One player's injury is another's opportunity. That might as well be the motto of the National Football League. Just ask Tom Brady, Terrell Davis, or a number of other late-round draft picks who first found the field following an injury to an established star ahead of them on the depth chart.
Mike James is the latest to get an unlikely opportunity to showcase his skills. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie running back is expected to get his first NFL start on Thursday night when Tampa plays host to the Carolina Panthers (8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network).
Pro Bowl starter Doug Martin is out "indefinitely" after suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder in the loss to the Falcons on Sunday, dropping the Bucs' record to 0-6. James, who is currently second on the team with a mere 57 rushing yards this season, is expected to get the bulk of the carries for Tampa moving forward, giving the Buccaneers an all-rookie backfield with James and quarterback Mike Glennon.
A sixth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft (189th overall) out of Miami (Fla.), James had very pedestrian college production (1,340 career rushing yards), but he drew attention from scouts because of his professional skill-set. A fringe draftable player, James improved his stock with a strong week at the NFLPA all-star game in January.
NFLDraftScout.com ranked James as the No. 20 running back in the 2013 class with a seventh-round grade. He was overlooked by many as a senior because freshman sensation Duke Johnson took Coral Gables by storm, but James was a vital part of the Hurricanes' offense, mostly as a third-down power back.
James is short (5-feet-10), but stocky and built extremely well with proportional bulk throughout his frame. He uses his natural power and pad level to initiate contact and churn through defenders with his physical, between-the-tackles run style. James is a grinder who doesn't allow himself to slow down over the course of the game, displaying a continuous appetite for touches.
James can be overly patient and hesitant at times and needs to show more decisiveness at the line of scrimmage, which might be a reason for his middling 3.4-yard average per carry this season. He does add value as a third-down back with above average receiving skills for the position and willingness to stay home and block.
James isn't the type of back who will run away from defenders or impress with flashy moves, but he has a chance to stick at the NFL level due to his tough running style and ability to help out in pass protection and as a receiver.
Tampa Bay currently ranks 21st in the NFL in rushing offense (3.8 yard-per-carry average as a team) with only one touchdown on the ground through six games. As the 18th running back selected last April, not much was expected of him as a rookie, but with the stage he has been given, James should be a reliable option for Tampa the rest of the season.
(Dane Bruger is an analyst for www.NFLDraftScout.com, owned and distributed by The Sports Xchange in partnership with CBSSports.com. @dpbrugler)