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Spotlight: Michael Turner

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 14th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Michael Turner is the ultimate throwback to a bygone era in football. Today's NFL is defined by pass happy attacks and most of the league's top running backs are versatile players who generate a significant part of their totals as receivers. For fantasy football purposes, the best RBs are almost always two-way threats. In recent years, the league has also transitioned away from the workhorse model, and has instead favored using multiple RBs in a committee approach. The logic being that RBs that take a pounding too often have shortened careers.

Turner's success flies in the face of both trends.

  • He's a one dimensional threat - In 102 games, 43 as a starter, Turner has 34 career receptions versus 1,116 carries. You won't find many RBs in today's NFL that have such an imbalance. There's very little point in debating whether Turner COULD be a good receiver, after seven years in the league and multiple head coaches, it's clear he's NOT viewed that way by those who matter most - his play-callers.
  • He's a workhorse - In Turner's three seasons in Atlanta, he has lead the NFL in carries twice - 376 carries in 2008 and 334 carries in 2010. He "only" had 178 carries in 2009, but missed more than a month of the season and wasn't at full strength. Simply put, when Turner is at his best it's because he's getting the ball 20+ times in a game.

Does the heavy workload pose a threat?
As we've already said, most coaches no longer believe in giving one RB most of the carries. But that doesn't necessarily mean their fears of overwork are justified. Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, Corey Dillon, Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis, Barry Sanders, Eddie George and Adrian Peterson are just a few contemporary RBs that more than justified a heavy workload and flourished for an extended period of time.

In Turner's case, the one reason to be concerned is last year's 4.1 yards per rush average. Turner has averaged 4.9 yards per rush through the first six years of his career, but saw that average plummet in 2010. There are three possible reasons for the drop:

  • Statistical luck of the draw - Sometimes a player will have an outlier year, simply because that's how the chips fall
  • A step back in the play of the offensive line - If this was the reason, that's not good news because the Falcons prioritized bringing back their own free agents on the line for continuity sake
  • A regression in Turner's abilities - Let's hope that's not the case, because backs rarely show declining skills and then turn back around

Here's why I'm not particularly worried about the per carry drop off:

  • Turner led all NFL runners in yards after initial contact last year (941 yards)
  • Turner was second among NFL runners in missed tackles (46)
  • Turner was tied for 8 among NFL runners with 32 rushes of 10+ yards

The Goal Line Gold Mine
Touchdowns cure all. In most leagues, a rushing TD can make up for a lot of other deficiencies, and Turner is one of the most prolific scorers - particularly in short yardage. In the three seasons Turner has been Atlanta's starter, no other NFL runner has racked up more goal line work.

Goal Line (10-yards and Less) Carries (2008-2010)

Rank First Last Rush TDs TD%
1 Michael Turner 97 32 33.0%
2 Thomas Jones 91 23 25.3%
3 Adrian Peterson 90 30 33.3%
4 Maurice Jones-Drew 82 25 30.5%
5 Matt Forte 80 10 12.5%
6 LaDainian Tomlinson 80 23 28.8%
7 Brandon Jacobs 71 24 33.8%
8 Marion Barber 62 17 27.4%
9 Cedric Benson 60 12 20.0%
10 Chris Johnson 57 16 28.1%
11 Frank Gore 56 14 25.0%
12 Steven Jackson 56 11 19.6%
13 Rashard Mendenhall 52 18 34.6%
14 Willis McGahee 51 18 35.3%
15 Tim Hightower 51 19 37.3%
16 Ronnie Brown 50 18 36.0%
17 Joseph Addai 49 15 30.6%
18 Marshawn Lynch 48 11 22.9%
19 Jonathan Stewart 47 16 34.0%
20 Arian Foster 47 15 31.9%

As you can see, the Falcons give Turner the rock when it matters, and he's among the league's best at converting those carries into touchdowns.

