October 26, 2012 @ 13:26:52 PDT
So far, Doug Martin's appeal in fantasy football leagues and KFFL's rankings has relied upon a large work volume (receptions for PPR players) and not necessarily his talent as a runner. But is the latter improving?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie might finally be adjusting to NFL game speed. Coming off successful drool-inducing matchups against the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints, the Muscle Hamster packed a bigger punch in his Thursday night pillaging of the Minnesota Vikings, which included a one-yard scoring plunge (the role is his now).
On Thursday, against a capable front, his decisions were authoritative as he found ample success in going outside for big gains. His game-breaking bounce-outs resulted from patience instead of excitability, which often brings down those frustrating RBs that dance at the line of scrimmage.
That being said, he had some help in his team's typical strategy, with a new wrinkle that appeared to exploit a weakness. I suspect Pulp Fiction's Winston Wolf came in to solve the problem known as the Buccaneers' running game.
Before Martin's turn, the Vikes gave up most of their ground work in the last month to Robert Griffin III in Week 6 and LaRod Stephens-Howling batter them. They contained, to varying degrees, Alfred Morris, the blah Mikel Leshoure, and the opponent-dependent Chris Johnson.
Tampa Bay up-front hogs Donald Penn and the emerging Demar Dotson were in control for much of the evening. Quicker backs with similarly skilled edge-winning tackles will probably continue giving the Norse trouble this year. Minnesota will do better against the bruisers if they can keep them bottled up the middle.
Tampa's plan looked to be avoiding such situations. Martin's failures up the middle and LeGarrette Blount's erratic showings have contributed to Tampa's ineptitude for power running. Football Outsiders' offensive line rankings, in fact, confirm this; Tampa Bay ranks 30th in power success but has fared better in second-level and open-field situations.
This will remain their identity, considering Martin clicks better when running on the tackles' exterior; Blount remains a complementary carrier; and Josh Freeman has found his downfield swagger.
Looks like Mr. Wolf and his helpers are nearly done cleaning up the early-season mess left in the offensive car.
Martin can be quite good eventually if he improves his interior game, but he will not join the elite RB ranks this year, and it's a stretch that it'll happen at all.
Don't take on face value the weak numbers against the RB position shown by the Atlanta Falcons (Week 12, 4.7 RB YPC in last month) and Carolina Panthers (Week 11, 4.7 YPC besides stuffing a weak Dallas Cowboys run game). Those are decent welcome mats for Martin.
(The Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, have been better against ground warriors since the bye and aren't as attractive as the numbers say they are. Nick recently noted the Silver and Black's upward trend.)
Even with the promising slate ahead, it's a horrible time to buy Martin and, depending on your haul, a fantastic time to sell him. His post-Thursday spike will create the highest value he's carried all year.
Still, his understanding of the NFL RB's responsibilities looks like it's catching up to his natural fleetness. He'll continue to be useful chiefly for his heavy involvement and Greg Schiano's visions of Ray Rice when he stares into Martin's eyes.
(I think he's pulling a Gillian Darmody by trying to shoehorn the less talented Martin into Rice's mold. If you saw Sunday's Boardwalk Empire episode, you'll understand ... and be creeped out the rest of the day.)
Some will argue Martin's Week 8 performance will start cementing those Rice and (loftier) Emmitt Smith comparisons.
Welllll, let's not start Winston Wolfing ourselves quite yet.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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