What a difference a year makes. Coming off of a stellar rookie season that earned him a top-2 fantasy finish at running back, Doug Martin was being discussed in many circles as the number one 2013 redraft pick. But after an ineffective, injury-shortened sophomore campaign that ruined many a fantasy team, where do we project Doug Martin for 2014? His talent, situation, and opportunity point to a bounce-back season, but with Jeff Tedford now running the offense, we need to take a closer look at his PPR ceiling.
Jeff Tedford and his Running Back’s Receiving Statistics
Before assuming control of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense this offseason, Jeff Tedford was the coach at Cal with a decent amount of success. He produced a number of NFL-caliber running backs such as Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best, and Shane Vereen. To get an idea of how he uses his running backs in the passing game (a must for a high PPR ceiling), I looked at the receiving stats of every Tedford running back with 100 carries in a season from 2004-2012. Lets take a look:
Yikes- an average of under 20 receptions per season, with a high of only 34? Not exactly promising for Doug Martin’s projection under Jeff Tedford. These numbers are especially alarming considering the passing game chops that Forsett, Best, and Vereen have shown in the NFL. But before we jump to conclusions, let’s dive deeper into the statistics.
Running Backs’ “Reception Share” under Jeff Tedford
One thing that the data above does not take into account is the run-heavy offense Tedford perennially ran during his tenure at Cal- a run-heavier offense means less pass attempts, less pass attempts mean less chances for receptions. Considering the mediocre stable of quarterbacks that Tedford had at his disposal (save Aaron Rodgers), we cannot hold this against him. To remedy this problem I took a look at the “reception share” of Tedford’s running backs, or what percentage of the team’s receptions his running backs got:
Just as alarming as the first table. Of the 14 qualifying RBs, half of them saw under 10% of their team’s total receptions, with a high of only 14%. But it’s possible that just seems low- maybe it is the same in the NFL. To get a better idea, we must ask ourselves: what is the usual reception share for valuable PPR running backs?
“Reception Share” of NFL Running Backs
To answer the previous question, let’s take a look at the top 20 receiving running backs in 2013 in terms of receptions. Listed to the right of their 2013 receptions is their “reception share”- or the percent of their team’s total receptions:
We can safely say that to be a top-tier PPR back in fantasy, you must get more than Tedford’s 9% average of running backs’ “reception share”. In fact, half of Tedford’s running backs didn’t even approach the low “reception share” for 2013’s top 20 receiving backs even though they included NFL-proven pass catchers. The jump from Tedford’s 9% average “reception share” to the top 20 2013 15% average is a 66% increase, while 20th-ranked Andre Ellington’s 39 receptions is five more than the 2004-2012 high of 34 from any of Tedford’s Cal running backs.
In Conclusion- What does this mean for 2014?
Clearly, it is quite worrisome how little Jeff Tedford used his excellent receiving running backs in the passing game during his tenure at Cal. Even the “high” season of 34 catches for 14% of the team’s receptions could be considered a fluke, considering it was accomplished by two-down NFL back Marshawn Lynch. Even if it was not a fluke, this poses an interesting question: why would Tedford use Lynch in the passing game when backs proven superior to him at pass-catching in the NFL such as Forsett, Best and Vereen were annually underutilized? This could possibly point to a troubling trend in Tedford’s evaluation of his players’ talents and strengths.
On the flip side of the coin, the past does not always predict the future. It is far from a certainty that Tedford will employ the exact same college offensive scheme in the NFL. As a proven coach, he will likely study the game tape and see that Martin excelled in all aspects of the passing game during his rookie year. Why not incorporate Martin more than his previous running backs? It’s possible this entire argument will be proven wrong come September 2014. But Tedford’s trend in running back passing-game utilization points to Doug Martin being a risky first-round PPR pick with a limited ceiling in this summer’s fantasy drafts.