Could the Bucs look to the USF product to help bolster the running back corps?
Heading into the 2022 off-season, the Bucs have a serious need at the running back position. With Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, and Giovanni Bernard set to become free agents, the Bucs have Ke’Sahwn Vaughn in line as their sole back for next season. Needless to say, the Bucs will look at the draft and free agency to bolster the position.
Many Bucs fans would like to see Fournette return but with priorities being placed on Chris Godwin, Ryan Jensen, and Alex Cappa there may not be enough money to bring back the playoff hero from two years ago. So, why not look to bring a pending free agent back home where he started?
Marlon Mack’s Career Thus Far
Mack was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of the University of South Florida – a team that played their home games inside Raymond James Stadium. Mack broke out with the Colts in his sophomore season, rushing for 908 yards and nine touchdowns along with 103 yards and a touchdown receiving. Then in 2019, Mack had his first 1,000 yard season – finishing with 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns along with 82 yards receiving.
Then, the Colts drafted Jonathan Taylor.
Mack became the forgotten man in Indy. He suffered a season ending achilles tear in week one of the 2020 season then had just thirty touches in 2021 in six games. Now, Taylor had an MVP caliber season there’s no question about that. However, Mack seemed to be lost in the shuffle when he earned some opportunity – far more than he got – in the last season.
At only 25 years old – he’ll be 26 when the season starts – and having lost most of the last two seasons, Mack still has plenty to offer a team as part of their running back stable.
Why It Works
First and foremost, you would be bringing a player back home with a chip on his shoulder to prove he can still be a lead back. Not only that, but he can be effective in not just the run game but the passing game as well.
For whatever reason, the Colts got away from utilizing Mack as a passing option after he posted 21 receptions for 225 yards and touchdown in his rookie season. His targets and receptions went down every year after that. Mack can get the job done when used, he just saw his opportunities dwindle with the increased usage of Nyheim Hines.
Mack’s ability to be used in the run and pass game is the exact kind of back the Bucs want in their offense. Fournette made huge strides in that category while RoJo had some issues with dropped passes as well as blitz pickups. That’s why the snaps became more and more lopsided in Fournette’s favor. Mack is a player the Bucs can put on the field on all three downs if they feel so inclined. That’s a big plus for Mack and Tampa Bay.
He hasn’t exactly been great in the health department lately. As mentioned, Mack suffered a torn achilles in week one of the 2020 season, causing him to miss the entire year. Mack has also dealt with a torn labrum, hamstring issues, and a broken hand – in addition to concussions – so far in his young career. He also hasn’t established himself as a proven lead back. Now, that doesn’t mean he can’t or that he won’t – nor does it mean the Bucs would want him to be in that role – but it would be a slight risk if the Bucs were going to roll into the season with Mack as their RB1.
What’s The Cost?
This is another check in the “pros” column. Mack is not going to command huge money given his recent lack of usage or success. According to Spotrac, Mack’s estimated market value comes in around an average annual value of $2.5 million. That means the Bucs could wind up with a running back that has 1,000+ yard upside for well under average for a running back. At worst, they would spend under $5 million dollars on two running backs – Mack and Vaughn – that can share duties in addition to any rookies added to the mix.
This has tremendous upside and very low risk for a team looking to use their big money on their big name pending free agents.
What We Don’t Know
Would the Bucs be willing to make a move like that or are they more focused on bringing back someone like Gio Bernard and adding another back in the draft? As good as Jason Licht has been over the years when it comes to drafting, the running back position seems to give him troubles on draft weekend. Ronald Jones had one breakout season and showed potential but was quicky relegated to the bench in favor of Fournette. There were also the failed picks of Jeremy McNichols, Raymond Calais, and the unforgettable Charles Sims.
It may do the Bucs some good to bring in a free agent like Mack rather than rely solely on trying to draft the next mid-round breakout running back, but the rookie wage scale may cause them to avoid the free agent running back market in favor of other players they want to re-sign.
Make The Decision
Is the former USF Bull someone you’d like to see get a new start in his old stomping grounds? Would he be a good fit for Byron Leftwich and Bruce Arians’ offense in the upcoming season? Tell us what you think they should do, Bucs Nation.