Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson examines the state of the running back corps for each NFC South team.
I can see it already. I am going to take all kinds of heat for not recognizing how good of a rookie season LeGarrette Blount had for the Buccaneers. But I rank Tampa Bay’s running game last in the division for this reason: I see Blount and Michael Turner as equals, but Tampa Bay just doesn’t have anyone else of consequence at this position and Atlanta does.
But here is what I think of Blount. I see what everyone else sees in him in that he obviously has tremendous size and power, and also has nimble enough feet to make people miss and even jump over defenders in space. He is impressive. But I also see a wildly inconsistent player, which I will admit is not a huge red flag or uncommon for a rookie at any position. But I would like to see him run with aggression on every carry. He did run for over 1,000 yards in just 13 games. But Blount is also a liability in all phases of the passing game and can help his team only on early downs.
There is very little behind Blount to get overly excited about and I fully expect the Bucs to be players in the free-agent running back market -- most likely shopping for a good receiving threat out of the backfield.
Kareem Huggins has some of those third-down back type of traits. But he appeared in only three games last season and ended up on injured reserve. Despite a very impressive preseason, Huggins has just four career NFL carries. Counting on him might be unwise.
The Bucs did use a sixth-round pick on Allen Bradford. Much like Blount, Bradford is a very big body who can wear down a defense. But he lacks dynamic qualities.
Two stalwarts of this running back corps could be on their way out of Tampa. Cadillac Williams is going to become a free agent and Earnest Graham is a candidate to be released. Williams is among the most competitive runners in this league, but his body has been decimated from injury and wear and tear. And to say that he isn’t what he once was would be very kind. Graham has done it all for the Bucs, but he is up in age, and frankly, Tampa Bay can probably do better to fill his roster spot.
Overall, I see running back as a bigger need area for Tampa Bay than many tend to recognize. The team also needs work with its run blocking. And thus far, the Bucs have done little to help that problem going forward. Blount is great at making yardage on his own. And that looks like it will have to continue in 2011.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.