If the Buccaneers want to have a turnaround season next year, they are going to have to be able to count on their running game to support their offense.
Going into last season, nobody thought that there would be any worries surrounding Tampa Bay’s backfield for years to come. Doug Martin had just come off an incredible rookie season, where he amassed 1,926 total yards and 12 touchdowns. At just 23 years old, Martin was already a star in the NFL.
Now, after an all-around disastrous season, there are legitimate questions concerning Martin’s capabilities of being the franchise back Tampa Bay desires.
Martin suffered a torn labrum in week 7, bringing an end to his season, but the young running back had already been a disappointment up until that point. After averaging 4.6 yards per carry in his rookie year, Martin was only able to average 3.6 yards per carry, with one touchdown, in his six games last season
You could have potentially placed the blame on the fact that the whole team was in disarray, saying that Martin’s decline in production was just a side effect, but the performances from the running backs who replaced Martin would say otherwise.
Immediately after Martin’s injury, Mike James, a rookie from the University of Miami, stepped in and outperformed anything Martin had done all year. He ran for 283 yards, on 4.9 yards per carry, in essentially just three games (two full games and two half-games), and even threw a touchdown pass. Unfortunately, he too went down with an injury in week 10, right as he was really beginning to hit his stride.
Still, if you wanted to, you could have maybe made a case that James was just on a hot-streak and that Martin could have performed just as well in those games, but when Bobby Rainey stepped in and shined as well, that had to raise a question mark.
Rainey, who couldn’t even make it on the Cleveland Browns roster, was picked up by the Bucs midseason. Over the final half of the year, Rainey ran for 532 yards, on a 3.9 yards per carry average, and five touchdowns, while helping the Bucs win their only four games of the year.
It’s obvious that Martin, a first-round draft pick, is the most naturally gifted running back Tampa has on its team. That being said, his lack of performance, especially given that inferior talents were able to produce once he went down, can’t be taken too lightly. The Bucs will, and should, hand the reigns back over to Martin once he returns next season, but he is going to have perform at extremely high levels in order to shake the bad smell from last year.
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