The Buccaneers are in a strange dilemna when it comes to their running backs. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, despite his limitations, could present a unique solution.
If you had said a year ago that the Buccaneers would be looking at running back prospects in the first round of the 2017 draft, I’d have called you crazy. In fact, I vividly recall a conversation I had with someone after the team re-signed Doug Martin. I was glad about the news, but was lamenting the fact that the Bucs would now miss out on a supremely talented ’17 class of runners. Well, a lot can happen in a year.
After signing his five-year, 35.75 million dollar deal, Doug Martin was never able to find his groove in 2016, and we would later come to find out he was battling some personal demons that landed him a four game suspension, three of which will be served next season. Martin’s role going forward with the team is uncertain right now, but it appears that the Bucs are preparing for the possibility of life without him. The team re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers, still has Charles Sims and Peyton Barber, and has scheduled visits with several running backs in the draft, such as Dalvin Cook, Marlon Mack and Kareem Hunt with more sure to come.
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Since the day that Doug Martin’s suspension was announced and his guaranteed money voided I’ve been all for the Bucs drafting a back, with the exception of one: Christian McCaffrey. It wasn’t for lack of talent, which we’ll go over later. My beef was the price for that talent. How could a team invest a first round pick on a back that, while gifted, isn’t made out to be a bell cow? For a while, I dismissed the notion and focused on other scenarios. Then the combine came, and McCaffrey’s electric athleticism caught my attention once again and made me consider something new. What if the Bucs kept Doug Martin and drafted Christian McCaffrey in the first round?
The longer that Martin remains on the roster, the more I wonder whether there’s a realistic road to Martin returning in 2016, paired with a rookie and the Bucs existing group of Rodgers, Sims and Barber. The Bucs could weather the storm for the three games that Martin is suspended for, using Jacquizz Rodgers as the primary down back with McCaffrey and Sims rotating in. Keeping Martin would counteract the risk of any rookie growing pains by having a deep stable of backs, and pairing him with a rookie would provide a safety net if Martin can’t get back to his best self.
So, why McCaffrey in a class loaded with running backs? For starters, his college rushing resume stacks up with the other talented backs in this class. If you can get past his modest size, McCaffrey has a brand of quickness, vision and speed that will translate quickly to the NFL. His 5’11, 202 pound frame and ten reps at the combine will make it difficult to be a consistent 30-touch player, but there are plenty of very successful runners in the league who are the same size or smaller. McCaffrey put up some truly ridiculous rushing numbers in his two seasons starting at Stanford. In 2015 he registered 2,019 ground yards and eight touchdowns, and then in 2016 he followed up with 1,603 yards and thirteen touchdowns.
While McCaffrey is a fine running back, his ability to run routes and catch passes is what will have teams salivating. Some in the draft community have suggested that it’s the passing game where McCaffrey will be most dangerous, and both his combine and college tape seem to validate this. In Indianapolis we saw McCaffrey wow scouts and coaches with his soft hands, crisp routes, and quick feet, and overall looked like a natural receiver.
Even with all of the combine numbers and gaudy college statistics considered, why would a team with Charles Sims choose to invest a first round pick in another pass catching specialist? Why not just wait and take Hunt or Mack later? The answer is special teams. It may seem strange to put such a premium on special teams, but consider that recently the Bucs have made that unit something of a priority. Last off-season Bryan Anger was added in free agency, while Roberto Aguayo was drafted in the second round. One has to imagine that they’re equally concerned about fixing their league-worst kick and punt return units.
The 2015 Rose Bowl shown above is a solid indicator of the three ways McCaffrey could convince Tampa to use the 19th pick on him. Catching, running, returning. With a committee of McCaffrey, Martin, Rodgers and Sims the Bucs would have the deepest stable of runners in the league, and several different options for Tampa to create screens and dump offs for Jameis Winston.
What say you, Buccaneer fans? Did the combine change your view on McCaffrey and his potential fit with the Bucs? Are you in favor of pairing Martin and a rookie like McCaffrey?
Listen below to hear James Yarcho and David Harrison of the Walking The Plank Podcast discuss McCaffery and other running back prospects with Pewter Report’s Trevor Sikkema.