Bob Leverone/Associated Press file photo
Bob Leverone/Associated Press file photo
Starting with the Peyton Manning signing, almost every big decision the Broncos’ front office has made since John Elway took over has worked out.
One exception: the time they tried to draft the “Dougie.”
While zeroing in on Doug Martin in this year’s draft, the Broncos traded away a late-first-round pick, thinking the running back from Boise State still would be there when they picked a few spots later. Their trading partner was Tampa Bay, which used the Broncos’ pick to take Martin 31st in the draft.
The teams will meet today with the Broncos (8-3) needing a win to wrap up the AFC West title and the Buccaneers (6-5), with their prize rookie, Martin, trying to stay in the thick of the NFC wild-card chase.
“He was very high on our board,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “He’s a guy that I know our personnel people liked, our coaching staff liked. His success doesn’t surprise me whatsoever.”
Propelled by Martin, fourth in the NFL with 1,050 yards rushing, a strong comeback season from quarterback Josh Freeman and the tough-love approach from first-year coach Greg Schiano, the Buccaneers are among the league’s biggest surprises. They have won four of their last five and are tied with Minnesota and Seattle for the NFC’s last wild-card spot.
It was at the end of October that Martin’s potential went on full display. He had 214 combined yards in a 36-17 win over Minnesota on Oct. 25, then ran for 251 yards – highest total in the league this year – in a 42-32 win over Oakland on Nov. 4.
Schiano said his rookie running back reminds him of Baltimore’s Ray Rice, the 5-8, 215-pound two-time Pro Bowler whom Schiano coached at Rutgers.
Martin is 5-9, 210.
“They both have some unique abilities: vision, patience, balance, strength, those kinds of things that allow them to be really good running backs,” Schiano said. “Some of those things you can develop, and some of them are God-given, and that’s what makes those two special.”
For his part, Martin said he knew the Buccaneers were among the teams most interested in him as the draft approached, while he hadn’t heard much from the Broncos.
“I had a good feeling because earlier on, I got a call from Tampa Bay, and they were just seeing if I was basically still alive and still moving,” Martin said.
Though the Broncos failed to land Martin, they still made some productive picks in the draft.
The second-round choice they received from Tampa Bay turned into defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, who has started every game and picked up three sacks.
The Broncos filled their running back needs in the third round by choosing Ronnie Hillman out of San Diego State; Hillman has given the Broncos depth and provided a change of pace. He has 52 carries for 197 yards.
Meanwhile, Knowshon Moreno, a former first-round draft pick, filled in for the injured Willis McGahee last week. He rushed for 85 yards in a 17-9 win over Kansas City and is expected to start again today. Before starting last week against the Chiefs, Moreno spent eight weeks as a game-day inactive, mostly working on the Broncos’ scout team.
The forgotten back? Hardly.
“He wasn’t forgotten with us,” Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “He’s been kicking our tail on defense. That’s part of the reason why we’ve been so good in our run defense because the looks that he’s been giving us, it’s like, ‘Dude, as soon as you get your chance, you’re going to explode.’”
It doesn’t appear Martin will be relegated to the scout team anytime soon, though last week in a 24-23 loss to Atlanta, the Bucs’ running game was held to 50 yards, its poorest showing of the season.
Tackle Donald Penn said it’s a priority for Tampa Bay to get its running game revved up again against the Broncos. Nobody wants to try to match Manning and the Broncos’ offense pass for pass.
“It’s very important, especially when you look at it in the context of, we kind of took a step back last week, and you want to take two steps forward this week,” Penn said.
Tampa Bay has taken the league by surprise, even if its star rookie, Martin, hasn’t.
“There was a collective agreement that this was a guy that fit what we wanted to do,” Schiano said.
Chris O’Meara/Associated Press file photo