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Player Spotlight: Arian Foster

A detailed look at Arian Foster's fantasy prospects for 2013.

Arian Foster has been arguably the most productive running back in the NFL over the past three seasons. In fact, it's not really arguable. He's averaged nearly 1900 total yards and he's score 47 touchdowns while leading all running backs in fantasy points over that timeframe. Foster is the quintessential all-purpose back. He's an excellent runner between the tackles and outside the box. He can break a long run and he's outstanding in short yardage situations. He has great hands and, maybe most importantly, he plays for a team and a coach that want to give him the ball 25 times a game. In short, he's everything you could ever want in a fantasy back.

With all that being said, it seems obvious that Foster would be the number one pick in 2013, right? Not exactly. For the first time in his career, Foster gave his detractors some ammo in the past 12 months. Most recently, he suffered a calf injury that's still bothering him more than two months after the fact. The Texans expect him back to practice any time but you can bet he'll be eased in. The bigger issue, in many people's eyes, is Foster's drop in efficiency over the past three seasons. Take a look at these numbers:

  YPC REC YPR FP/G
2010 5.0 66 9.2 20.6
2011 4.4 53 11.6 19.7
2012 4.0 40 5.4 16.6

As if that isn't bad enough, he's totaled nearly 1200 touches in a little over three seasons. Those numbers show all the signs of a running back that's all but burnt out, but that isn't likely the case. At 27 years old, Foster is a workaholic that will do just about anything to better himself. He's nowhere near the traditional benchmarks for running back decline, so what happened?

A disproportionate amount of Foster's 2012 struggles happened in three of the last five games of the season. The Texans were 10-1 after 11 games and had two games left against the only threat to their division crown. In the next five games, something really strange happened. In three games against the Patriots, Titans, and Vikings Foster ran the ball 39 times for 99 yards. The three games were his three lowest totals in attempts and YPC. In the two  games against the Colts, Foster averaged more than 6 YPC in amassing 261 rushing yards.

It would be easy to say Foster was struggling down the stretch and simply feasted on a bad run defense, at least until you look at his playoff performance. Against the Patriots again, and the Bengals (two teams in the top third of the league against the run) Foster compiled 230 yards on the ground, 15 receptions for 97 yards, and 3 touchdowns. If it wasn't so ridiculous I'd suggest that either the Texans or Foster himself shut things down to prepare for the Colts and the playoffs. Regardless, his playoff performance doesn't look like a run-down back to me.

If you're looking for reasons within the Texans for Foster to bounce back, there are a couple of compelling ones.

As our Matt Bitoni discussed in his offensive line rankings the Texans offensive line was good in 2012, but should be better in 2013. The Texans went young on the right side of their line last season and it absolutely hurt the production of Foster. Gary Kubiak loves to run the ball to the right side, and the team's ability to do so last year was limited. Brandon Brooks has shown major improvement and looks to take over a job done by Ben Jones for most of 2012. The one question mark remains right tackle, but even that position should be better with another year of continuity.

While the team didn't make major additions to the line, they did make a very important one at wide receiver. DeAndre Hopkins gives the team a threat on the opposite side of Andre Johnson, and should help open up the middle for Arian Foster. It was too easy for teams to dedicate two defenders to stop Johnson and have nine others think run first in 2012. This year opposing defenses will have more to think about and that can only help Foster's YPC.

POSITIVES

  • Foster is an elite back in the prime of his career that just finished second in fantasy points in a down year.
  • Foster can contribute to your fantasy team in every way a running back should. He's good in any format.
  • The Texans added another offensive weapon and should have an improved right side of their line.

NEGATIVES

  • Foster has seen a three year decline in YPC, receptions and fantasy points per game.
  • Foster is nursing a calf injury that may keep him limited in camp.

PROJECTIONS

  RUSH RU YDs RU TDs REC RE YDs RE TDs
Heath Cummings Projections 300 1350 12 48 360 2
David Dodds Projections 280 1218 11 49 358 2

FINAL THOUGHTS

Foster could very well be the #1 back in fantasy football again in 2013. If he's 100% healthy by the time you draft, I wouldn't begrudge you for drafting him as such. That being said, I'm still concerned enough by his sore calf that I've slightly lowered his projected touches. I'd like to see him active in the next week or so or I'll really start worrying about what kind of shape his legs will be for week one. If he plays 16 games, he should be one of the safest bets in the league to be a top three back.

Brad Evans at Yahoo wrote:

Contrary to popular 'expert' belief, Foster's demise a season ago was greatly exaggerated. Yes, his yards per carry was the lowest of his career and he generated a mere 1.6 O-rating according to Pro Football Focus, the 34th-best tally among eligible RBs, but it's silly to think he's in the midst of a dramatic decline.

Read more here.

Eric Olinger at Dynasty League Football wrote:

Much has been made of his declining yards per carry in each of the last three seasons. Obviously, when you average almost five yards per carry as a work horse back, there really isn’t anywhere to go but down. After 2010 and his 4.9 YPC, Foster fell to 4.4 YPC in 2011, and a flat 4.0 YPC in 2012. This speaks volumes to the amazing season he had in 2010. He finished nearly 100 points ahead of the RB2.

Read more here.

Jesse Reed at Bleacher Report wrote:

It's hard to believe that Foster is entering just his fifth season as a pro. The Texans have used him like a beast of burden and don't seem to care that he is wearing down in a bad way.

This guy has carried the ball an incredible 956 times in the past three years, and his yards-per-carry average has dropped every season. Furthermore, Foster's reception totals have fallen in each of his last three seasons.

Read more here.


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