The Raineymaker: Bobby Rainey's 2013 Outlook

Is Bobby Rainey a fantasy asset?

What a strange season it’s been for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. First, after a bumpy ride, the Doug Martin train slipped off the track as the young stud hit the Injured Reserve with a torn labrum. Then there was the awkward Greg Schiano-Josh Freeman soap opera. And then, of course, we had the whole situation with the scary MRSA outbreak.

But then Mike and Mike stabilized things. No, not that Mike and Mike. I’m talking about Mike Glennon and Mike James. Things started looking up for the Bucs and their fantasy owners, as the two rookies began performing at a higher level than many thought they would.

The party, in typical 2013 Buccaneers' fashion, came to an abrupt halt once as James was carted off the field after suffering a fractured ankle against the Dolphins. Suddenly Tampa Bay's running back situation was down to a timeshare between the unproven and nearly unknown journeyman Bobby Rainey, and career third-down back Brian Leonard.

But after Week 11, that timeshare has turned into a full-blown Bobby Rainey show.

The Buccaneers in Week 11

Full disclosure: I had put nearly every egg I owned into the Brian Leonard basket last week for a few reasons. First, his Net Expected Points Per Play (0.44 receiving, -0.08 rushing) heading into last weekend’s game lined up with several backs who would be interesting with full-time work, including Roy Helu, Jonathan Stewart, Knile Davis, Mark Ingram and LeGarrette Blount. Couple that with Leonard’s advantage in size and experience, and he looked like a lock to get the majority of the work.

Things started in Leonard’s favor as he got the start and put together a decent, if unexciting, effort. On the other hand, Rainey got his chance to shine on Tampa’s second drive, and the Western Kentucky product quickly put the run game in a chokehold, ripping off three runs of over 10 yards and stockpiling NEP in a hurry before ripping the Atlanta Falcons defense on a beautiful 43-yard touchdown run.

From that point, Leonard had a total of three targets (zero rush attempts), including one on what can only be described as a fake field goal punt abomination thing. Rainey was so impressive that Leonard didn’t see a single touch or target in the second half, and the youngster took full advantage, finishing the game with a ridiculous Rush NEP of 7.41 on a 43.14 percent Success Rate.

Who is Bobby Rainey?

A 26-year-old undrafted free agent, Rainey started his NFL career by learning from the great Ray Rice before injuring his knee in 2012. He was then released by the Baltimore Ravens.

He had a shot at some limelight with the Cleveland Browns this year when he was slated to start a game after Trent Richardson was traded, but he posted underwhelming numbers in very limited touches. The Buccaneers got him through waivers in October and now, given his outstanding performance on Sunday, he is almost assuredly the Bucs’ starting running back moving forward.

2013 Opportunity

Rainey showed that he is fully healthy and capable, putting his agility and field vision on display as he tore through the Falcons defense Sunday, flashing the promise that people had seen in him when they once nicknamed him “Mini Rice.” Now it’s time to scoop him up wherever you need help at running back and watch as he leaves Brian Leonard in the dust.

Based on Defensive Net Expected Points, the Buccaneers have a neutral schedule, having to face the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers on the road, with both teams boasting elite Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP Per Play scores of -0.11, tied for third-best in the NFL based within that metric. One reprieve is that the Lions give up the eighth-worst Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP Per Play score at .14, and with Rainey catching everything thrown his way (100 percent catch rate on seven targets), he should be valuable in the open field as the Buccaneers try to counter the Lions’ strong defensive line.

The Panthers, on the other hand don’t have the same weakness. Their elite rushing defense is backed by an equally stout pass defense, which combine to give them the second best Adjusted Defense NEP Per Play at -0.07.

Things get better in the fantasy playoffs as Buffalo, San Francisco and St. Louis are all middle-of-the-road defenses by those same metrics, and the first two of those games will be in Tampa Bay and with the Rams vulnerable to the pass. Rainey’s pass-catching skills will allow him to buoy his floor more than a guy who doesn’t catch passes like Alfred Morris, so as long as he gets a solid number of touches he should provide a decent play with upside.

Moving forward, numberFire sees Bobby Rainey as the 21st-best running back option in fantasy from here on out. There should be hesitation because his performance last week came against the analytically worst defense in Atlanta. But if Rainey's still on your waiver wire, he most certainly should be owned - you don't get the opportunity to grab a starting running back this late in the season very often.