What Is Doug Martin's Fantasy Football Value in 2015?
Whenever I get into a fantasy football discussion with someone centered around sleepers and busts, must-drafts and undraftables, the conversation always seems to inevitably find its way to the story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."
"Why is that?" you may ask.
Well, it's because in fantasy football, all values are relative. Sometimes a player gets hyped to the point where his price becomes "too hot" compared to the risks involved. Other times a lack of information leads to the fantasy community collectively being "too cold" on a player's value.
But sometimes, when public perception and available information intersect at that perfect sweet spot, a player's value becomes "just right" for the astute manager.
With that being said, I argue that Doug Martin now finds himself in precisely this position, where his predicted value in fantasy football circles and actual role and opportunity on his team create great value for those willing to select them him in their drafts this year.
Left for dead by the Bucs by the middle of last season, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's arrival in Tampa Bay has convinced the team to backtrack from their attempts to trade their former first-round draft pick and instead they have all but handed him the starting running back job during OTAs.
Head coach Lovie Smith has even gone as far as telling the media that "[Martin is] on the first team like he's always been. He's one of our guys. He's our running back, and he's showing up, and he's getting good work, so I think it's just as simple as that."
And with this vote of confidence for Doug Martin in stark contrast to many already writing him off from their fantasy football teams this season, as we'll soon discuss, this might just make Doug Martin a perfect value add in the middle rounds of drafts this season.
Coming into the NFL as the 31st overall pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- on the heels of a strong preseason and favorable comparisons to Pro Bowler Ray Rice -- Martin saw his average draft position skyrocket to number 26 overall in standard leagues according to FantasyFootballCaclulator.com.
If you ask me, that was quite a steal considering he would finish the year as the number-two running back behind only Adrian Peterson.
The rookie out of Boise State put on a stellar all-around performance, producing a stat line of 1,454 yards on the ground, 49 receptions and 472 yards through the air, and 12 total touchdowns. His signature game came in Week 9 against the Raiders when he ran all over the Oakland defense to the tune of 251 yards and tie the NFL record for most rushing touchdowns in a half with four.
And how did he rack up such impressive numbers over his rookie season?
A look at the game film reveals he did so using all the tools one looks for in a running back. Martin demonstrated excellent vision and patience in his rookie year, coupled with a sudden burst that allowed him to shoot through the proper lane once it opened up. His low-center of gravity and bulky frame along with his above-average balance also facilitated his ability to shed tackles on a consistent basis and break off long runs. Indeed, in his rookie year Martin ranked third in broken tackle rate according to Football Outsiders.
By the end of the year it looked like Tampa Bay -- and fantasy football managers -- had a perennial top-five running back on their hands.
Following a breakout rookie campaign and with no signs of slowing down, Martin would find himself with an ADP of second overall in 2013. And even after a disappointing year where Martin would finish as just the 56th best back in standard leagues -- thanks in large part to the reputation he built in his rookie year -- Martin still saw himself being drafted 20th overall in fantasy football leagues in 2014.
Yet, despite a promising NFL debut season, Martin would fail to live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him, totaling just 1,080 yards from scrimmage and 3 total touchdowns over the two last two years combined.
So what happened?
Overall, his production was hampered due to an inability to stay healthy. In 2013 a torn labrum cost Martin the second-half of his sophomore season, while in 2014 knee and ankle injuries hampered him throughout the year.
And when he did see the field, his production was hurt by a lack of big runs once powered by his ability to use his build and power to break tackles. As mentioned previously, while Martin ranked third in the league in broken tackles per run in 2012, he was seventh-to-last in this category in 2014.
A common mantra in fantasy football circles is that, while you can't win your league in the first rounds of the draft, you can certainly lose it. And for those who took a chance on Doug Martin in his second and third year in the pros, this saying hits all too close to home.
Martin's high price in 2013 and 2014 cost many a fantasy football manager a chance at a title long before the season even began, and the sour taste left in many people's mouths has firmly planted Martin onto a good number of "Do Not Draft" lists for the foreseeable future.
Now with an ADP of 82nd overall in drafts for this upcoming season, it's clear that after two straight disappointing seasons, fantasy football managers are staying far away from Doug Martin. As former President George W. Bush once said, "fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again.”
Well, you get the idea.
But have we now swung in the opposite direction of Martin's true fantasy football value for 2015? Is his perceived value so low that we now have an arbitrage opportunity to profit from the Muscle Hamster once again?
A look at our advanced Net Expected Points (NEP) metric suggests this may be exactly the case.
For those unfamiliar, NEP is our measure of a player's efficiency by quantifying his contributions to his team's chances of scoring above or below expectations. A positive score means a player helped his team improve their chances of putting points on the board, while a negative score means precisely the opposite.
Interestingly, our Rushing NEP per carry metric reveals that just like in 2012, Martin was the most efficient running back for the Bucs in 2014. This itself is a nice bounceback from Martin's performance in 2013, when he was by far Tampa Bay's worst tailback with a mark of -0.10. But more importantly, while his -0.06 Rush NEP per attempt last year is certainly nothing to get excited about, it was still far and away better than rookie Charles Sims' -0.24 per carry.
This -- along with his strong finish to last season with 96 and 108 yards on the ground against division rivals Carolina and New Orleans, respectively -- might just explain Lovie Smith and the coaching staff's newfound confidence as Martin as their starting tailback for 2015.
To motivate Martin further, the Bucs front office has created a sense of urgency for the fourth-year back, declining to pick up his fifth-year option and making 2015 a prove-it season for him.
By no means am I suggesting that all this means Martin will come back to his big play form in 2012 that made him a top-two tailback that season. But what I am saying is that, despite being mired by injuries, Martin has still demonstrated he can be this team's best back.
And with Bucs willing to give him a chance to solidify his role as the lead back, you could do worse than use an eighth- or ninth-round pick on a team's starting running back with something to prove.