Doug Martin was a workhorse back the past two years. Greg Schiano loved to run running backs into the ground, and he tried his best with Martin, who averaged 20 carries and three receptions in the 22 games he's played since entering the NFL as a first-round pick in 2012.
No more of that, if Jeff Tedford can be believed, who spoke to the media yesterday for only the second time since being hired as the Bucs' offensive coordinator.
"I think you have to alternate. Even when we had 2,000 yard rushers – J.J. Arrington was 2,000 yard rusher – and then we had a couple of times where we had guys with 1,000 yards a piece, but I don’t believe one back can carry the load, it’s just too physical. I think you need to have probably two to three guys that bring different things to the table, but I think you need to at least have two to be able to spell them here and there and keep them healthy and that type of thing. That’s the goal, is try to create some depth right there where there’s not a drop off when one guy goes in, the other guy comes out, there’s no drop off, we just keep going."
This is pretty much standard practice around the league by now. There are barely any running backs who truly carry the load without any kind of time-share. Even Doug Martin wasn't truly an every-down back, with Brian Leonard and D.J. Ware often replacing him on passing downs in both of the past two years.
The Bucs have built a formidable depth chart at running back, and each player should have his own role. Doug Martin will continue to be the lead back, but he will presumably see his touches reduced. Charles Sims should come in as the first alternate, and as a third-round pick who is widely praised for his abilities in the passing game, he should also win the job of third-down back.
That leaves Mike James -- someone who excelled last season in very limited time, both as a third-down back and as a lead back, and Bobby Rainey, who has some speed but lacked consistent productivity. Jeff Demps is likely to be more of a general weapon in the offensive scheme than a true running back.
For fantasy football and real football purposes this does decrease Martin's value, but there's a little evidence that reducing touches can prolong a running back's career. Of course, it's very difficult to disentangle that effect from general aging - older backs have had more touches, but older players decline anyway. It's not all that clear that carries or touches, specifically, are the cause of that decline.
And it's not like Doug Martin's 2000th carry is going to be more valuable in 2020 than it is in 2018, anyway. So there's dubious value (to the team!) in prolonging in his career anyway. If Martin's the best player to carry the ball on a specific down, well, he should be the guy to carry it. If he's not the best guy to carry it, he shouldn't. That sounds simple, and it is, but that doesn't make it incorrect.
Incorporating more backs makes sense when fatigue is affecting your back. When a change of pace can throw a defense off. When you need a different skill-set in the passing game. But alternating backs just to alternate them doesn't make much sense.