Doug Martin is mediocre. The running back who exploded onto the scene with nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage as a rookie in 2012 hasn't been able to top 500 rushing yards in either of his two seasons since then, and his average yards per carry plummeted from 4.6 as a rookie to 3.7 over the past two years.
The Muscle Hamster simply isn't the back we thought he was, and there's no great explanation as to why that is. He's had some injuries, but none of them debilitating, and certainly not the kind of injuries that should derail a back's career. His vision seems to have disappeared: where he displayed outstanding patience as a rookie, he now looks hesitant at times and is too quick to hit the hole at other times. Martin has turned into a plodding player.
NumberFire has a new theory to explain the problem: Doug Martin's rookie season was a fluke, and he was never really that good to begin with.
In 2012 -- remember, this is his "good" season -- Martin finished with a Success Rate of 40.31%. Since 2000, among all running backs who successfully accumulated 10.00 or more Rushing Net Expected Points in a season with at least 100 carries (a sample of 130 running backs), that Success Rate ranks fifth worst.
In other words: Martin's 2012 performance was built almost entirely on a few big runs, most notably against the Oakland Raiders. Those runs were lucky -- the result of the right set of circumstances, rather than Martin's own talent. And once those big runs disappeared, he reverted to being what he was before: a pedestrian back who can't carry a running game.
This theory would explain why Martin has looked mediocre after his rookie season. Yes, the offensive line regressed -- but Martin was consistently the worst-performing back on his own team, behind luminaries like Bobby Rainey and Mike James. The supporting cast could explain a decline, but not why that decline affected him much more than it did other backs.
This year will likely be Martin's last chance with the Bucs. If he doesn't perform well, the team is under no obligation to pick up the fifth-year option built into his rookie contract -- and they likely won't. The coaching staff has several quality alternatives, most notably Rainey and Charles Sims, and they've been looking to add yet another back to the group as well. Martin's days are likely numbered if he doesn't improve -- and if NumberFire is correct, he can't do that.