When Doug Martin ran wild against the Oakland Raiders, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back was the focus of NFL fans across the nation. His performance brought back memories of Adrian Peterson‘s NFL record performance as a 22 year old, as the 23 year old Martin gained over 250 yards and scored four times against the Raiders. Martin would have a fantastic rookie season beyond that one outstanding performance, earning a Pro Bowl selection and finishing in the top 5 for Rookie of the Year. In fact, Martin had the second best season for a running back in team history, and the best season for a Buccaneer rookie runner. He contributed in all phases of the running back’s duties, as an excellent runner, pass catcher, and pass blocker.
But will there be a sophomore slump? As Bucs fans, we’ve seen the decline of promising rookies in recent years, as players like Michael Clayton and Cadillac Williams would fall victim to the unfortunate nature of being a professional football player. Potential is more often a precursor for disappointment than success, and injuries, inconsistencies, and other factors can sink a player’s career just as quickly as talent and youthful ambition can make them rise to the top. So will Martin be the next Buccaneer to fall short of his potential and promise?
Martin came to Tampa Bay as a late first round pick, and the initial reaction of most fans and writers was that Martin would compete for the starting job against incumbent LeGarrette Blount. Blount had been a surprise, signing for a cheap contract and producing hard-earned yards and highlight reel hurdles in his brief time spent as the starter. But Martin was the second coming of Ray Rice, a direct comparison made more appropriate with Rice’s college coach now patrolling the sidelines at Raymond James. The Boise State product would quickly win the starting job, and prove that he’s willing to put forth the effort needed to succeed in the NFL. He could have very easily settled for a role in a time share, but he fought through camp and the preseason to earn his place as the starter.
Once he earned the starting job, the rookie runner would put his skills on display and prove that he has what it takes to be more than a flash in the pan. Martin would average over 4 and a half yards per carry, almost 10 yards per catch, and over 120 yards from scrimmage per game. More impressively, he did all this while only fumbling once. Martin was a smart runner, avoiding injury and keeping the ball securely under his control, while showing the ability to make catches reliably. The other rookie backs who started a majority of games for their teams, Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson, both fumbled more often and either did not put up comparable numbers rushing (Richardson) or receiving (Morris) as compared to the Buccaneers first year rusher. Martin proved that he has the fundamentals to be a very good NFL running back for a very long time.
But when one looks into more advanced stats and looks over the film, you realize just how great Martin was as an NFL running back, not just as a “rookie” running back. Using Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating, which they define as the ability for a runner to make plays beyond the help the offensive line gives him, Martin ranks 3rd in the NFL, behind just Adrian Peterson and C.J. Spiller. Martin also ranked 3rd in yards after contact per attempt, which came in the form of fighting for extra yards on big plays, but also turning likely losses into short gains through hard work and fighting through linemen. Watching Martin, you could see that every play was a battle for more yards, and he was very difficult to bring down. In the game against the Raiders, Pro Football Focus credits Martin with 12 broken tackles, most of them coming as a part of his big plays for long scores.
What do these numbers prove? The ability to Martin to gain yards with little or no help from his offensive line means that he’s able to perform in any circumstance, and the Buccaneers were frequently in dire circumstances on the offensive line in 2012. In 2013, with the hopeful health of Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks to solidify the middle of the O-line, Doug will have even better blocking ahead of him. Combine great blocking by the line with the ability to break tackles and gain yards apart from just taking what’s blocked for him, and the Dougernaut is poised for more fantastic numbers in 2013.
Martin also never showed signs of slowing down. Other than the blowout against the Saints, where many players were held out of action once the game was out of hand, Martin carried the ball at least 18 times every game from week 7 on, and while his performance was a bit inconsistent thanks to the offense having to play catch up more often as the season wore on, he turned multiple impressive performances in the closing weeks, including a 142 yard rushing day on the closing day of the regular season against the Falcons.
Doug Martin has proven that he has the running skills, pass catching skills, and pass blocking skills to be a star running back and a key contributor in the NFL. He’s versatile and reliable like Ray Rice, and Coach Schiano knows just how to succeed with a running back like that. So rather than a sophomore slump, it looks like the Buccaneers’ running back could be poised for a fantastic year two in the NFL.