One Buc Stops Here, Another Starts
July 18, 2012 | C.D. Carter
Here’s the thing about LeGarrette Blount: he’s not very good at football.
The Tampa Bay running back who, in 2010, flew off of fantasy waiver wires like toilet paper from grocery shelves during a blizzard, is not a complete player. Blount is one of the worst blitz blockers in the league, according to NFL scouts, he doesn’t catch the ball, and the lumbering big man is terrified of contact. And as anyone who ignored the near consensus opinion of NFL talent evaluators during the 2011 preseason, Blount fumbles, and fumbles a lot. The Bucs’ back might have an enviable YouTube highlight reel filled with hurtling dumbstruck defenders, but he lacks the basics required to be an every-down NFL running back, a franchise guy.
I ignored all this and drafted Blount in 2011. My suffering was legendary.
Enter rookie Doug Martin, the future love of your fake pigskin life. Martin, drafted with the 31st pick of April’s draft after Tampa traded up to nab the combine standout, was selected not as a compliment to Blount’s underachieving ways, but as his eventual replacement. New Tampa head coach Greg Schiano handpicked the Boise State runner as the future pillar of the Bucs’ offense, which, in 2011, was putrid. Martin absolutely ripped college defenses during his senior season at Boise, totaling more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. More than 1,200 of those yards came on the ground. Martin, according to scouts wowed by his measurables at the NFL Combine last winter, is comparable to Ray Rice. Fun fact: Schiano coached Rice at Rutgers, and used him in every conceivable way.
Martin’s a bowling ball of a runner with astounding shiftiness. He runs with a low center of gravity, and, at 5’9” and 230 pounds, Martin often vanished behind the hulks on Boise State’s offensive line, bursting through holes for huge gains. Greg Cosell, the voice of pigskin talent evaluation, had high praise for the Bucs rookie, praising Martin’s “velocity and power,” and “balance and body control.” After reviewing Martin’s Boise State highlight feature film, Cosell proclaimed the kid had the “mentality of a feature back.”
Blount, in no one’s opinion, is a feature back.
Don’t let Blount’s best 2011 performances sway you. He broke the 100-yard barrier three times last year, all against woeful run defenses. And if it weren’t for a monumental assault on the Packers in a Week 11 run for the ages, Blount’s 4.2 per carry average would’ve been much, much worse. Here are Blount’s 2011 lowlights: five rushes for 15 yards in the season opener against Detroit, 10 carries for 34 yards against the 49ers, and 11 runs for 19 yards against Carolina’s hilariously awful run defense. Blount totaled five scores in 2011.
Tampa Bay’s coaching staff has all but assured fantasy owners that Martin won’t lose snaps when, in the first few weeks of the regular season, it becomes clear that the kid can’t do the little things. “The thing that [rookies] struggle with most of the time is pass protection and especially nickel pass protection,” said Earnest Byner, Tampa’s running backs coach. “But I don’t think that’s going to be an issue with (Martin).”
But wait, you say, the NFL is a pitch-and-catch league. Quarterbacks and pass catchers are where it’s at, you insist. You’re right – teams have shifted to the pass-first approach that ends in little stuff like Vince Lombardi trophies. But not the Bucs. Schiano, transitioning from the collegiate ranks, is instituting a 1970s era run-first offense – one that will sink the Bucs into another year of NFL oblivion, but an approach that will make fantasy gold for owners bold enough to pick Martin in the third or fourth round. Tampa Bay’s loss can be your gain. Martin is going 37th in fantasy mock drafts, probably too rich for many owners with undiagnosed allergies to rookies on their fantasy squads. That average draft position will likely move into the high-20s by late August, when fake footballers get a peek at Martin — Ray Rice South — keeping Blount firmly planted on the bench, mad enough to cold cock somebody.
Let your league mates draft a pedestrian talent with their fourth round selection this summer. Watch them take the waning Frank Gore, or Reggie Bush – whose role with the Dolphins is, self admittedly, changing drastically – and pick up Martin. He might at first share carries with Blount, he of startling little versatility, but Martin will be the feature back in the Tampa backfield much sooner than later. You’ll hear good things about Blount in the lead-up to Week1 – stuff about his improved blocking, his use of the Tiki Barber method of ball carrying, and his vastly improved hands. But head coach Schiano said everything you’ll ever need to know about Blount in a June interview with PewterReport.com.
“I thought he did a pretty good job just watching what I saw on tape,” Schiano said of Blount. “Does he have good hands? His hands are fine.”
Let me translate that for you, using my fancy Coachspeak iPhone app: “LaGarrette Blount, from everything I’ve seen so far, is a fine and dandy backup to my studly rookie.” Draft Blount only as a handcuff to Martin. Schiano told you to.
Follow Denny Carter on Twitter @CDCarter13