Is Doug Martin the NFL's Next Elite Running Back?

Nick KostoraContributor IIIOctober 25, 2012

Oct. 21, 2012; Tampa FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) runs for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-US PRESSWIRE

The NFL landscape is always changing. Fans, coaches and GMs alike are constantly on the lookout for the next big thing, and that may have arrived in the form of Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin.

Martin was drafted in the first round to assume the starting role in place of LeGarrette Blount, a powerful runner hampered by limited versatility. 

The transition was not immediately smooth. Martin averaged under 4.0 yards per carry through four weeks and struggled to assert himself as the dominant member of the Buccaneers backfield.

However, he has turned things up a notch in recent weeks. That does not mean a magic button has been pushed, but rather that Martin is learning the intricacies of NFL blocking schemes, adjusting to the speed of the pro game and finding out the best way to attack blitzing defenses.

He is a strong 5'9", 215-pound RB that is becoming the player the Bucs hoped he'd be when they drafted him out of Boise State, and he may be the NFL's next elite running back.

Against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6, he rushed for 76 yards on just 13 carries. The next week against the New Orleans Saints, he gained 85 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. His greatest showcase came on Thursday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings, as he rushed for 135 yards on 29 carries in Tampa Bay's 36-17 victory.

Do three games immediately catapult him into the stratosphere of the NFL's elite?

No, but Martin is showing all the signs of a player working toward his place among the game's best. He runs with a purpose, always moving downfield and willing to bulldoze his way for tough yards. However, he has the ability to make a defender or two miss when the time calls for it as well.

Martin also has the capability of catching passes out of the backfield, including three catches for 79 yards and a score against the Vikings—something Blount has failed to add to his repertoire.

Look at the NFL's elite backs: Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles.

Martin is like a combination of their best traits with less polish and experience. He is not quite as good as any of these individuals at their specific skill, but by combining all the essential pieces of a properly balanced running back, he can become elite.

This could of course just be a fluke. Martin could be riding a wave of positive momentum that will come to a crashing end in the coming weeks. However, he has all the potential in the world, and it sure looks like he has started the long and difficult process of living up to it.