Arian Foster has been a fantasy stud since he burst on to the scene in Week One of the 2010 season when he torched the Colts for 231 yards rushing and three touchdowns. After 2,220 total yards in 2010, it was no surprise Foster was a top-five pick the next season. This trend only continued; Foster was typically a top-five pick for three straight seasons. If not for injuries, he would have four straight seasons as a top fantasy running back production.
Moving to this season, Foster is once again a projected first-round pick. He is no longer top-five; now he's more like top ten. The question is - Is Arian Foster worth the risk? Let's take a look at a few key points.
Foster has had a track record of hamstring injuries and more worrisome is the back injury that ended his 2013 season. The back injury was so severe, Foster contemplated retirement. Foster's procedure, a microdiscectomy, removed a portion of the lumbar spine to ease the pain. Rob Gronkowski had this same procedure before the 2013 season, and he didn't lose a step before he suffered an unrelated injury. Steven Jackson also had the same surgery before the 2010 season and returned to rush for 1,200 yards and six touchdowns.
Gronkowski and Jackson both had their surgeries the summer before they returned to the football field. Foster had his surgery back in November, giving him a leg up on recovery time.
Previous Work Load
It wouldn't be an earth-shattering opinion if I were to write that Gary Kubiak ran Arian Foster into the ground. Foster touched the ball either by run or pass 1,456 times between 2010 to 2013. That is second behind only Ray Rice at 1,602. These large number of carries work both ways. While Foster is the man getting all of the touches the fantasy points, at some point those touches will start to wear on him, and like most running backs, he will fall off a cliff in terms of fantasy production.
ESPN's Matthew Berry notes that four players went into the 2013 season with a three straight seasons of 250-plus carries: Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, and Arian Foster. Foster had a career low in per-game rushing average and the other three had career-lows in yards per carry last season. Additionally, only Johnson played all 16 games.
Yes, the number of carries raised the chances for an injury. But what did Foster's season look like before he was injured? ESPN's Ken Daube points out that :
Foster was truly healthy for only the first six games last year. During those games, he produced the sixth-highest fantasy-point total among running backs.
Another factor is Foster no longer has a proven quality backup behind him. Ben Tate is partying it up with Johnny in Cleveland now. Can Andre Brown or Alfred Blue do enough to lighten the load for Foster? The easy answer is probably not.
Texans' New Offense
Bill O'Brien is the new head coach of the Houston Texans. Before heading to Happy Valley, O'Brien was the offensive coordinator for the pass-happy New England Patriots in 2011. When he left, New England's run-pass split was 60/40 in favor of the pass. Will O'Brien do the same with the Texans? In both seasons at Penn State, O'Brien's offense was closer to an even split. The Nittany Lions improved their yards per carry over O'Brien's two seasons from 3.6 to 4.2.
Do you want a hint on O'Brien's direction for the offense look at the 2014 NFL Draft? What did the team reinforce? The team drafted an offensive guard, a polished blocking tight end, and a fullback. I think O'Brien knows he has more answers than questions with the running game, unlike the receiving core (minus Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins).
Is Arian Foster the best teammate for your fantasy team? Probably not at 1.1, but at the back end of the first round? The Texans will need Foster to return to form if they hope to go anywhere this season. There is a large amount of risk around Foster, but there is a track record of success when healthy.
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