(Editor's note: Every day, we're offering our Crazy Fantasy Stat of the Day, something that catches our eye and helps us learn something for fantasy for 2016.)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive line finished last season as the 23rd-ranked unit in PFF's offensive line rankings, including 20th in run-blocking. That made it all the more impressive that the team’s top running back, Doug Martin, finished second in the NFL in rushing yards last year, gaining 1,402 yards on the ground. He did that on the back of an average 3.15 yards after contact per attempt — among running backs with 80-plus carries, only Le’Veon Bell had a higher average, and he did it on 175 fewer carries.
But the most notable facet of Martin’s 2015 is today’s Fantasy Stat of the Day: In 2015, Doug Martin forced an NFL-leading 67 missed tackles, 10 more than the second-best running back. He did that on the third-most touches at the position. Despite a subpar offensive line blocking for him, Martin forced a league-high 57 tackles on runs and 10 more (14th in the league) on receptions, and also led the league in yards after contact per rush (3.15) and elusive rating (PFF's measure of how effective a back is independent of his blocking). That helped Martin to 207 fantasy points in standard leagues, trailing only Devonta Freeman and Adrian Peterson last year.
Not much is expected to change for Martin and the Buccaneers’ offense in 2016. The team kept its skill-position players basically intact (the only departure was running back Bobby Rainey, who had all of eight touches in 2015), and the only major change on the line is a switch from Logan Mankins to JR Sweezy at guard. That’s a negative move, but Martin has shown an ability to overcome line struggles already.
Martin is no guarantee. This is a guy who had a great 2012 rookie season before falling largely off the map in 2013 and 2014. So his 2015 was nice as a data point. But the other data points factor in as well, and they combine to convince our rankers to have Martin ranked as the No. 9 fantasy running back entering 2016. If Martin can stay healthy and forced as many missed tackles as he did in 2015, though, even that RB1-level rank might be too conservative.