The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Matt Waldman
Oh boy, the “Charles Sims is coming” argument. Sims caught 51 passes for 561 yards and 4 scores in 2015 and its scaring fantasy owners from valuing Martin as a top-10 runner with elite fantasy upside. Rather than basing a pro-Sims argument based on his reception totals exceeding Martin last year, let’s go beyond the immediate past of 2014 and consider what Dirk Koetter has been doing since 2007.
Tampa Bay’s head coach has a history of molding scheme to talent. When Koetther joined Jacksonville in 2007, he had a healthy Fred Taylor, a rising star in Maurice Jones-Drew, and sub-par receivers (Reggie Williams and Dennis Northcutt). He adjusted the scheme to feature its two best skill players. Jones-Drew earned RB13 fantasy production Jones-Drew and Taylor earned RB18 totals.
From 2008-2011, Jones-Drew became the engine of the Jaguars offense, authoring seasons as the No.9, No.3, No.12, and No.11 fantasy back despite still lacking great firepower in the passing game. Moving to Atlanta in 2012, Koetter took over an offense with Roddy White and Julio Jones in excellent form and Michael Turner in the decline. With the ground game struggling to earn more than 3.6 yards per carry for the next two years, Koetter enlisted Jaquizz Rodgers as his “space back” and red zone counter weapon. Rodgers caught 50 passes during 2 of the 3 seasons that Koetter ran the offense.
Despite his No.16 PPR ranking last year, Sims carries/receptions mimic those of Rodgers in 2012 (94/53) and 2013 (97/52) during Koetter’s Atlanta tenure. Sims and the Buccaneers ground game was significantly better than Atlanta’s group but the Tampa passing game had three starters (Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins) missing a combined 13 games last year. It only makes sense that Koetter enlisted Sims more often in the Rodgers role when Winston was working with reserves.
Although Sims is a better runner than Rodgers, Martin is one of the best runners and athletes at his position in the league. His 4.55-second 40 time seems pedestrian for an NFL athlete but it’s one of the most short-sighted and useless metrics to judge a back’s athletic talent. Martin’s agility-specific drills—a far more important measure for the position—rank in the 92nd percentile of all backs ever tested at the NFL Combine. Martin’s bench press totals also best any back that entered the league for the past two seasons.
Martin, who earned the feature role over Sims within the first few days of training camp, was the No.5 fantasy RB and his ranking was closer to No.2 than the end of the bottom of the top-10. He earned these totals despite an offensive line with two rookie starters and averaged 4.9 yards per carry—more than any back in the league with at least 200 attempts.
The “more carries” argument for Sims is a beat writer’s hypothesis that never factored Koetter’s history with receiving back workloads. It also didn’t factor that Lovie Smith’s regime drafted Sims and Koetter demanded the Buccaneers keep Martin. Koetter’s belief in Martin rebounding from injury was handsomely rewarded last year. There’s little reason to think the offense veers from Martin. If anything, it becomes more efficient in the red zone, which adds to the 26-year-old Martin’s paltry rushing total of 6 TDs. The No.5 back last year had 6 rushing TDs with a rookie QB? Chew on that, Martin naysayers.
Low Side by Chad Parsons
The first glaring concern with Doug Martin in 2016 is his price, RB11 by ADP. Martin finished as RB11 (points-per-game) in 2015 with a perfect storm of events. For the first time since his impressive rookie season Martin played more than 11 games. Secondly, Martin hit a career-high 4.9 yards-per-carry – a lofty mark for any running back (outside of Jamaal Charles among active players) to log in back-to-back seasons. Finally, Martin is not an overt physical talent exiting a back’s historical peak window of production.
Besides the natural regression odds of Martin’s individual play, Martin shares a backfield with pass-catching specialist Charles Sims. Martin had more targets than Sims in only two games in 2015 and none over the final half of the season. This was a perfect storm for Martin as Vincent Jackson missed significant time. The tight end position was unsettled as Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Cameron Brate combined for 69 targets.
Martin has one of the strongest No.2 running backs in the NFL with Charles Sims, who dominates the passing game from the backfield. For Martin to return value on his RB11 price he has to stay healthy (has missed 15 games in four seasons to-date), not regress from his lofty yards-per-carry mark in 2015 (highly unlikely), and improve either his passing game work (clear secondary option to Charles Sims) or red zone work. Martin already saw 46 red zone ‘looks’ in 2015 and Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are prototypical short-range options who missed chunks of the season. The odds are firmly against Martin hitting RB1 numbers a second straight season.