Is Doug Martin Due for Big Rebound Season?

When the Oakland Raiders signed once-prized running back Doug Martin to a one-year deal this offseason, most in Raider Nation scoffed. Did he have anything left in the tank? Going by trends and numbers, perhaps this is the perfect year to give Martin a shot in Oakland.

Coming off a draft where terms like “boom or bust” have been used to describe how the Oakland Raiders tore down and rebuilt their roster, some of general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Jon Gruden‘s free agent signings could be categorized the same way. A prime example is found in free agent acquisition Doug Martin.

Doug Martin Oakland Raiders

Oakland Raiders quarterback Connor Cook, right, hands off the ball to running back Doug Martin during a mini-camp at the Raiders’ facility in Alameda, Calif., on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

The once-premier NFL running back (after the 2015 season, NFL Network ranked him as the No. 33 player in the league) finds himself in a competitive race to be the second back behind starter Marshawn Lynch. Having to fend off young runners such as DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. Martin — just three years removed from running for over 1,400 yards with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers —  is perhaps the poster child for Gruden’s new “earn-it” roster. The coach is offering players like Martin the chance to make one more big run at a payday and, perhaps, a championship.

That said, what are the chances Martin even makes the roster in 2018? What, if anything, does he have left?

if we look at Martin over the past four seasons, it might be perplexing to see what the Raiders see in the aging back. After the 1,400-yard season in 2015, Martin has been in rapid decline, reaching just over 400 yards the past two seasons.

2016 was a year of great difficulty for the Oakland-born player. He was suspended for four games after violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs and testing positive for Adderal. Martin entered drug rehabilitation and rejoined the team, but never regained his form.

This led to his release in February, saving the Buccaneers over $6.75 million — just two years into a $35.75 million contract for the former Boise State standout. Clearly, the Buccaneers made a business decision and were not confident Martin, 29, would come close to his previous self. The Raiders put very little on the line signing Martin to a one-year “prove-it” deal.

Yet, there are some interesting trends that point to Martin having a potentially big year for the Raiders.

Doug Martin Oakland Raiders

Martin’s trend could be on another upswing if historical performance holds true.

Pro Football Focus recently published a graphic that caught our eye. Although it was in the context of Martin as a fantasy football player, through the course of his six-year NFL career, a trend emerges. Yes, the graphic does show fantasy points, but when compared to Martin’s actual performance, numbers and statistics, it also holds true.

Case in point: Martin had a monster rookie year in 2012, rushing for 1,454 yards (4.5 per carry), one touchdown, and adding nearly 500 yards in receiving. Yet, the next two seasons he couldn’t crack 500 yards rushing and didn’t even manage 100 yards in receiving the next two seasons. In 2013, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, so his numbers are easy to explain there. For the 2014 season, he came back starting strong and finishing strong, but his lack of production was unsettling. To be fair, new head coach Lovie Smith didn’t exactly utilize Martin in his new offensive system and the Bucs were a disaster at quarterback. The team finished 2-14.

Then came the 2015 season. Martin, who saw his fifth-year rookie option declined by Tampa Bay, had a major resurgence. He put up 1,402 rushing yards for Tampa Bay and was a Pro Bowl selection for the second time in his career. He also was the first-ever Buccaneer named a first-team All Pro at running back. He signed a five-year, $35.75 million contract extension before his nightmare 2016 season and the aforementioned drug suspension and subsequent treatment.

After that incident, the Buccaneers must have lost faith in Martin. He started just six times in 2017 and played in 11 games overall.

That would make 2018 the third year in the typical Martin three-year cycle of top performance. Are we perhaps reaching here? Maybe. But it’s hard to deny the trend, and that Martin has something to prove. With Gruden’s “pound the rock” philosophy, Martin, healthy and at 70 percent of his 2015 self, would be a massive pick up and upgrade for the Raiders.

Washington and Richard, more scat-back types, will have their hands full competing with Martin. Gruden is creating competition at every position, and, at the very least, Martin will help push other backs in camp. Still, Gruden — again channeling late owner Al Davis — is giving Martin perhaps that one last shot at achieving greatness. Like this year’s draft selections, and many of the free- agent and trade acquisitions (Martavius Bryant), Gruden’s making bets he hopes, and believes, will pay off.

If numbers and trends are an indication, Martin could be in for a big season, proving his new coach and GM right. At the very least, his presence in the Oakland backfield will push the Raiders’ other running backs to be their best. Doesn’t sound like much of a gamble now that you think about it.

Maybe Gruden and his new “Father Flanagan” philosophy is just what Martin needs to regain his form.