ESPN NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas projects the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to start first-round pick Doug Martin to start over LeGarrette Blount at running back. He notes, “LeGarrette Blount will get some carries, but Martin’s an all-purpose back” in the article.
Martin is viewed by most scouts as a legitimate starting running back in the NFL, and a lot of hit has to do with what Yasinskas wrote: Martin is an all-purpose back. Blount is a better pure rusher than Martin and is probably one of the best top ten running backs in the league in terms of pure rushing ability. However, Blount is clearly a liability as a pass protector and isn’t much of a factor in the passing game.
Starting a running back is a bit ambiguous by definition, because teams with two starting-caliber running backs don’t really choose a starter. Also, carries and snaps are two different animals. For this piece, let’s pretend that Yasinskas is Greg Schiano and has decided to start Doug Martin over LeGarrette Blount. With this scenario in mind, let’s take a look at how the league works with backs.
So while Yasinskas is starting Martin, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will significantly cut into Blount’s carries. In fact, he will make Blount better. As a starter, Martin will certainly receive more snaps, especially on passing downs. He’s a far better pass protector/receiver than Blount, which gives him the edge and makes him more ideal for the starting position. Of course, you have to think in the snaps vs. carries mindset.
By eliminating a significant amount of his pass protecting situations, this will reflect better on the Bucs play as a whole and on Blount’s play. Although it doesn’t technically make Blount better, it makes him look better by exposing him to plays where he can be exploited less often.
Now, on to the carries side of it. Doug Martin is, in essence, the starter because he receives more snaps. But he receives these snaps mainly on passing downs. He’ll still get a fair share of carries, but LeGarrette Blount is the better pure running back and will most likely receive as many carries as Martin.
Two important things to keep in mind are that Greg Schiano is a run-heavy coach, so both running backs should get 200 carries. Another thing is that the Bucs traded up to get Doug Martin, so he’s going to be a whole lot more than a third/passing down back. I elaborated this to get my point across, so expect Martin to get his carries as well. I think this ends up being a 50-50 split on carries between the backs, and it will help keep Blount fresh which is a must.
If I were Schiano, I would agree with Yasinskas and start the guy who you traded up to get. It’s sensible, not just because you traded up to the first to get him, but also because Martin has the advantage over Blount on passing downs. He’s also very good at, you know, the actual running part. The Bucs have two starting backs on their roster, and the tricky part is deciding how to split things up. A 50-50 carries split and a larger snaps split seems ideal at this point.
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section, and you can read my scouting report on Doug Martin here.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.