Point/Counterpoint: Will the Dougernaut Roll to 2,000?

With 1,612 combined rushing and receiving yards through 13 games, Doug Martin is already the most prolific rookie running back in franchise history.  The question is, can he put himself among the elite rookie backs in NFL history?

Okay, actually, that’s not really the question, because Martin has already done.  But we all love big round numbers, like 50 home runs and 4,000 passing yards, and certain sports milestones are veritable invitations into the superstar club.

The 2,000-yard season for a running back is one of those numbers.  As in 2,000 yards from scrimmage, which is rushing and receiving combined.  It’s not as if it’s as rare as Halley’s Comet visits, like baseball’s Triple Crown – it’s been done 59 times overall, and 58 times since 1973, or roughly one and a half times per season over the last four decades.  But if you scan down the list of players who have done it, you don’t find a lot of outliers or head-scratchers.  It’s mostly Walter Paytons and Eric Dickersons, Emmitt Smiths and Barry Sanderses.  The flukiest looking entry on the list might be Ahman Green’s 2,250-yard season in 2003, but even Green nearly had another 2,000-yard campaign two years earlier.  Chances are, if you make that list, NFL fans are going to have no trouble remembering your name 20 years later.

But do you know how many rookies are on that list?  Two.

The Rams’ Eric Dickerson burst onto the scene with a 2,212-yard season in 1983, which at the time was the second-best mark ever.  Sixteen years later, the Colts’ Edgerrin James announced himself with a 2,139-yard campaign.

And that’s it.  But Dickerson and James could soon have company.  Martin’s 1,612 yards with three games to go put him on pace for 1,984. That would be the third-best rookie mark behind Dickerson and James, and that would already be a fantastic achievement…but “2,000″ would be so much prettier.

So, the question for our Point/Counterpoint grinder this week is: Will Doug Martin finish the season above or below 2,000 yards from scrimmage?

Andrew, you have the honors.

Andrew Norton: You know what? I got out on the right side of the bed this morning (interestingly enough, it’s the left side) and am in quite the brazenly optimistic mood. I am confidently taking the over in this week’s debate. Doug Martin will end the year as the third rookie running back to ever break 2,000 yards from scrimmage. And I’m going to tell you why.

I’m so confident in fact, that I’m going go against the average statistics and get a bit nerdy to prove it to you – twice.

Number One: Mild-to-Moderately Nerdy

As you pointed out above, Doug Martin currently has 1,612 yards from scrimmage. With his average of 124 yards per game (ypg), putting him at 1,984 total yards at the end of the season.

While ypg is all well and good, the way that most everyone is looking at the Buccaneers’ offense this season is what it has done after the bye week. After the bye, they have become a dominant offensive force. Yards, points, rushing, receiving, passing, touchdowns, interceptions, first downs – you name it, the average statistics increase dramatically when you discount the first four games of the season. So, let’s make that adjustment for our dear rookie running back.

In the last nine games, Doug Martin’s scrimmage ypg jumps from 124 to 145. Multiply that by three. Carry the one. And, voila, 435 whopping yards in a three game span. Feel free to double-check my addition, but I do believe that is 2,047 total yards from scrimmage at the end of the year.

Number Two: Dang, You Really Need to Get Out More

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have 1,546 rushing yards this season. Doug Martin has accounted for 1,234 of them. Therefore, Doug Martin gains 79.8% of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ rushing yards.

The Bucs’ three remaining opponents (New Orleans, St. Louis and Atlanta) are allowing 152.4, 110.3 and 127.0 rushing ypg, respectively.

Knowing that Doug Martin accounts for 79.8% of the Buccaneers rushing yardage, we can assume that he will rush for that same percentage of yards in the remaining games. So, this Sunday against the Saints, Martin will tear up the field for 121.6 yards. In the final home contest of the regular season (notice my optimism), Doug Martin will put up 88 yards on the ground, modest in Dougernaut terms. And to close out the 2012, Martin will tally 101.3 yards in the Georgia Dome against the Falcons.

Thusly, in the three remaining games, Doug Martin will rush for 311 yards (I threw in that extra .1 for free). That is 77 yards short of a grand total of 2,000 yards on the season. His 29 receiving ypg tack on an extra 87. Ergo, Doug Martin breaks 2,000.

