Before we dive into Arian Foster, I feel I need to enlighten you to my history with him and why this is a hard subject for me to write about.
In the dynasty world, it’s best not to have “emotional connections” with your players – this can cause you to make irrational decisions as far as holding a player, giving up too much, or over-drafting them. I’m afraid I may have broken this rule with Foster. In my main dynasty league, I was fortunate enough to pick Foster up off the waiver wire near the end of the 2009 season. I was going through somewhat of a rebuild at the running back position at the time and I didn’t have a clear RB1. I was unable to improve very much at this position during the off-season and I was nervous about how I was going to compete without elite production at this position. When week one of the 2010 season came around I had Foster plugged into my lineup since I felt confident he’d provide good production, given the Texans zone blocking scheme and their recent success with Steve Slaton. I was not expecting the 231 rushing yards and three touchdown performance I got. Ever since that day I’ve felt that emotional connection to Foster (it doesn’t help that I’m a Tennessee fanatic and that happens to be where he went to school). Now, three years later I’m forced to face the hold or sell dilemma.
Over the past three seasons, Foster has consistently finished as either the top scorer (or near the top) at the running back position. His production has been fantastic and when looking at his numbers from 2012, he should seem like a lock for another top tier performance season in 2013. He had another great season with 1,424 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns.
There are, however, a few serious red flags I believe we need to look at and address.
The first and most alarming thing you should notice are his touches. When you discount Foster’s “rookie” season of 2009, when he played in six games and started one, he has averaged 371 touches a season. In comparison over Ray Rice’s four full seasons in the NFL he’s averaged 346 touches a season. LeSean McCoy over three full seasons has averaged 286 touches. This may not sound like a huge discrepancy, but over three seasons, Foster has almost another season’s worth of touches more than many running backs.
If the usage isn’t alarming enough, this next stat should have you on the trade offer button. As Foster’s usage has increased, his yards per carry average has went down by almost a half yard each season (4.9 yards per carry in 2010, 4.4 in 2011 and 4.1 in 2012) – this should always be a cause for concern. While his average wasn’t the 3.8 yards per tote of Michael Turner, it does indicate a downward trend. Any downward trend, in my opinion, should be considered a decline. So, basically Foster has been in somewhat of a slight decline each season since he became the full time starter in Houston.
The Texans leaned heavily on Foster in 2012 with his 351 carries. What I find to be very interesting is he was used less then ever before in the passing game. If you play in a PPR league, Foster’s usage in the passing game was no doubt extremely appealing. In 2010 and 2011, he had seasons of 66 and 53 receptions respectively. He also had over 600 receiving yards in each of the those seasons. In 2012 he had 40 receptions with only 217 receiving yards. In a PPR league, that is an average of almost 60 fewer fantasy points over a season. It may not sound like a lot, but that’s almost four fewer points a week he’s averaging. We all know the margin of victory can be slim and I’m sure many of us have been watching late on a Monday night waiting for one more reception or a few more yards so we can secure victory. Foster’s lack of involvement in the passing game should be a serious cause for concern. If you plan on holding Foster, you have to hope the Texans plan on getting him more involved going forward. Foster came off the field in favor of Justin Forsett on many third downs, but even Forsett only had three receptions on the season. The running backs as a collective unit seemed to be phased out of the passing game much of 2012. Again, if you plan on holding, you’re hoping this was an anomaly and due to what was being shown to them on the defensive side of the ball.
So what about Ben Tate, and how does he fit into all of this?
Many of Foster’s increased touches were due to Tate’s injury plagued season. Tate missed five games in the 2012 season and was limited in much of his playing time. With Forsett as the next best option at running back, Foster was forced into increased playing time. At this point, I’m not sure what to expect out of Tate in 2013 and what his subsequent effect on Arian Foster will be. One train of thought is if Tate comes back healthy, he can cut down on Foster’s workload and possibly keep him more productive for longer. Foster certainly needs this if he wants to prolong his career. Of course the other worry is that if Tate does indeed come back healthy, he coudl steal a number of carries? Will Gary Kubiak want to see more of a timeshare? Kubiak has shown in the past he’s not afraid to move on quickly from a running back. He’s stuck with Foster longer then he did Ron Dayne or Steve Slaton, but we still can’t forget that he’s a Mike Shanahan disciple. As unpredictable as Kubiak has proved to be at times, I’m afraid there is no clear answer.
It will be interesting to see the Texans plan going forth giving a huge load to Foster – the team has previously said they’ll continue to lean on him. Given the rich contract Foster signed last off-season I would expect them to continue to lean on him. I don’t think Tate will cut into his workload too much, and if anything will help him stay fresh. Tate has proved unable to stay healthy and could end up being another Jonathan Stewart-type tease. I’m still concerned with Foster’s downward trend (he’ll be 27 when the season starts). If he continues on this trend, it could be a rocky ride for dynasty owners. If I was in a rebuilding mode, I think I’d look to deal Foster to a contender for a solid youthful core. Foster is still going to be a first rounder in startups and redraft leagues since he’s still got plenty of value, but the clock is definitely running on his continued high RB1 production.
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