Is Doug Martin Playing His Best Football Ever?
Preseason football is far from the best football around, but it always provides fun storylines.
Last year, Mark Ingram looked like the back who came into the league from Alabama, and this proved true. This year, Doug Martin appeared rejuvenated, looking like the back who burst onto the scene in Tampa Bay as a rookie.
While both these storylines have come true, this is as much exception as it is rule. There was belief in New Orleans that Brandon Coleman would become the third wide receiver, but that has not happened. The breakout of Gary Barnidge was nowhere near the radar, but that happened this year.
Preseason failure or success can be moot point or foreshadowing; for Martin this year, the preseason proved telling of a fourth-year renaissance. While it is not worth debating how to figure out which preseason storylines will prove correct, studying Martin is fully worthwhile.
Let's get a proper perspective of Martin's success this season and see how it stacks up with the rest of his career.
Martin entered the 2012 season as the second running back selected in the NFL draft behind only future superstar, Trent Richardson. While RIchardson's career started poorly, and has probably already ended, Martin entered the league on a tear as he rushed for 1,454 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns on 319 carries. Through the air, he added 472 yards and 1 touchdown on 49 receptions -- 71 targets.
As a rookie, he finished 5th in rushing yards and 10th in yards per carry among 42 running backs with at least 100 carries. He also had the fifth highest receiving output among running backs. To accomplish all of this as a rookie is an amazing feat and speaks volumes about the skill that Martin has.
Based on the traditional statistics, Martin had a phenomenal season, and he did not disappoint with advanced analytics. His Net Expected Points (NEP) scores were among the best backs that year too. Among those 42 running backs, Martin had the seventh highest Rushing NEP (10.18) and the tied for seventh ranked Rushing NEP per play (0.03).
As a receiver, Martin also impressed. That year, 43 backs had at least 30 targets -- Martin had 71 -- and he ranked 6th in Reception NEP (25.92) and 16th in Reception NEP per target (0.37). While Martin was good as a receiver, his volume helped his overall output.
However, there was one concerning number that was overlooked: his 30th ranked Rushing Success Rate (40.31%). This value -- worse than Richardson's (40.45%) -- alone should have made football enthusiasts take heed to a potential drop-off coming from Martin.
Extended Sophomore Slump
Martin's sophomore slump lasted through both his second and third years as he played in only 17 games and maintained consistently bad production. In this time, Martin rushed for 950 yards and 3 touchdowns on 261 carries (3.64 yards per carry).
In 2013, 47 running backs had 100 carries or more, and 43 eclipsed that mark in 2014. Martin had 127 and 134 carries, respectively. In 2013 Martin ranked 31st in Rushing NEP (-12.64) and in 2014 he ranked 24th (-7.83).
When you are running as poorly as Martin did overall in the two years, efficiency metrics will not judge favorably. Martin ranked 39th in Rushing NEP per play in 2013 (-0.10), and followed it up with the 29th ranked Rushing NEP per play in 2014 (-0.06).
It appeared that Martin's foreboding Rushing Success Rate caught up to him, but that fell accordingly to 39.06% in 2013, and 34.81% the following year.
Even worse for Martin was that he was not a receiving threat anymore, as he only registered 24 and 20 targets each year, respectively. In 2013, he turned the 24 targets into just 66 yards on 12 catches with no touchdowns, and he followed it up with 13 catches for 64 yards on 20 targets.
Needless to say, once Martin's rookie year receiving volume fell, his production in that aspect of the game slipped, too.
Even with his magnificent-looking preseason, all the numbers from his two previous seasons did not give much reason to believe in Martin for this year. So now that he has turned it around, just how well does it compare to his rookie season?
Right now, Martin has 1,038 yards and 3 touchdowns on 202 carries (5.14 yards per carry) ranking him second in the league for rushing yards behind Adrian Peterson. As a receiver, he has 22 receptions for 189 yards and 1 touchdown on 27 targets.
Of the 50 backs in the league with at least 60 carries, Martin is 14th in both Rushing NEP (0.31) and Rushing NEP per play (0.0015). Of the 53 backs with at least 20 targets, Martin ranks 25th in Reception NEP (12.57) and 15th in Reception NEP per target (0.47).
With his 235-yard performance against the Eagles in Week 11, Martin showed that he is back to performing at the same level as his rookie year. While this version is not as efficient on the ground, he is now more efficient in the passing game.
Leave it to Martin, though, to maintain some doubt in his performance. He holds the 24th ranked Rushing Success Rate (39.60%). That is still not at the same level as his rookie-year rate.
Enjoy this version of Martin while it is here because we have not seen career-long consistency from him. As it stands, Martin projects as the eighth best running back for the rest of the year for fantasy football purposes.
If you have Martin on your fantasy squad, then use him while you can, but do not be surprised if his success dips once again after this year given his still-worrisome Success Rate.