Don't Draft Doug Martin in Fantasy Football This Year
I want to like Doug Martin in fantasy football this year. I really do. He’s fun to watch when he’s at his best, and he’s finished two seasons with over 1,400 rushing yards.
He’s a comeback story this year. Who doesn’t love a comeback story? After the announcement of his four-game suspension for violation of the league’s PED policy, Martin checked himself into rehab. Now he’s back and feeling better than ever.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said the Doug Martin of 2015 is in the house, and boy, do I wish I could believe that. (Just a quick reminder, but in 2015 Martin finished with 1,402 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns and finished as the RB3 overall in fantasy.)
As much as I’m rooting for Doug Martin, I just can’t bring myself to draft him.
His average draft position (ADP) has barely taken a hit since the news of his suspension, and it's still in the fourth round per FantasyFootballCalculator.com:
At that ADP, people are drafting him ahead of Michael Crabtree, Golden Tate, and Larry Fitzgerald, as well as likely starting running backs like Eddie Lacy, Paul Perkins, and Dalvin Cook. Martin could outperform these players in fantasy football, but they’re all actually playing Weeks 1, 2, and 3.
This isn’t the Le'Veon Bell suspension situation from last year -- we knew that when Bell returned from his own suspension, we were going to have an elite running back on our rosters.
We don’t know if Martin still has it.
Are we getting 2015 Martin or 2016 Martin?
When Martin was on the field last season, he did not impress. His 2.9 yards per carry set a career low. His teammates outperformed him in both Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP), Rushing Net Expected Points per carry, and Rushing Success Rate, three of our signature metrics that evaluate how effective a running back is. (You can read more about all three in our glossary.)
|Metrics||Doug Martin||Jacquizz Rodgers||Charles Sims||Peyton Barber|
His inefficiency last season was brutal, and he has an uphill battle this season if he wants to improve. As you can see above, Jacquizz Rodgers was a more efficient and more successful running back for the Buccaneers. This doesn’t mean that Rodgers will win the starting job from Martin while Martin is suspended, but the Bucs did commit to Rodgers for another two years.
The team showed a willingness to trust Rodgers with a heavy workload while Martin was out last season, giving him 30 carries against the Carolina Panthers, 26 against the San Francisco 49ers, and 19 against the Oakland Raiders in three consecutive weeks. Martin may walk right back into the starting running back role, but if he falters the Bucs have another perfectly capable back with whom to replace him.
Causes for Concern
There are multiple legitimate reasons to be concerned that Martin could falter.
At 28 years old, he's now on the wrong side of the age apex for running backs. He isn’t ancient by any means, but his most productive days could be behind him. Check out this graph from ApexFantasyLeagues.com, which illustrates the ages at which running backs have experienced their peak seasons.
Historically speaking, the odds of Martin trumping his past accomplishments are significantly lower now than if he were only 26.
He has also seen some serious wear and tear over the years. Since 2013, Martin has missed nine games to a labrum tear, three games to an ankle sprain, two games to a knee sprain, and six games to a hamstring strain (not to mention an additional knee contusion which he played through in 2015).
The consistent lower-leg injuries are concerning for a running back, especially for an older back coming off of an inefficient season. Martin might be “pounding it in the weight room,” but age and injuries could negate any gains he has made with his lifting. SportsInjuryPredictor.com predicts that he has an 88.6% chance of re-injury in 2017.
Add to all of the above that the Buccaneers are projected by ProFootballFocus to have the third-worst offensive line headed into 2017. While some backs are capable of producing from behind a weak offensive line, offensive lines are still a crucial contributing factor for running backs and their fantasy production.
Martin clearly didn't outplay his line situation in 2016, though Rodgers did.
The Buccaneers will face three tough defenses in a row following Martin’s return from suspension in the New York Giants, the New England Patriots and the Arizona Cardinals. If his previous season’s inefficiency resurfaces against these defenses (assuming he is handed the job again), he may not be able to keep it. Coach Dirk Koetter demonstrated in weeks 16 and 17 last season that he was willing to do just that, as Martin was a healthy scratch in Week 16 and served the first game of his suspension in Week 17.
By comparison, the three games that start the season are against the Miami Dolphins, the Chicago Bears, and the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings will offer tough competition, but the Dolphins and the Bears are weaker defenses than the Giants, the Patriots and the Cardinals. These easier matchups will give Rodgers and Charles Sims a chance to shine before Martin returns.
|Opponent||Rush Yd/G Allowed||Rank||Rush TD/G Allowed||Rank|
|New York Giants||88.6||3||10||5|
|New England Patriots||88.6||3||10||5|
The Case for Martin
We currently have Martin ranked as our 37th-ranked running back based on our projections, and it's easy to see why.
While I have outlined many reasons why you should avoid Martin, it may also be beneficial to look at what needs to go right for Martin to reward those drafting him in the fourth round of their fantasy drafts.
For starters, he needs to be healthy coming out of his suspension. He needs Rodgers and Sims not to dethrone him as the starter during that same time, or even worse, not to turn the team into a deeper running back by committee. He also needs to correct his inefficient rushing production from 2016 while running behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league.
If he can accomplish all of that and stays healthy as the team’s workhorse back (which would also require him to snag some pass-catching work from Sims), then things may start to look good for him. In the second half of last season, the Buccaneers limited the turnover-prone Jameis Winston’s pass attempts and focused on running the ball. In the first half of the season, Winston averaged 38.25 attempts per game; in the final eight games, it was 32.63.
This was also when the team began winning games -- they went 3-5 in the first half of the season, and 6-2 in the second half. If they truly are committed to running the ball heavily, whoever their lead back is could be in line for heavy usage along the lines of what we saw from Rodgers last year. If he wins the starting job back, that volume could be Martin’s.
After the tough opening schedule upon his return, the Bucs face a series of weaker defenses, like the Buffalo Bills (who surrendered two 200-yard rushing games to Jay Ajayi last year), the New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Green Bay Packers. If Martin makes it to that point of the season with the starting job, he could be a very relevant asset.
But even if he is potentially a relevant asset for the end of your fantasy season, he has a long road ahead of him to get there.
The obstacles that lay in his path in no way justify drafting him in the fourth round and sitting him on your bench for three weeks. As much as I want to see him stiff-arming defenders and plowing through tacklers -- and for him to be on my fantasy team while he does it -- this just isn’t the year to draft Doug Martin.