what we’re going to do Weeks 1 through 3 yet. I’ve never been through this situation before.”
If Martin does return as the starter in Week 4, or at least in a committee situation with Rodgers and Sims, then he’s worth drafting with a mid-round pick in the majority of leagues. It would be a surprise if he didn’t eventually lead the backfield in touches ahead of Rodgers and Sims, and Martin still managed at least nine Fantasy points in a standard league in five of the seven healthy games he played last season.
In that same scenario, where Martin, Rodgers and Sims are the main running backs on the roster, Rodgers also has plenty of value for Fantasy owners. He would be a sleeper to target in all leagues with a late-round pick.
Rodgers started five games last season when Martin was out, and he scored at least 12 Fantasy points in a standard league in four of them, including at least 78 total yards in each outing. If you project his five starts over a 16-game season, he would have 342 carries for 1,478 yards and six touchdowns and 32 catches for 208 yards.
He’s almost guaranteed three starts while Martin is out if no one else is added, and Rodgers could always remain in a featured role all season. There’s plenty of upside for Rodgers since he stayed in Tampa Bay as a free agent.
Sims is a wild card for the Buccaneers because he was great as a sophomore in 2015 with more than 1,000 total yards and four touchdowns, including 51 catches, but he struggled with injuries last year. He’s the best receiver out of the backfield in Tampa Bay now, which should give him a solidified role, but it’s doubtful he’ll be viewed as a starter if Martin and Rodgers are healthy.
Sims is only worth a late-round flier in PPR leagues.
As for Peterson, the Tampa Bay Times reports it’s doubtful he signs with the Buccaneers. But it became a story when Winston was pictured working out with Peterson, which was brought to Koetter’s attention during the league meeting.
“I’ve seen Adrian Peterson many times playing, and that guy is one of the best running backs to ever play,” Koetter said. “I’m anxious to talk to Jameis and ask him how his workouts went. That caught me off guard.”
Koetter also said the Buccaneers can look for a running back in the NFL Draft. Tampa Bay picks at No. 19 overall in the first round, and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey could be options at that spot. Koetter said “we need to consider” one of the incoming rookie running backs this year.
As you can see, the Buccaneers can go a variety of directions with their backfield this year, which should be interesting for Fantasy owners to follow until it’s settled. Of the guys on the roster, I’m most inclined to draft Rodgers given his expected average draft position, but I’d also love to see them take a chance on Cook.
I’d be surprised if Peterson ended up in Tampa Bay, and I don’t plan on drafting Martin. But we’ll make the final call on the Buccaneers backfield after the NFL Draft, which is when we should finally have an answer on who their next weapon will be.
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