Will Julio Jones Change the Dynamics?
The Falcons gave up a ton of compensation to move up in the draft to select Julio Jones. GM Dimitroff believes Jones has All Pro potential, and that his addition - paired with WR Roddy White - will be the last piece to a Super Bowl puzzle. Jones is a physical marvel, and if he pans out should give opposing defenses fits trying to cover both him and White. In the past, White faced double teams constantly and Turner faced heavy fronts. If Jones is as good as the Falcons brass believes, Turner may get more 6- and 7-man fronts than he's seen in his prior 7 seasons.

Positives

  • Turner has been the most productive goal-line rusher in the league since becoming the Falcons starter three years ago
  • The addition of Julio Jones, when paired with Roddy White and QB Matt Ryan, makes it more likely Turner will see his fair share of 6- and 7-man fronts for the first time in his career
  • Turner continues to typify power running -- he led the league in yards after initial contact and missed tackles (on route to leading the league in carries)

Negatives

  • Turner is a complete non factor as a receiver, which makes it next to impossible for him to be one of the THE top fantasy RBs in a given season
  • His yards per rush fell precipitously last year (4.1)

Final thoughts

Turner is a case of extremes. On a positive note, he's one of the few full-time workhorses left in the NFL, having led the NFL in carries in both 2008 and 2010, as well as goal-line rushes, goal-line TDs, missed tackles and yards after contact. He's a powerback personified. On a negative note, he's simply a non-factor as a receiver, has been nicked up (particularly in 2009), and saw a sharp drop in his per carry average last year. I believe Turner remains effective enough at what he does to comfortably slot him into the 1,200+ yard, 10+ TD range -- with upside from there. On the other hand, he stands next to no chance of surprising with a Top 3 finish -- which you always hope for from your #1 RB. Turner is a great option early in the 2nd round in regular leagues, but is less compelling as a Top 10 option in PPR formats.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

MrTwo94 said:

Currently falling to RB11 despite finishing RB2 and RB9 in his last two full seasons (was RB6 prior to injury in 2009). His ypc did drop to 4.1 last year, but the team as a whole dropped. In the last 3 years he has averaged 4.5, 4.9, 4.1 to his team's 4.6, 4.3, 4.0. So it is hard to see this as a physical decline on his part. I expect another solid workhorse season from Turner.

rzrback77 said:

Michael Turner is a big back at 5-10 and 237 and he seems to get classified as the type that gets often injured. He is moving up in age and turned 29 in February. Those two facts, large back getting older seem to combine to cause him to drop like a rock among RB rankings between 2010 and this season.

I am not too sure how the ADPs are determined this off-season since it seems that drafting has slowed to a crawl, but FBG's latest number indicates that Turner is falling to RB 14. To me, this indicates a potential value selection toward the end of round 2 or early round 3.

In his three seasons in Atlanta, he has averaged 20.7 carries per game and scored 0.91 TDs per game. I realize that a lot of folks play ppr and he obviously slips some in ppr scoring, but I think that he is slipping too far this year. A quick glance at his receptions lets most see that he is just not that involved in the passing game, but he had a career high of 20 targets and 12 catches a year ago, so the optimist could say that he is trending upward.

I think that Atlanta has answered the Saints call to increase their offensive game plan looking at what they traded away to select Julio Jones. The trifecta of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Gonzo seems like it should increase the opportunities for Turner to run against 7-man fronts this year. I see another good season for him.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Michael Turner bounced back last year with a very solid season. I thought Atlanta's rush schedule was on the easier side and I felt like I noticed when Snelling was hurt, Turner had some bigger games because he was on the field more. When Atlanta has Snelling as an option, Turner is still the guy but they're not afraid to take him out for a series or two. Turner is a 1 dimensional player, he is good at running downhill and is their goaline back, so for that Turner is a late 1st round pick, early 2nd in most conventional 12 team leagues. He should again put up solid numbers as Atlanta seems to be a team that should be competing for the playoffs. It is worthy to note that when Atlanta falls behind, Michael Turner gets taken out of the game plan (never caught a TD pass in his career), something that doesn't happen to some of your elite backs who are involved in more of the passing game.


Michael Turner projections

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