When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted "The Muscle Hamster" Doug Martin out of Boise State with the 27th overall pick, many had him as a nice sleeper pick. LeGarrette Blount is coming off of a season where he disappointed, getting Josh Freeman murdered in blitz protection, having stone hands out of the backfield, and fumbling six times in the past two years.
For a Tampa Bay team in need of stability on offense, Josh Freeman needs a reliable workhorse. Greg Schiano has had high hopes for Martin, but never outright handed Martin the job to make him work for it. After having 13 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown while adding three catches for 12 yards against the Patriots, Schiano has confirmed that Martin is, in fact, the starter.
Many have compared Martin to Ray Rice, who was coached by Schiano in college at Rutgers. They have similar size, with Martin being about ten pounds heavier and both running 40 times in the 4.4-4.5 range. Most importantly, both have great pass-catching ability, Martin having caught 67 passes for 715 yards in his career at Boise State.
Trent Richardson, on the other hand, was chosen by the Cleveland Browns with the third overall pick. The Browns have very little on offense and a rookie quarterback. Unlike Martin, Richardson's status as the straw-stirrer in the backfield became clear the minute he was drafted. Putrid competition such as Montario Hardesty has hardly raised concerns about Richardson's touches like Blount has to Martin's.
There are very few true lead-backs who will also play on third down in the league, so if we can pencil in a talented rookie for 20 or more touches a game, we have a top-10 back, right?
Not so fast. We've been here before. Every year, there is a rookie running back chosen in the first-round who has been penciled in for either the lead job or significant amounts of touches. We derive these conclusions from constantly checking Rotoworld or ESPN to see what coaches say, or hearing beat writers gush about what they've seen in training camp.
Mark Ingram, Ryan Mathews, Knowshon Moreno, Darren McFadden, Reggie Bush, Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Steven Jackson, and Willis McGahee all have three things in common; each were drafted in the first-round and slated to be workhorses or at the very least, somewhat involved in their offense, especially at the goal line or passing game.
Unfortunately, the third is that not one of them rushed for 1,000 yards in their rookie season. Looking closer, not one of them scored more than seven touchdowns, either, and not one of them finished as a top-10 running back in their year.
For whatever reason, the same reservations that people have about talented rookie wideouts don't seem to extend to rookie running backs who are being handed the reins. It's as though being a running back means that you're not subjected to learning the playbook, staying healthy, and being fastidious about the details such as route running or blocking.
History says that rookie backs take time to adjust in the NFL, as well. Many rookie backs are surprised at how much bigger and faster NFL linebackers are, or how holes don't open up as wide as they did in college. Many of the aforementioned rookies made plays in college by getting to the edges, while neglecting their inside running ability that is a necessary trait for any NFL workhorse.
The only rookie first-round back in the last ten years to post a successful rookie season, and one that was worthy of a high price in fantasy football was Adrian Peterson's 2007 season. I personally don't believe Martin or even the highly touted Richardson have talent that begins to approach Peterson's.
If you're looking for a rookie to break out, don't look for the obvious. The only two rookie backs in the last three years to produce more than 1,200 yards or ten total touchdowns are Matt Forte and Steve Slaton, who were picks 44 and 89 in their respective drafts.