With Doug Martin suspended until Week 4, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a vacancy to fill at their RB position. The other running backs on the roster include assumed starter Jacquizz Rodgers, pass-catching back Charles Sims, and fifth round rookie Jeremy McNichols. Rodgers appears to have the job for the first few weeks of the season. As such, he could represent some sneaky late round value with high upside when paired with Doug Martin, or even have some independent value if he manages to win the job.
Starting Role Experience
Out of the group of running backs mentioned above, Rodgers is the only one with experience as a starter. Last season, Rodgers put up some very good fantasy numbers while Doug Martin was out with a hamstring injury. The following stats summarize his three games as a starter:
One caveat about Rodgers 2016 starting-role games is that two of his three starts came against awful rush defenses. Both San Francisco and Oakland were bottom ten in the category last year. However, it’s more important to note the usage of Rodgers in these games. Carolina had a middling rush defense last season, and Tampa Bay relied on Rodgers heavily in the Monday night game. This signals that the teams trust Rodgers as a starter and that he can handle a large volume of carries when required. While he piled on stats against weak defenses, it has been shown that the team will heavily involve him in their game plan.
Opportunity and Doug Martin’s Role
The most important reason I’m writing about Rodgers is that he has something special to start the season: a chance to showcase himself as an early-down starting back. Not many running backs in this league ever obtain this chance, and few do anything meaningful when given the opportunity. Rodgers has already proved to the Buccaneers that he can strive in an early-down role, and now has three games to confirm that fact. However, this backfield is either Doug Martin’s to lose, or Jacquizz Rodger’s to gain. It’s clear that Doug Martin is the superior talent to Rodgers, but even the best talent can’t produce if they’re never on the field (*cough* Josh Gordon). Thus, while I can’t say that Rodgers is the better runner, I can confidently say that he has a shot to separate himself with this opportunity.
Doug Martin is serving a three-game suspension for PEDs and is eligible to return in the Buc’s Week 4 matchup with the Giants. Reports are that he has been having a great offseason, despite having multiple hamstring injuries last season. Martin is expected to be the starter upon his return, as he is the team’s main back and has had very productive seasons in the past, running for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns just two years ago. Martin struggled big time in 2016 with injuries and productivity, but from Weeks 10-15 he was a top-15 scorer among fantasy running backs.
Martin is currently being drafted in the eighth round, making him the 33rd ranked running back. Doug Martin is definitely capable of being a top-tier running back based on volume, but so is Jacquizz Rodgers.
Charles Sims and Jeremy McNichols
Charles Sims spent most of the 2016 year on the injured reserve with knee ailments, and after being activated in Week 14 headed straight back to IR in Week 17 with a shoulder injury. Sims excels at pass protection and running slant routes, which feeds well into his role as a pass-catcher. He spent the offseason getting healthy, but should only take away from Rodgers on third downs.
Rookie Jeremy McNichols is new to the team in 2017 and has impressed coaches and teammates at training camp. McNichols had an impressive tenure at Boise State, where he played as a starter for two years. He has notably struggled with the playbook, which is typically for rookie running backs. McNichols is vying for the third down role with Charles Sims — if he can improve his pass protection and knowledge of the playbook.
I don’t think either Sims or McNichols are in play for a bulk of the early down work, which leaves more touches for Rodgers or Martin.
Tampa Bay Offense
This year, the Buccaneers look to have an improved, promising offense. Armed with the addition of speedster Desean Jackson and talented pass-catching tight end OJ Howard, things appear to be moving up for the offense. Mike Evans is easily a top-five wide receiver in the NFL, and looks to be improving. Jameis Winston looks to develop entering his third year in the league, and could easily jump into the top-15 quarterback discussion. All these signs bode well for the run game, as it should open more lanes for the running backs and help to prevent teams from stacking linebackers.
Dirk Koetter – Tampa Bay’s Coach
Jacquizz Rodgers has experience with Dirk Koetter, as Koetter was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta from 2012-2014, where Rodgers was the running back. Koetter was tremendous in his role at Atlanta, with the team excelling in both rushing and passing attacks. Prior to joining the Falcons, Koetter spent five seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars (2007-11). In his five years with the Jaguars, the team cumulatively ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards (132.0 per game) and sixth in rushing average (4.41 yards per attempt).
Koetter appears to be committed to running the ball and is a successful offensive coach. More importantly, he has usually had one running back handle the first and second down duties during all of his roles as head coach and offensive coordinator. Whatever the playing situation may be for Martin and Rodgers, there is little chance that a committee forms for the first and second down running plays.
Relative ADPs and the Late Round Value
Currently, both running backs have a late ADP, due to the uncertainty surrounding the backfield. Rodgers is ranked as the No. 49 RB and 132nd overall pick, while Martin is the No. 33 RB and 86th overall pick. Assuming a ten-team league, Martin has an eighth round draft price, while Rodgers is going in the 13th round. Both backs come at an extremely low cost, which can work in your favor when drafting.
Personally, I believe the best strategy here would be aiming for Rodgers first, as he offers immediate value for the start of the season. Rodgers is set up to start against Miami, Chicago, and Minnesota, all defenses that ranked in the bottom half of Football Outsiders’ run-defense DVOA last year. If you manage to land only one of the two backs, you’re still in a good position for upside. Martin offers the upside of a top-15 back when healthy, and can help your team from Week 4 on. That said, with his extremely low draft cost, Rodgers has the greater chance to exceed his draft price.
Both Martin and Rodgers offer upside at lower draft prices. Martin has the higher draft price, due to his assumed starting role in 2017, even though that starting role is not guaranteed. However, if Rodgers shows that he can maintain the role as a starting running back, his draft price represents massive upside. In the 13th rounds of your draft, look for Jacquizz Rodgers as a guaranteed FLEX for Weeks 1-3, with the potential to be a full-time RB option for your team.
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