After rushing for more than 1,400 yards for the second time in his career, Martin played only eight games in 2016 and was a shadow of his 2015 self, losing two full yards off his YPC and failing to record a run of 20 or more yards after reeling off 14 in 16 games the season before. He missed six games with a hamstring injury before getting benched by coach Dirk Koetter in Week 16, and then abruptly left the team to begin serving the first game of a four-game PED suspension in Week 17. However, a healthy, focused and motivated Martin remains the team's most talented back. After serving the rest of his suspension, his well-rounded skill set should mesh well with Koetter's system. Martin's checkered track record makes that a very risky thing to count on, however.
We're four years into the Martin NFL experience, and we're still trying to figure out how good he is. The rookie year of 2012 was a smash, though he was more about big games than he was about week-to-week consistency. Then came the crash of 2013 and 2014 — injuries didn't help (knee, ankle, labrum). The Bucs declined an option year on Martin before last season — basically telling him it was time to put up or shut up. Martin put up, coming to camp in excellent shape, then unleashing his best rushing-efficiency year and second-best receiving year. He led the league in runs of 20 or more yards. His only major issue was a fumbling problem — five dropped, all five lost —though he didn't have signs of this his first three seasons. His year-by-year positional rank in basic-scoring formats reads this way: 2nd, 56th, 47th, 3rd. Which number comes next in the series, eggheads? Martin's big season got him paid by Tampa —a five-year, $35 million package. Charles Sims is a respected understudy to Martin (and a better receiver), but it's clear the team prefers Martin in the starting role. Consider Sims as a handcuff or upside play if Martin gets hurt, but he's unlikely to take the job outright. With an O-Line that's slowly coming around and expected growth of Jameis Winston, Martin at least is tied to a reasonable fantasy context.
Martin's big rookie season in 2012 is a distant memory, as two injury-plagued campaigns have left his future with the Buccaneers in doubt. Martin's biggest asset out of college was his lack of weaknesses. While he wasn't a standout in any one area, he earned plus grades in just about all areas, with a low center of gravity, power and balance to be effective in short yardage, and the hands and open-field agility to be an asset as a receiver. He flashed that well-rounded skill set again toward the end of 2014, but Martin's 11 missed or broken tackles in 148 touches was among the worst rates in the league, and after his various injuries his skills perhaps have eroded. The Bucs worked to rebuild a poor offensive line in the offseason by adding two second-round picks to the mix, but with former Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter joining the staff and Jameis Winston now under center, Tampa figures to focus more on their aerial attack rather than the ground game. The team declined the fifth-year option on Martin's contract, and he may have a hard time holding off dynamic receiver Charles Sims atop the depth chart.
A shoulder injury suffered in last year's Week 7 game against Atlanta ended up knocking Martin out for the season and throwing the Bucs' running game into a state of chaos, but the injury is all cleared up now and Martin is set to resume the featured role that he rode to 1,926 total yards in 2012. At 5-9 and 223, Martin's a tackle-breaking machine (41 in '12) with serious big-play ability and receiving skills to boot.
Although the injury was the main culprit for last year's disappointment, it's worth noting that Martin's production was down when he was healthy too. He had two clunkers among his five full games, scored just one touchdown and saw his rate stats drop significantly. His YPC fell from 4.6 to 3.6, his receiving average fell from a sparkling 9.6 yards per reception to just 5.5, and he broke only six tackles. Of course, that's a small sample, and the two bad games came against the NFL's No. 1 and No. 3 run defenses.
After carrying 55 times in the red zone and 16 times at the goal line in 2012, Martin saw those numbers dip to seven and zero in 2013 – largely due to last year's wholly unproductive early-season Tampa offense. He'll presumably see most of the work in tight this year. Bobby Rainey, Mike James and third-round pick Charles Sims will vie for backup duties, but won't take many carries from Martin. Sims could eventually steal some pass targets from Martin, but not until he returns from an ankle injury.
The rebuilt Bucs offense should benefit Martin. Josh McCown's been brought in as the presumptive starter at QB for Tampa, while Carl Nicks is set to return to the offensive line after missing most of last season and Logan Mankins having been added. Star receiver Vincent Jackson and first-round draftee Mike Evans should keep opposing defenses from keying on the run game, leaving Martin loose to create havoc on the ground and through the air once again.
The 31st pick in the 2012 draft, Martin earned the starting job out of camp last year and quickly became the Bucs' workhorse in a standout rookie season. He ranked fourth in the league with 319 rushes, tied for second among feature backs with 70 targets and took 83.3 percent of his team's handoffs in the red zone, second only to Arian Foster. All of which led to nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage (2nd) and 12 total touchdowns (4th).
At 5-9, 223, Martin has a low center of gravity and boasts a blend of power and exceptional balance that helped him total 800 yards after contact last season, more than any back other than Adrian Peterson. He also has big-play ability as touchdowns of 36, 40, 45, 64, 67 and 70 yards attest.
Despite 16 rushes inside the five-yard line last year (3rd), Martin converted only five, but this season he should benefit from the return of Pro Bowl guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks – arguably the game's top run blocker – who were lost to injury in 2012.
The Buccaneers used their first-round pick to draft Martin, who totaled 1,554 yards with 18 touchdowns during his final season at Boise State. At 5-9, 219, he offers big-play ability but is also considered a complete back, capable as a receiver and in pass protection. LeGarrette Blount struggles badly in those latter two areas, so expect the rookie to start immediately, especially since the new regime traded up to select Martin and has zero ties to Blount. Tampa Bay has a bad offensive line and scored the sixth-fewest points per game last season, so other than the clear path to playing time, it’s hardly an ideal situation. Still, Josh Freeman is capable of bouncing back, the team added Vincent Jackson through free agency, and new coach Greg Schiano’s offense was extremely run-heavy at Rutgers. Martin should make a major impact right away.