The Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to have some offensive talent but a big question at running back. Could 2012 rookie sensation Doug Martin recapture his form from that year or was he a one-hit wonder? Let's examine with 5Dimes' odds.
Where Is 2012 Hamster?
Tampa Bay opens the preseason on Saturday night at Minnesota, which is a 3.5-point favorite on NFL odds. Certainly the big story line from Tampa's side for that game -- Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson won't play and probably won't at all this preseason -- is the NFL debut of 2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston of the Bucs. There have been reports that the 2013 Heisman winner out of Florida State has struggled with interceptions in training camp. Winston has two terrific receivers to throw to this season in veteran Vincent Jackson and second-year Mike Evans.
But if I'm a Tampa Bay Buccaneers backer, I'm focusing a lot on that running back position Saturday and specifically Martin. He had one of the great rookie seasons for any running back in league history three years ago. As a first-round pick out of Boise State, Martin rushed for 1,454 yards on 319 carries (excellent 4.6 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. He added 49 catches for 472 yards and a touchdown. Those were the most yards from scrimmage by a rookie since the Colts' Edgerrin James in 1999.
Martin had one of the great fantasy football games ever in a 42-32 win in Oakland (where Martin grew up) on Nov. 4, 2012. He rushed 25 times for a franchise-record 251 yards and added four catches. Martin had touchdown runs of 1, 45, 67 and 70 yards. He became the first back since at least 1940 to score on three TD runs of at least 45 yards in one game. He joined Mike Anderson (Broncos) as the only backs with at least 250 yards rushing and four TDs in a single game. Martin became known by one of the NFL's great nicknames, the "Muscle Hamster," and looked like a future superstar along the likes of James or Marshall Faulk.
It hasn't worked out.
Back in May, the Bucs turned down the fifth-year option on Martin's rookie contract, which shows how far he has fallen. In 2013, Martin was limited to only six games and had 127 carries for 456 yards (only 3.6 yards per carry) and one touchdown. And last year, Martin was limited to 11 games, carrying 134 times for 494 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and two scores. He was a non-factor as a receiver both years.
You can't help injuries, but clearly Martin's effectiveness hasn't been the same. He has every motivation in the world to have a huge 2015 because since the Bucs declined that option, he will become an unrestricted free agent after this season. I always take "reports" from training camp with a huge grain of salt, but Martin has been called one of the Bucs' most impressive players. One Tampa beat writer said Martin was "wowing with the pads on." But beat writers are also only allowed to see certain parts of practices, and frankly most of them are homers in camp. But the NFL Network's Mike Mayock, who has no dog in this fight, has echoed that Martin has looked fantastic.
Apparently Martin doesn't like his nickname, either: "The name 'Muscle Hamster' is the worst nickname possibly ever given to somebody," Martin said to USA Today. "I hope it changes, and I hope that I play to a level where my nickname changes. That's what my goals are."
The Buccaneers have some good running back depth with Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James, but Martin has been running with the first team. While the Bucs have those two fine receivers, obviously Winston is going to struggle as a rookie. And Tampa Bay's offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL last season. The Bucs took two linemen in the second round of this year's draft in Penn State tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet from Division III Hobart College. Smith was listed as a co-starter at left tackle in the team's first depth chart and Marpet as the No. 2 right guard.
NFL Free Pick: Martin is +5000 to be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year at 5Dimes. I'm not seeing it. That line is concerning, and he's still going to be sharing carries.