Less May Be More for Doug Martin in Lovie Smith's Offense

The word in Tampa Bay is that Doug Martin won't be contending for the rushing title this year, but his situation is surprisingly fantasy friendly.

According to Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, first-string running back Doug Martin will be less of a feature back and more of a platoon piece for the Bucs this year.

Martin was a huge first-round letdown for fantasy owners last season (sorry if you were one of them), as were plenty of other top running backs taken before the turn. He's coming off a season-ending shoulder injury, too, which makes things even worse.

But before you write off Martin as a second-round option (where he's currently being drafted for what early-June mock drafts are worth) and decide to let some other owner take a chance on him, you should note some of the positives of Martin's situation. There are a lot of them, actually.

Though Martin won't be racking up 400 touches, new head coach Lovie Smith, has made it known that Martin remains the starter for the Bucs and hopefully the long-term solution for Tampa Bay's backfield. With that comes the promise of reduced touches, meaning Martin won't approach the 319 carries and 49 receptions he totaled in his rookie season two years ago.

So how many carries might the clear number-one option get in a rotation? The bad news is that it's impossible to guess because there's no way of knowing just how often the trio of Bobby Rainey, Mike James, and Charles Sims will actually see the field at this point even after Tedford's proclamation.

(Remember how, entering last season, C.J. Spiller was going to get the ball until he puked?)

The good news is that, even though the track record for Smith's teams (the 2004-2012 Chicago Bears) is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of rushing and passing balance as well as with rushing efficiency, Smith's teams trend more toward the rushing side than the passing one.

SeasonPass-to-Run RatioRankAdj. Rushing NEP/PlayRank

No matter if the Bears were trending more toward the run or the pass in a given season, though, they never cracked the top 12 in the league in terms of Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play. This metric identifies the expected points earned by a team based on every rush it attempts and is adjusted for strength of schedule.

By this measure, Smith hasn't pieced together an elite rushing attack in nearly a full decade of head coaching.

But what's reassuring for fantasy owners is that the onus of efficiency isn't on Martin. All you need from him is production whether it's efficient or not. And Lovie Smith's Bears ranked inside the top 10 in rushing attempts in 4 of his 9 seasons, and averaged 443 attempts per season, a tally that would leave plenty of carries for Martin's elevated role in the rotation.

For some quick context, Knowshon Moreno, DeMarco Murray, Fred Jackson, and Reggie Bush finished as top-12 fantasy running backs last season without breaking the 250-carry plateau, a pretty good sign for potential Martin owners.

However, those four running backs had at least 47 receptions to add to their carries. Could Martin do something similar this year?

It sure looks like it.

Six of Smith's seasons with Chicago garnered a running back with at least 50 receptions and 60 targets: 2004 (Thomas Jones), 2007 (the other Adrian Peterson), 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 (Matt Forte). Martin's fantastic rookie season included 49 receptions on 70 targets.

If you're still worried that Martin's slow start is more indicative of his ability than his first year, let me try to change your mind by showing you just how tough his schedule was last year.

According to our Adjusted Rushing NEP per play numbers, the Buccaneers were 18th in the league after Week 6, Martin's final full game of the year. Sure, that's below average, but the Buccaneers were bad last year. Martin, understandably, wasn't great, but he played stout competition in his five full games.

OpponentAdj. Def Rushing NEP/PlayRankFinal Adj. Def Rushing NEP/PlayFinal RankMartin Fantasy Points

Based on the opponents prior to and after facing the Buccaneers, Martin lined up against 3 of the 13 best run defenses at the time in 5 matchups. By season's end, those three ended up as top-six rushing defenses, a rough slate for any running back let alone one on a troubled offense. (The Bucs, as a team, finished 28th in NEP for the season and 29th in Adjusted NEP per play.)

But things are looking up for Tampa as a whole, which is good for Martin. The addition of Mike Evans is very promising for the Bucs this year, as is the arrival of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, so the Buccaneers offense should be primed to put Martin in a promising position for goal line carries, carries that our resident Bucs expert Leo Howell believes won't be siphoned by James or Sims.

For the right price on your draft day, Martin could be a steal - especially after his slow start to last season and the news about splitting carries. For an even better price during the season, he could be even greater.

The Bucs, again, start out against tough competition in Weeks 1 and 2 against the Panthers (4th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play) and the Rams (7th), but the middle of the fantasy year is a promising stretch for Martin owners, starting in Week 3: at Atlanta (30th), at Pittsburgh (23rd), at New Orleans (21st), vs. Baltimore (10th), vs. Minnesota (22nd), at Cleveland (24th), vs. Atlanta (30th), at Washington (16th), and at Chicago (32nd).

Martin's still-featured role on what should be a good offense, pass-catching ability, clear path to goal-line carries, and legitimate top-three fantasy running back potential are plenty of reasons he can be a bounce-back player and a buy-low candidate either in the draft or during the season. Don't be scared off of him for good just because of an early-June rumbling about a timeshare.