Many fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also enjoy the world of fantasy football. Where the two intersect is a territory that can be particularly entertaining for Buccaneer rooters. Here we begin a regular feature looking at the ways in which recent developments on the gridiron for Tampa Bay may affect the fantasy game.
This week's notes:
1. Martin Looking Strong
Fantasy experts have been relatively high on Buccaneers rookie since he was selected with the 31st overall pick in the draft in April. Analysts like the way Martin's three-down skills match with a coaching staff that seems intent on building an offense around the running game. Martin may be in a timeshare in Tampa Bay's backfield with incumbent starter LeGarrette Blount, but that's hardly a unique situation in the modern NFL. Fantasy players have only a handful of unchallenged RB starters to choose from before they have to start guessing how various NFL backfields will distribute the football.
That's far from clear in Tampa, even after two games. However, what has been evident so far is that Martin appears every bit as talented as the scouts suggested. He is indeed capable of playing on all three downs – he was the third-down back on the Bucs' first drive in their preseason opener and he took all the snaps on the subsequent march – and he has shown an impressive burst and a quick cut-back.
Martin's numbers through two games won't set off any "sleeper" alarms, but the preseason is not a very reliable index. The rookie out of Boise State has 14 carries for 44 yards and one touchdown so far, playing exclusively with the first-team offense. He also had a nifty 16-yard run erased by a holding call behind the play on Friday against Tennessee, and he has generally looked sharp in his cuts. That builds on an outstanding training camp in which he has generated a lot of buzz.
It's not likely that Martin's work in the first two preseason games has driven his draft stock upward much, but neither has it contradicted what the analysts were predicting weeks and months ago. In a 10-man experts' draft on NFL.com, Martin went midway through the sixth round; on Yahoo.com, Martin is going at an average draft position of 51.2.
Presumably, a good portion of the readers of this column are Buccaneer fans, many of whom live in the Bay area. Your own fantasy drafts are likely to include some other Buc fans, and this you might have to pay a slight premium for the likes of Martin or Vincent Jackson. The best guess here is that Martin is likely to go somewhere around the fifth round of a 12-team draft. Plan accordingly.
2. Jackson Is No Decoy
One day before Tampa Bay's second preseason game, Head Coach Greg Schiano responded to a question about his team's receiver depth by saying, in part, that the Bucs definitely have a #1 receiver. That is obviously Vincent Jackson, the team's prized offseason acquisition.
Jackson had no catches in the team's preseason opener in Miami, and just one for eight yards against Tennessee on Friday. While it may seem repetitive, keep this in mind: That means nothing. The starting offense played one series against the Dolphins and one quarter in the home opener on Friday. That won't be the case when the games start for real on September 9.
Note this: Jackson was the targeted player on three of the 10 throws that starting quarterback Josh Freeman made while he was in the game. On Saturday, Schiano confirmed that the team was making a specific effort to get the ball to their new weapon against the Titans. One should expect that to be the case in the regular season, as well, especially if the running game is working and the play-action deep ball is in play.
In that same NFL.com experts draft that saw Martin come off the board in the middle of the sixth round, Jackson was selected three picks later. That matchups up well with the average draft positions on Yahoo.com, where Jackson is coming in at #57, just behind Martin. Again, given the possible Buc-leanings of your draft, the fifth round seems like the safest place to target Vincent Jackson.
3. Smith Could Be a Sleeper
Michael Smith, the Utah State running back drafted by the Buccaneers in the seventh round in April, will almost certainly not be selected in your fantasy league. Nor are we suggesting that you should use one of your picks on Smith. All we're saying is, if you're in a league that uses PPR scoring and – more importantly – kick return statistics for individual players, you may want to keep Smith on your "watch list."
Tampa Bay drafted Smith largely because of his blazing 40-yard dash times, and the quick moves he showed with the Aggies. Smith has confidently stated that he is battling for full-time running back duties, and well he should, but a fantasy football player isn't going to jump on a seventh-rounder until he has won such a battle. For the time, being, it's at least worth noting that the Buccaneers have run Smith extensively in the second half of both of their preseason games, and they are currently giving him the largest share of the return game.
Smith has 16 carries for 41 yards so far, but he has mostly been on the field with third-string offensive linemen. He has all seven of the team's kickoff returns so far and is averaging an impressive 34.1 yards per runback, including a 74-yarder at Miami. As much as the raw numbers, the Buccaneers have to like Smith's style so far – on virtually every return he has sprinted out of the end zone and simply hit the first available gap at top seed.
Again, Smith has a long way to go before he is a real consideration for you on draft day. However, if he ends up winning both a partial role in the Bucs' backfield and the kickoff return job, he could be a sneaky waiver-wire pickup in leagues that reward catches and return yards.