|RB||Doug Martin||Brian Leonard||Mike James|
For the first time in five years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have the same running back in the 1st string slot two years in a row — a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Cadillac Williams in 2008. That running back is Doug Martin.
In his rookie campaign, Martin was able to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark and score 11 touchdowns, while starting all 16 regular season games. Though conditions outside of his control – RGIII receiving 29 votes — kept him from winning rookie of the year, most Bucs fans would admit that they’re tired of one-year-wonders at the running back position, and would gladly trade his R.O.Y. trophy for long-term success.
In 2005, Cadillac Williams’ first season as a Buc, he rushed for over 1,000 yards while winning AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, in the years to follow, Williams would go through a series of injuries and has yet to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in a single season since his rookie campaign. In 2007, Earnest Graham emerged as the new starting running back, rushing for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. But like Williams, Graham’s first season as a starter was also his best, and he never saw that kind of success again. In 2010, the Bucs thought they found a rare combination of quickness and power from an abandoned LeGarrette Blount; he rushed for over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. But in the years that followed, Blount’s weaknesses became glaring, and ultimately left him on the bench until he was traded for Patriots running back Jeff Demps and a 7th round pick.
This leads us to 2013; a young, driven and hardworking group of players that make up Tampa’s depth chart.
What more can be said about Doug Martin? He was overlooked because of his small school experience (Boise State) and his body’s shape and size coming in to the NFL. Draft scouts always try to find weaknesses in any prospect, and seemed to do so with Martin.
The bottom line is this: Martin is a powerful running back whose ability is based off work ethic and not as much natural talent. He has a burst of speed, reliable hands, always falls forward and fights for every inch. I don’t care what scouts prejudged him as, that’s a Pro Bowl description.
Despite the stellar scouting analysis, it took 30 picks for Doug Martin to hear his name called — many draft experts believe he was a 2nd-round talent. As he fell down the board, the price became too good to be true as Tampa traded back into the first round after selecting Mark Barron earlier in the draft. Martin has certainly been worth every penny. He has a great heart to go along with his great talent, and with an all-pro offensive line back and healthy, even Greg Schiano knows that 2012 was only the beginning.
“(Martin) Looks better physically than he did as a rookie… (He can take) his game to another level this season.”
On April 1st, Greg Schiano exercised his Rutgers root again by signing former Bengals and Rams running back Brian Leonard to a one-year deal. Though Leonard has yet to rush for over 400 yards, his experience and chemistry with Schiano provides much needed depth to a young Tampa offense. He’ll be mostly used as a 3rd down back, making a name for himself as a receiver and short-yardage player during his six years in the league, but he’ll see a lot of work as a special teams player as well.
Miami Hurricanes running back Mike James — a relative of former Colts running back Edgerrin James — didn’t have far to move after being drafted by Tampa in the 6th round. He rushed for a career-best 621 yards and 6 touchdowns during his senior year — he played in all 50 games throughout his four years at Miami. James’ skills are a lot like Doug Martin’s, just not as extreme. James does everything well; he runs effectively, limits his turnovers, has reliable hands and can be called upon to block in certain situations. What encouraged me most about James were his awards in 2012: recipient of Community Service Man of the Year Award, Captain’s Award, Melching Leadership Award and Jack Harding Team Most Valuable Player. He’s another hard worker. He’s determined to make his mark on this team, and I actually think it will be James that gives Martin relief on 1st and 2nd down.
Jeff Demps (honorable mention):
If you don’t know much about Jeff Demps, here’s a couple steps to get you caught up to speed (yes, that’s a pun):
Pick your jaw up off the floor and continue reading.
At the University of Florida, Jeff Demps seemed to play football because it was fun — he was clocked at a 4.26 40-yard dash his junior year — but his main interest was and still is in track; He recently competed in the 4×100 relay event for the United States at the 2012 Summer Olympics. New England owned his NFL rights but traded them to the Buccaneers during April’s draft because they wouldn’t let him pursue both track and football. Tampa is allowing Demps to do both. They realize that Demps might not even play in 2013, but the front office knows that if he choses to play, Demps will be worth the price and the wait.
“We’ve talked to Jeff a little bit. We understand what he’s doing. We’re just taking (his) rights to see what happens.”
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM, Mark Dominik