I dare you to tell me otherwise. Not only have I laid it out, but I also stole your secret weapon from you: parentheses.

Scott Smith: Oh, this is great.  While I enjoy proving you wrong in and out of parentheses, Andrew, my understanding is that I’m arguing that our great rookie back won’t hit this awesome milestone we all want him to hit, right?  Should I drown some puppies while I’m at it?

Well, let’s just say that I got out of the wrong side of the bed today (if you take my parentheses from me, I’m going to have to go heavy italics on you).  I’m grumpy and pessimistic and crotchety and I see all kinds of reasons why the Muscle Ham…whoops, I mean the Dougernaut…will finish with a fantastic total of 1,950 scrimmage yards or so, rather than a fantastic-and-eye-catching 2,000 or more.  That seems fair.  You went nerdy and I went grumpy and…well, let’s just say we’re not venturing too far out of our comfort zones there.

First, to dispense with your two stats arguments.  The first one is easy: It is beyond ridiculous to simply excise one quarter of the season when figuring out a running back’s pace, as you so casually did.  I’m not even going to waste valuable internet space making that point, it’s so obvious.  Here, this is all I need to say: In the last five games, Martin has averaged 88.0 rushing yards per game.  That seems to be the pace he’s established in the second half of the season (which is the last five games plus the ones to come), so we can CLEARLY assume he’ll continue that pace for three more games and finish with 1,498 rushing yards, not the 1,669 that your “math” generates.  I was trying to be sarcastic there.  Should I have stuck with the italics?

I have far more respect for your second argument, and not just the part about you needing to get out more.  Those teams are indeed giving up those rushing averages, and I think we can expect Martin to continue to get roughly the same percentage of the Bucs’ production.  You could even take that a step further and say that Martin is a better back than the average runner that has faced those three defenses, so you could probably extrapolate a few more yards out of the formula.

Here’s why I’m a bit concerned about that pattern holding up, however.  You know that Atlanta defense, the one you think will be good for a 101-yard rushing day for Martin, just enough to put him over the top in the season’s last game?  Well, that same defense held Martin to his second-lowest total of the year a few weeks ago (50) and a season-low 2.4 yards per carry.  And Atlanta won that game, though not by much.  I would suspect they would employ the same strategy – don’t let Doug Martin beat us – in the rematch, and if it works again the Bucs may have to give up the 2,000 chase to the more important goal of winning the game.  I have no doubt that they would make that decision, and that Martin would agree with it.

Okay, so far all I’ve done is hack away at your two points.  Time to mount a positive defense.  Like you, I had to do a little research, but the results are very telling.  It has to do with those two very men Martin is trying to join in the 2000 Rookie Club.

Do you know where Dickerson was at this point in the season?  I’ll tell you: 1,901 yards.  James was at 1,787.  Dickerson “only” added 311 total yards in the final three weeks, or 104 per game, while James picked up 352 in the last three, or 117.3.  Meanwhile, you’re asking Martin to get 388, or 129.3 per game.  Does that seem like a good bet to you.

I believe Martin and Coach Schiano when they say that he has not hit any sort of “Rookie Wall.”  I don’t think you could say it happened to Dickerson or James either, as they both still averaged triple-digit yards in the final three weeks.  But neither of those two kept up their pace from the first 13 games.  I think Martin is in no danger of hitting that wall and I believe can keep up his pace…but remember, his current pace doesn’t quite get him there.  Essentially, you’re asking Martin to even better over the final three games of the longest season he’s ever experienced, and I think that might be asking too much.

But, hey, if a 1,950-yard season from a rookie isn’t good enough for you, I guess that’s your prerogative.

Andrew Norton: Honestly, with this question, every one of the thousand arguments for either side of the debate can be just as easily disputed as they are created. We could spend hours looking up statistics to show why he will or won’t reach the magic number. We could twist and aim the data from this season however we want to and really make a case for either outcome.

For instance, I could certainly bring up Doug Martin’s past as a strong finisher. Last year at Boise State he averaged 158 scrimmage ypg in his last three contests, 33 yards higher than his season average. In 2010, he had 147 ypg, besting his season average by 25 yards. It shows that he has closed out seasons with monster performances. But that is easily disputed.

