Derrick Ward: Bucs Running Back Breakdown

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 21:  Derrick Ward #34 of the New York Giants runs the ball against the Carolina Panthers on December 21, 2008 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Derrick Ward comes into a muddy Tamp Bay offense.

We're not sure how much work he will share with Ernest Graham. We're not sure who the quarterback will be and aside from Antonio Bryant, and we're not sure who will be catching the ball.

We are sure that Kellen Winslow will help keep the secondary honest and that Ward is going to be a big part of this run game.

The problem is that even though we are sure about all of the above things, we're not totally sure what any of it means, or that it will last past August.

Instead, we can look back at what he did for the Giants over the past few years. While with New York and as part of a trio of running backs, he shined brightly.

Ward cracked 1,000 yards and caught 41 passes for 384 yards. He played behind a better offensive line, with a much surer hand at quarterback even if the wide receiver group was almost as shaky depth-wise as Tampa's.

Graham couldn't secure the job last season, being pushed aside at times for Warrick Dunn and he missed six games.  He can catch the ball as well as Ward, but unlike Ward, Graham hasn't hit the 1,000-yard mark yet.

It's very likely Ward will end up getting more carries and doing more with them at that.

His 5.6 yards per carry is very encouraging. And while the confusion at quarterback will hurt a little, it means that there is a good chance that the Bucs will need to lean on a run game heavily.

He was also brought in by new head coach Raheem Morris, who certainly strikes me as the type of guy to fall in love with his own players and give them every chance to succeed. Of course, that leads you to wonder what might happen to the offense if and when rookie quarterback Josh Freeman gets in there.

Also, with Kellen Winslow there, there may be a ton of red zone looks which go elsewhere, assuming Winslow comes to play and prove Cleveland foolish for letting him go.

But Ward has enough potential to make him a safe third running back in fantasy leagues, with some upside for more. If the team were more stable and we knew how the carries were going to be split, he could even creep up a little more.

This is a player who needs to be watched very carefully during camp and could emerge as a real value in your fantasy drafts.