The emergence of Doug Martin over the last month has been a remarkable breath of fresh air. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it has also come at a time when the offense was starting to falter. So, now that teams know how explosive this rookie can be, will he be stopped, or can he help the Buccaneers into the playoffs?
Coming out of Boise State, where he had a remarkable time, going close to 3,500 yards on the ground, and capping it with a MVP performance in the 2011 Maaco Bowl. Tampa Bay picked up the top prospect, 31st overall in the 2012 draft. After a decent showing in pre-season Head Coach Greg Sciano had no hesitation naming Martin as starter in the Buccaneers backfield.
In a league now pass orientated, its always going to be hard for a running back to make an impact. Tampa Bay has quarterback Josh Freeman now firmly in control of the offensive reigns, in his fourth season he is still learning the game and can be erratic. Having Doug Martin to hand off to has helped his confidence.
After a relatively slow start to the season, it wasn't until week 8 that he gained his first milestone rushing game, a 135 yard effort in a win over Minnesota. Then last week he exploded for 251 yards off 25 carries, with 4 touchdowns, against Oakland.
Averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 99.3 yards per game, the "muscle hamster", now sits proudly with the leagues elite running backs in the race for the NFL rushing title. Adrian Peterson has comeback from his potentially career threatening injury to lead all backs so far this year. The Vikings back is on 957 yards, Seattles Marshawn Lynch has 881. Martin currently stands third having reached 794 - so on course for almost 1,600.
The breakout over the last couple of weeks now means he is a target when opposing defenses look at film, breaking down the Buccaneers used to be a case of stopping Freeman passing, now they have a duel foe to combat. Not wishing to do any injustice to the other weapons that Tampa Bay have, stopping Martin running free has now become top priority.
Going 1-3 before the bye week, Tampa Bay were becoming a bit stale and relying on their defense to stay in close in games. Since their enforced break, they have gone 3-1, the only loss coming in a shootout with New Orleans 35-28. The defense remains strong, so are we now looking at a dark horse for the playoffs?
Martin has the chance to swell his statistics in the coming weeks against the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, who are letting well over 100 yards per game so far this year. Throw in this coming weekends game against San Diego and the Buccaneers have a chance to go into December with a winning record.
The number 6 seed in the NFC seems within reach for around 4 or 5 teams, Tampa Bay have found themselves at 4-4 in the NFC South, they will not win this division, which is being dominated by the 8-0 Atlanta Falcons. The 2 sides have still to face each other. The Saints (3-5) and the Panthers (2-6) have both struggled early, starting the season poorly. Their opponent for the remainder of the season are a combined 27-28.
This is the time where teams with an outside chance of making postseason play make their move. Doug Martin has made his move already. Whether it's enough to help steer the Buccaneers into January play remains to be seen. Its a big task and he can't do it all alone, so the cast around him will need to step up as he has.
For now though, Doug Martin has proved himself to be a star, outshining the back that was hailed as the best back coming out of the draft, Cleveland Browns Trent Richardson. The styles are different and only time will tell who has the better career.
If only he had a better nickname.