These Fantasy Focus articles are designed for those who want to study the place where their interests in fantasy football and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers intersect. When it comes to Doug Martin in 2017, that can get a little tricky.
The news surrounding Martin has been positive and optimistic this offseason. After earning a suspension late last year and choosing to spend time in a treatment facility, the sixth-year running back came back to work in the spring healthy, in shape and clearly determined to get his career back on track. He appeared to be in top form during offseason practices, just as he so notably was in 2015, and there is reason to hope he can produce at the level he did that year, when he finished as the league's second-leading rusher.
Photos of running back Doug Martin from the 2015 season.
That's all good news for Martin, the team and Buccaneers fans.
However, Martin will still be serving that suspension for the first three games of the 2017 season. That plus his poor injury luck in a couple seasons and an understandable amount of uncertainty in the Bucs' depth chart have pushed Martin well down the fantasy draft board. If you're a Doug Martin fan and you see him being drafted after the likes of Paul Perkins and Ameer Abdullah, it can be hard not to react to that a little emotionally. But you need to avoid that. It's a good thing if you believe in Martin's future – as I do – but that shouldn't factor into your approach to fantasy football.
Instead, if you strike at the right time, you may wind up with the best of both worlds, being rewarded for rooting for Martin on the real gridiron and in fantasy football. And wouldn't that be nice?
Buccaneers 2017 Fantasy Focus: Doug Martin
Martin was a common first-round pick – a high first-round pick – in 2013 after his fantastic rookie season. After injuries limited his production the next two years he rebounded with a big 2015 and, once again last summer, was an early pick. You may not have had to get Martin in the first round in 2016, but you probably couldn't wait until after the second.
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](http://www.buccaneers.com/news/article-1/Fantasy-Focus-OJ-Howard/dedade11-7ae9-4bff-a850-a0986bdaf8b4)That will not be the case this summer. Simply put, Martin wasn't among the 50 top running backs in fantasy football last year, so team owners aren't going to invest a first or second-round pick in him this year. Right now, Martin is going just outside the top 100 in ESPN drafts, on average. Here are his relevant rankings:
Average Draft Position (ESPN): 100.9
Position (RB) Draft Ranking: 36
2016 Fantasy Point Production (Standard Format):80
2016 Position (RB) Rank: 55
In a way, that does represent a relative amount of optimism about Martin. He's being drafted about 20 spots higher up the rankings than he finished last year. That indicates that there are plenty of fantasy draftniks who are taking a mid-round gamble on Martin returning to a good level of productivity.
Basically, the fantasy football community is putting Martin into a fairly big group of running backs who have legitimate question marks but a potentially high ceiling. Martin may have the highest of them all. Mike Gillislee (#29) has never rushed for more than 500 yards in a season but he has a career 5.6-yard per-carry average and he may have landed in a promising situation in New England. Theo Riddick (#30) and Abdullah (#33) had injury problems last year but are in a strong offense in Detroit (albeit one that hasn't had a consistent rushing attack). LeGarrette Blount (#31) scored 17 touchdowns last year but went unsigned much of the offseason before landing in Philly. Perkins (#32) had a so-so rookie season (fantasy-wise) but if he emerges as the Giants' lead back he could pay big dividends. How much does Matt Forte (#35) have left in the tank? Is Robert Kelley (#34) the lead back in Washington after the arrival of Samaje Perine (#48)?
You get the point. The supposed "sure things" at running back will go very early (e.g. LeSean McCoy or Jay Ajayi), and the solid but unexciting choices will go next (e.g. Mark Ingram or Carlos Hyde). Most owners will be drafting for running back depth in Rounds 5-8, and they're going to have to take a risk or two like the ones described above.
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You also know that not all of those situations can work out. If you truly do believe in Doug Martin in 2017, you're probably taking him in the eighth or ninth round instead of taking a chance on Riddick or Forte or Kelley. Bump that up by a round if you're in a league with other Buccaneer fans and you've seen a slight tendency towards homerism in your drafts. You should follow Martin's progress in training camp and the preseason, and if he's building on his strong offseason just like he did in 2015, you can be more confident that you're picking the right man and the right situation.
Remember when I suggested up top to try to divorce emotions from fantasy decisions? Well, a lot of people don't do that. I know I'm guilty of carrying (fantasy-only) grudges against players who didn't work out for me. Just last year I fell way too hard for Riddick and now the thought of picking him again (irrationally) makes me wince. Now consider Martin's career: His two best seasons were followed by very difficult ones, for fantasy purposes. Some of your fellow owners may have been burned once or even twice with that pick. Let that be their problem and capitalize by making a clear-headed and very reasonable fantasy gamble on the talented Martin in the middle rounds.
Still, you must also factor in that suspension. No matter how good Martin can be in 2017, he can't play during the first three weeks, and that limits his overall seasonal value to at least some degree. Tom Brady has been a top fantasy quarterback for years, and this year his ESPN ADP is 22.3, second among all quarterbacks to the always-prolific Aaron Rodgers. That's a late second-round pick in a 12-team league. Last summer, Brady was due to miss the first four games of the season and he had an ADP of around 69, making him a late sixth-round pick.
After missing those four games, Brady came back to have a marvelous season, most notably putting up a ridiculous 28-2 TD-INT ratio. He was good for 258.6 fantasy points…which ranked 15th among all quarterbacks. On a per-game basis, Brady averaged 21.6 points per game, which would have ranked behind only Rodgers (23.8) and Matt Ryan (21.7). In other words, teams that added Brady to their starting lineup in Week Five were dropping in a top-three quarterback for the rest of the season. If they had stayed competitive during the first four Brady-less weeks – perhaps with someone like Tyrod Taylor or Philip Rivers filling in – they were suddenly in very good shape.
Keep that scenario in mind when you're drafting running backs this year. If, in the early going, you get a couple running backs who appear to be in very stable situations – say, Devonta Freeman in the first round and Lamar Miller in the third – you're probably in a good spot to take a bit of a risk on Martin. If the injury bug bites either of your two starters, you could wind up with a very good replacement starting in Week Four. No, it's not a sure thing, but there's a reason why there has been so much optimistic talk coming out of One Buccaneer Place this spring and summer. If your early running backs are a little more volatile, like Chicago's Jordan Howard or a rookie like Christian McCaffrey, you might be more risk averse in the middle rounds and opt for a lower-ceiling option like Kelley.
So go ahead and target Martin in the draft this year. You don't need to reach – remember, take the emotions out of it – but neither should you shy away from the Buccaneer back if he's still available in the middle rounds. It could be the type of minor gamble that pays off big in the long run.