EARNEST GRAHAM (Starter)
STATISTICS: 222 carries, 898 yards, 4.0 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns. Also caught 49 passes, third best on the team.
ANALYSIS: We always knew he had talent based on the preseason, but nothing like this. Pressed into service due to injuries, Graham quickly became one of the team's most reliable players. He made his breakthrough against Detroit, gaining nearly 200 yards rushing and receiving in that loss. He also became the fourth player in team history to score 10 rushing touchdowns in a season and the first player to score at least one touchdown in six straight games. Graham possessed quicker feet that expected, and paired with his bowling ball frame he rarely lost yardage. He quickly became a reliable receiving target and picked up the blocking schemes in the shotgun. There was little Graham did wrong when given the chance.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's due $605,000 in 2008, but both GM Bruce Allen and Graham have made it clear that they're hoping to work out a contract extension in the offseason. With two free agents and Carnell Williams' injury situation, the extension is a must.
MICHAEL PITTMAN (Backup)
STATISTICS: 68 carries, 268 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, no touchdowns. Also caught 26 passes.
ANALYSIS: Carnell Williams' injury was his golden opportunity to start. But his severe ankle injury against Indianapolis ruined his season. He probably rushed his rehab and re-injured the ankle against Atlanta. He was never the same and never a real factor in the offense the final month of so of the season. That was a shame, because Pittman's ability to catch passes out of the backfield and pick up the blitz have been invaluable the past few years. But Graham's progress made that less of a factor.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: Pittman can test free agency in March by opting out of a contract that will count $1.152 million against the salary cap in 2008. Given Graham's progress in Pittman's chief areas of contribution, there's a chance Pittman may not be back.
MICHAEL BENNETT (Backup)
STATISTICS: 41 carries fro 189 yards, a 4.6-yard average, 1 touchdown. He also caught 5 passes for 54 yards and a score (stats with Bucs only).
ANALYSIS: The guy has jets, that you must say. He showed that sprinter speed on several occasions, including his only touchdown reception of the season in which he caught a pass in the flat and sped past everyone for the score. He brings a different dimension than any other back the Bucs have at the moment. It would have been interesting to see how Bennett would have fit into this team had he been with them since the start of the 2007 offseason, instead of joining the team midseason. He did struggle to learn the playbook, given its complexity.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's an unrestricted free agent and he said he'd like to come back to Tampa Bay. We'll see. There's bound to be a few suitors for his services on the open market.
CARNELL WILLIAMS (Starter, finished on IR)
STATISTICS: 54 carries 208 yards, a 3.9-yard average, 3 touchdowns. Also caught 3 passes.
ANALYSIS: Williams blew out the patellar tendon in his right knee on perhaps his best run of the season against Carolina. It was a shame, too. Williams was just beginning to show the form that made him a 1,000-yard back in 2007. He wasn't hesitating at the line of scrimmage and was following his blocks much better. He still wasn't making a lot happen on his own. But behind this young offensive line Williams probably could have just followed the holes to a second 1,000-yard season. Now he's perceived as an injury risk, as he has missed games in each of his three seasons due to injury.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's scheduled to count $4.137 million against the salary cap in 2008. There is a likelihood that Williams will not be ready for training camp, much less the regular season, as the patellar tendon injury usually requires at least nine months of physical rehab.
KENNETH DARBY (Backup)
STATISTICS: 2 carries for 9 yards. Also had 2 catches.
ANALYSIS: He didn't make the opening-day roster and bounced between the practice squad and the regular roster. He made the final regular-season roster and was inactive for the playoff game. There are things to like about Darby. He's a back in the Earnest Graham mold who falls forward, can catch passes and isn't brought down by the first hit. But he did most of that on the practice field.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's probably due the league minimum next year, if he's signed at all (when Darby was released and then signed to the practice squad, the rookie deal he signed in the summer became void). He'll probably be back at training camp because running back is a position of concern, given Williams' rehab and the free agents. He'll have a lot to prove this offseason.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.