Waiver wire heroes can make or break a fantasy season. Savvy owners who scoop up the right players add a potent weapon to their fantasy arsenal just in time for the playoffs. Those who miss out, are left cursing their indecision and vowing to be more aggressive next year. Last week, no player caught the eye of more fantasy enthusiasts than Bobby Rainey of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rainey, in his first significant game action of his career, rushed for 163 yards on 30 attempts with three total touchdowns for a whopping 34.70 points in NFL.com standard leagues. So is Rainey the answer to your fantasy prayers? Will his little legs help carry you through the fantasy postseason?
Using Game Rewind, which you can try free for seven days by clicking here, I dove into the Buccaneers game tape from the last few weeks, watching the success of Mike James, the ups-and-downs of Doug Martin, and Bobby Rainey's explosive outing against the Atlanta Falcons. A lot came to light that helps paint a clearer picture on the mystery of Bobby Rainey that would make even Bob Ross proud.
1) Pulling lineman instead of punches
"Pulling" offensive lineman in blocking schemes is an age-old football technique. Pulling is when a lineman backs out of his initial position, runs behind the line, and engages a defensive player on the opposite end of the field. Arguably the most famous example of this technique is Vince Lombardi's Packers' Power Sweep. You need athletic linemen to have them block defenders effectively with this style of play, and it appears the Buccaneers big men fit the bill.
During the games I watched, the Buccaneers found a ton of success running behind pulling lineman. And even when they're not pulling across the line, the Bucs' linemen have been mauling in the trenches, helping spring Mike James and now Bobby Rainey for big gains.
At the snap Dotson and tight end Tom Crabtree seal the inside, releasing Dolphins' defensive end Cameron Wake to be picked up by fullback Erik Lorig (No. 41). Crabtree is able to get to the second level and block linebacker Phillip Wheeler (No. 52), leaving only Dannell Ellerbe (No. 59) for Meredith. The result is a wide open lane for Rainey, which he uses to gain 31 yards. Rainey scores a touchdown on the following play from the 1-yard line.
Running this type of blocking scheme requires execution from a lot of moving parts, but Crabtree, Lorig and the offensive line have done admirably in recent weeks at being assignment-sure and finishing blocks.
What I really loved about watching the Buccaneers tape was how they used this power running scheme to set up misdirection as well. The Buccaneers used the same concept the week before against Seattle, but instead of following Meredith, Mike James takes the ball on a designed run through the hole vacated by Meredith for a big gain.
Fantasy Impact: The ability of the Buccaneers' lineman to move across the line and secure blocks consistently springs the Bucs running backs for solid gains. They out-muscled the physical Seahawks and speedy Dolphins before completely over-whelming the Falcons' front seven. The production of Mike James, Brian Leonard and now Bobby Rainey is a testament to this trait, and bodes well from a fantasy perspective in the coming weeks.
2) Getting personal with the right personnel
Between close losses, blowouts and a quarterback controversy, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seemed to lack an identity as they started the season 0-8. However, they've won two of their last three games while showing a more physical, hard-nosed approach.
From Weeks 1-8, the Buccaneers ran 59 percent of their plays from an 11/Posse personnel package (three WR, one TE, one RB) averaging 4.9-yards-per-play. That's relatively pedestrian production when you're running almost two-thirds of your offense out of a given personnel package. However, part of the boom in the Bucs' offense over the last three weeks can be attributed to the increased use of two personnel packages: 22/Ace (two WR, two TE, one RB) and 21/Regular (two WR, one TE, two RB).
During their two wins and the close loss to Seattle, the Bucs have used their Regular package 40 percent of the time, averaging 6.8-yards-per-play and the Ace package 11 percent of the time, averaging 7.2-yards-per-play. The blocking prowess of Crabtree, and emergence of tight end Tim Wright are two reasons why the Bucs have found success by adding an extra big body on the field.
Fantasy Impact: So what do all of these numbers and percentages mean for Bobby Rainey and your fantasy team? The Bucs have been running the football A LOT out of their Regular and Ace packages, and as the yards-per-play indicate they've been very successful. It bodes well for Bobby Rainey's viability down the stretch as he is now the lead back in multiple packages that are creating results on the field.
3) Rainey's Vision
Vision is important for any running back. The ability to identify and hit holes quickly separates the men from the boys in the backfield. And if a runner can see the field clearly once he gets to the next level, watch out.
For Rainey, it helps that his offensive linemen are parting defensive lines like Moses parted the Red Sea, but Rainey has shown impressive vision at the second level and in the open field. Let's take a look at his 43-yard touchdown scamper last week against the Falcons.
Here, the Bucs are in their Regular personnel package with a simple run through the "A" gap between center Jeremy Zuttah and right guard Davin Joseph as the call. Fullback Erik Lorig will be Rainey's lead blocker.
The play opens up a nice hole for Rainey, which should at minimum have netted the Bucs a solid gain. However, rather than drift away from the Atlanta secondary to the sideline where there is ample space, Rainey sees a crease, plants his foot and bursts through the secondary.
Rainey trusted his own ability and vision enough to make a bold cut, and the result was a 43-yard touchdown as opposed to just a nice gain of around 15-20 yards. That means extra fantasy points, which could be the difference between victory and defeat.
Fantasy Impact: Only time will tell if Rainey can keep this up in the Buccaneers backfield. However, he's shown enough flashes (take another look at his 31-yard run against the Dolphins above) to make me believe he'll continue to get a little more than what is blocked for him, which means extra yardage points and chances for touchdowns in fantasy land.
Rainey certainly has a lot of allure from a fantasy perspective. His line is blocking well, he's talented, has vision in the open field and fresh legs to boot. However, let's pump the brakes before slotting him in as a No. 1 running back in your lineup. Keep him in the flex at least for this week against the Detroit Lions, who are allowing the 10th-fewest fantasy points to running backs. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley could pose problems for the Bucs offensive line, and Brian Leonard has touchdown-vulture written all over him which could spell disaster for your fantasy Cinderella story.
However, if Rainey delivers on Sunday, trust him as No. 2 running back moving forward and hope he ends up as the waiver-wire acquisition of the year. Rainey shouldn't explode for 30-plus points again, but 10-15? I'd say you can count on that. What do you have to lose? Oh yeah, the fantasy playoffs, your self-respect and a bet with your college roommate as to who would finish higher in the standings. Thankfully for the Bobby Rainey owners out there, that series of unfortunate events isn't likely to happen.
- Alex Gelhar writes features and fantasy pieces for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter @AlexGelhar. He kicked off his Christmas movie viewing with Die Hard earlier this week. Don't think that's a Christmas movie? Well, you'd be wrong. But feel free to let him hear it on Twitter.