One thing to keep on in Super Bowl XLI is running backs catching the ball, a topic Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar spent a lot of time researching. Reading that piece, which is worth your while, got me to look at the Bucs’ performance with running backs as receivers last season.
I expected the Bucs to have done a little worse than the year before, mostly because Charles Sims missed most of the season, Doug Martin was in a massive slump, and the team churned through various backup backs like there was no tomorrow. And, well, I was right.
Turns out that Charles Sims was still the team’s most prolific receiving back, despite playing just six games this season. He caught a whole 24 passes for a fairly disappointing 190 yards and one touchdown. No other back caught more than 14 passes.
In fact, in total, the Bucs’ backs caught 66 passes. That’s just 15 more than Charles Sims caught on his own in all of 2015. And that was with Doug Martin catching 33 passes, too, all while Jameis Winston dropped back far less frequently.
It’s not just volume, the Bucs were also more efficient when throwing to their backs in 2015. Sims picked up 11 yards per catch, while Martin managed 8.2. The only 2016 back to come close to Sims’ number was Antone Smith, who managed 77 yards on just six catches.
This is a problem not just because backs are productive, but because they’re also safety valves for quarterbacks. Can’t find an open receiver down the field? Check it down and have your back work some magic. That’s basically Drew Brees’ entire M.O., and it works wonders. It was a major part of the Bucs’ successful 2010 offense, too.
Thankfully, the Bucs already have what it takes to fix this problem. They have a quarterback who’s worked with productive running backs before — back in 2015. They have running backs who know how to turn catches into yards: Charles Sims and, assuming they re-sign him, Jacquizz Rodgers. Perhaps Doug Martin can even join the party, though that’s not looking too likely right now.
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