Just as you brought up the fact that Martin has his second-lowest output against the Atlanta Falcons who rank 23rd in rushing yards per game. And I can easily counter that by pointing out that each week is a new week, and the past performance against the team is virtually irrelevant. And then I can make a bit of a jab saying that the Minnesota Vikings are nine places higher than the Falcons with 12 fewer rushing yards per game allowed, yet Martin burned them for 214 yards from scrimmage.

What it comes down to for me as far as predicting output is all about the matchup. So, to close out my case: New Orleans 152.4 ypg, St. Louis 110.3 ypg, Atlanta 127 ypg. For Martin, it is a soft schedule moving forward and closing out the year. All it takes is 130 yards from scrimmage each game for Martin to break the 2,000 mark. Looking at his opponents, I say it can be done. Being optimistic, I say it can be done. Rooting for Doug Martin, I say it can be done. I’m excited to say “I told you so,” when the Dougernaut becomes the third rookie in NFL history to reach the milestone.

Scott Smith: You make a cogent point about how we’re confusing this issue with too many stats and projections, all pointed in different directions…and then you throw in another heavily-researched bucketful of stats.  From Martin’s college days no less.  I don’t know if your purpose was to further obfuscate the issue before basically ending with an emotional plea, or to make me waste my time trying to disprove it.

Not taking that bait.  I’m going to pull back from the stats and end this even more simply than you did: It’s a matter of history.  This has been done twice.  Ever.  Is Martin the best and most complete rookie back to come along since Edgerrin James?  Well, I hope so.  I think that’s quite possible.  But there have been others in the interim – Jamal Lewis, Clinton Portis, Marshawn Lynch, even our own Caddy – who came out like gangbusters but didn’t make it to 2,000.  Because 2,000 is, to put it in scientific terms, A WHOLE LOT.  Kudos to Martin for putting himself in a position where we’re even discussing the possibility.

I’m just saying we’re expecting too much of Martin to get to a mark that almost no rookie has ever achieved, and I’m afraid if he doesn’t make it, we will feel slightly less amazed by what he does end up with.  And that would be a shame.  It’s the 1,950-1,975 range…and we’re celebrating.

(P.S. Okay, I had to argue it, but I actually think you’re right, Andrew: In three weeks we’ll be saying hello to the Dougernaut 2000!)

One comment on “Point/Counterpoint: Will the Dougernaut Roll to 2,000?

  1. chris laviola on said:

    Just wanted to throw my own stats into the mix here, simply cause I’m a bit bored. Scott, it’s true you can’t ignore the first 1/4 of the season, not going to argue that. However, you also can’t ignore the fact that through the first 4 games, his usage was at it’s lowest point all season. He carried the ball on ave 18 times per game, compared to 21 the rest of the season (and that’s with 13 attempts vs KC). He also averaged 2 receptions in those games for 13 yards per game. Then look at while he only averages 3 receptions a game since then, he’s averaging 36 yards per game with them.

    However, I’m going to have to agree with you, and say that he JUST misses the mark. With 85 yards in the first meeting vs New Orleans, who have a much improved defense in the 2nd half, I don’t see him getting the numbers he needs. I can see 150 total yards against the Rams, but will they want to risk injury to use him that much “if” they are out of the playoff hunt? Atlanta I would expect to go very differently than the first meeting, if the Dougernaut were to see similar action, but again I pose the same question as against the Rams. With Atlanta already clinching the first round bye, and the playoffs on the doorstep, it’s not really a must win for them. What are the chances they’ll leave starters in and play trench warfare against the Bucs running game and risk injuries to key defensive players?

    If the Bucs still had a shot at the playoffs, and had something to fight for, hands down I go with Martin hitting the mark. With only pride and a milestone on the line though, well, if you’re the Bucs looking at next season you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. Look at Caddy, and the late season injuries when there was nothing left to play for and he was still rushing the ball every down, and where that ended. Yes, if he hits the mark uninjured, it’ll be a huge boost to him and the club going into next year. If he suffers a major injury 10 yards short though?

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