Through 10 games last season, Fred Jackson was a fantasy monster. He racked up 1,376 all-purpose yards while scoring six times, numbers that put him on pace for roughly 2,200 yards and 10 TDs. To put that yardage total in perspective, Ray Rice led all running backs with 2,068 combined yards. So why am I advocating Doug Martin, a rookie, over Jackson?
Despite his 2011 production, Jackson does have a few red flags. First of all, he’s 31 years old, and though one can certainly say he’s a “young” 31, as he hasn’t received nearly as many touches in his NFL career as most running backs over 30, the fact that he’s an elder statesman at a position that trumpets youth is inescapable. While that in and of itself is no reason to seriously downgrade a running back, it’s definitely cause for some concern.
He’s also coming off a season-ending fractured fibula. Again, this doesn’t seem like a big problem on the surface, as Jackson has reportedly looked completely healthy this offseason. But when you compound the injury with his age, things start getting a little problematic. Will he be able to hold up while receiving 20 touches per game? He averaged about 21 touches in his healthy 10 games last year, and I’m not sure the team wants to push him as hard this season.
There’s a reason for that. C.J. Spiller did a nice job working as Buffalo’s feature back when Jackson went down, averaging 108.5 yards per game while receiving an average of 18.3 touches per game. He also scored five times in that span, nearly matching Jackson’s TD total. He did enough to work his way into the team’s offense this year, with coach Chan Gailey saying as much when he indicated that he hopes both RBs focus on team success instead of personal workload. On that note alone, it’s conceivable Jackson could put up last year’s 1,376-yard, six-TD performance over a full 16-game season while receiving 200-250 touches, while Spiller, who saw virtually no looks when Jackson was healthy, could match his 146-touch total from 2011, or even go a little higher.
Now we turn to the rookie in Tampa Bay. Doug Martin was selected 31st overall by the Buccaneers in the 2012 NFL Draft, the second draft pick made by the new regime in Tampa (the first being safety Mark Barron earlier in the first round). It was an indictment on LeGarrette Blount, an inconsistent player for the Buccaneers that now doesn’t seem to fit into their long-term plan. Martin has been steadily gaining more work over the offseason and seems virtually certain to run as the lead back early on, finishing the season not in a platoon but as a true high-volume running back.
That’s great news for fantasy owners, as the season’s most critical games are played in December. In fact, the fantasy playoffs will feature Martin (if healthy) as a back getting 20-plus touches against the Saints, a ravaged defense that already gave up five yards per carry last year, in Week 15 and the Rams, a team that surrendered over 150 yards on the ground per game last year, in Week 16. Even better, the new coaching staff seems committed to building around Martin and the rushing attack. On that note, rookie coach Greg Schiano has admitted Martin reminds him of the aforementioned Rice.
With Blount fading into the background in Tampa Bay, Martin’s role as a lead back will be pretty secure this season, limiting his downside. It’s even possible Martin renders Blount obsolete as early as Week 1. That could open Martin up to receiving 300-350 touches this season, which would give him the ceiling of a top-five running back. It may sound strange, but I’m of the opinion that Martin has a higher ceiling and higher floor than Jackson, which means I’m happy to take him over the Buffalo Bill in all drafts this season.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to CBSSports.com's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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