Is Doug Martin's Resurgence the Real Deal?

​After two dismal seasons, Doug Martin is finally producing again. Can he keep performing?

In 2012, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin took the football world by storm.

A first round pick from Boise State, Martin burst onto the scene, finishing that season with 319 carries, 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. He added 49 catches for 472 yards and another touchdown through the air. That season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Pro-Bowler’s 1,926 total yards from scrimmage were the most gained by a rookie since Edgerrin James gained 2,139 in 1999.

His 12 total touchdowns were undoubtedly a factor in many fantasy championships that season.

To further exemplify the point, Martin’s 2012 Total  Net Expected Points (NEP), which combines rushing and receiving production, was 36.10, ranking third among 23 running backs with at least 200 carries.

NEP is our signature metric at numberFire. Using NFL data dating back to 2000, we are able to quantify a player’s ability to add or subtract from his team’s expectation to score points. NEP allows us to consider a wide variety of variables to determine a player’s true production and efficiency. More information about NEP can be found in our glossary.

To put it bluntly, Doug Martin was a stud in 2012. The future seemed incredibly bright.

But 2013 and 2014 were a different story for Martin. A torn labrum sent Martin to injured reserve early in his sophomore campaign.

In 2014, knee and ankle injuries hampered Martin significantly, as he totaled a measly 135 carries for 494 yards and 2 touchdowns, adding 64 receiving yards on 13 catches. His Total NEP was -7.51, which ranked 30th among 36 running backs with at least 135 carries.

The Muscle Hamster appeared headed for that dubious, deflating, please-don’t-say-it distinction: one-hit wonder.

What’s New With You?

This past spring, Tampa Bay declined Martin’s fifth-year contract option, making him an unrestricted free agent in 2016.

While Martin was still expected to return as the starting running back, he was set to split snaps with second year running back, Charles Sims. Hand-picked by the Jason Licht/Lovie Smith regime, Sims missed half of his rookie season with a broken ankle.

Overall, the Bucs were in the midst of a complete offensive overhaul.

New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter came over from Atlanta, replacing Jeff Tedford. Pass catchers Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins were expected to progress from their rookie seasons. The offensive line had been rebuilt from scratch.

And of course, Tampa Bay used the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft to select Florida State quarterback, Jameis Winston.

The preseason narrative surrounding Martin was that he had lost weight. There was an extra spring in his step. He was healthy again, and he was highly motivated in a contract season.

But would this be enough for Martin to regain his rookie form in 2015?

The Blazing Buccaneer?

Martin is off to an incredibly hot start in 2015. Entering Week 6, his 405 rushing yards are tied for second in the NFL. His five total touchdowns are tied for fifth among running backs. His 4.5 yards per carry would rank second for his career.

In standard ESPN fantasy leagues, Martin is currently the RB3. Given his average draft position of 72, according to Fantasy Pros, owners are certainly pleased with their early-season return on investment.

But do these numbers tell the whole story?

Despite being third in carries (90) through five weeks, Martin’s Total NEP of 3.18 ranks a rather pedestrian 13th among 20 running backs with at least 60 carries.

Martin’s Rushing NEP (-3.38) and Rushing Success Rate (40.00%) both also rank 13th among the same 20 running backs. For reference, Martin ranks behind Isaiah Crowell and ahead of Frank Gore in both categories.

His receiving metrics aren’t much better, a big part of why his Total NEP is low. Catching all 11 targets this year, Martin ranks 21st in Reception NEP (6.56) and 15th in Reception Success Rate (72.73%) among the 48 running backs with at least 10 targets.

The statistics and metrics appear to paint two different pictures. Some of the answers may lie within the schedule.

When looking at schedule-adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP, we see that Tampa Bay has yet to face a top-10 team. While their remaining schedule is less than daunting, three of their next five opponents rank within the top 10: Washington (10th), Giants (4th), and Philadelphia (9th).

We must also acknowledge that Martin continues to split snaps with backfield mate Charles Sims.

Sims’ City

Is Doug Martin even the best running back on his own team?

First, let’s look at the division of labor to see how things are being divvied up.

Player Rushing Snaps (%) Passing Snaps (%) Total Snaps (%)
Doug Martin 102 (66) 77 (38) 179 (50)
Charles Sims 48 (31) 107 (52) 155 (43)
Bobby Rainey 4 (3) 21 (10) 25 (7)

While Martin remains the starter, a 50 percent workload does not instill confidence that his current pace can be maintained. When comparing Martin’s NEP data to that of Sims, the red flags begin to fly even higher. (Bobby Rainey has four offensive touches this season, and none since week 2. His sample size is too small to consider for comparison.)

Player Rushing NEP Rushing NEP/P Rushing Success Rate Carries Yards Yards per Carry Touchdowns
Doug Martin -3.38 -.038 .400 90 405 4.5 3
Charles Sims -2.52 -.068 .378 37 135 3.6 0

The key metric here is the Rushing Success Rate. Success Rate measures the percentage of successful runs (plays that increase NEP). Despite Martin receiving nearly three times the carries of Sims, their Success Rates are nearly identical. Martin is the better runner this year, but the margin is slim.

Player Reception NEP Rec NEP/Tar Success Rate Catches Yards Yards per Catch Touchdowns
Doug Martin 6.56 .596 .727 11 94 8.5 1
Charles Sims 16.61 .874 .786 14 193 13.8 2

Sims is, hands down, the better receiver. In fact, his Reception NEP per target (0.87) ranks first among all 48 running backs with at least 10 targets. In that same metric, Martin (0.60) ranks seventh. In Reception Success Rate, Sims (78.60%) ranks sixth and Martin (72.70%) ties for 14th  among the same 48 running backs with at least 10 targets.

PlayerTotal NEP Total Touches Total NEP per touch  
Doug Martin3.18101.031
Charles Sims 14.0951.276

It’s important to note that Sims’ Total NEP is nearly 11 points higher, despite receiving 50 fewer touches than Martin. Although rushing is inherently less efficient than receiving, it’s clear that Sims has been the more efficient player through five weeks.

Buy or Sell?

Coming off consecutive 100-yard games, with four total touchdowns in that time, Doug Martin enters the bye week squarely in the buy or sell crosshairs.

Performance metrics, workload concerns, schedule consideration, game flow projections (Tampa Bay ranks 24th in Adjusted Defensive NEP, and we project the Bucs to finish the season with 6.1 wins), and injury history all provide varying degrees of concern for the fourth-year back.

Despite his current standing as the RB3, our algorithms project Martin to play as the 13th best running back for the rest of the season.

While an RB13 finish would still yield a positive return on owners’ draft investment, this may be the ideal time to sell high on the Buccaneer running back.