2013 was a dismal season all around in Houston. For the team, for its fans, and for tailback Arian Foster. After a 2012 campaign in which he netted 391, Foster managed just eight starts, playing through injury for most of the year before being shut down. His per carry totals weren’t all that bad, but the cumulative numbers and the scoring production were below all expectations – even of those who expressed injury and workload concerns before the season.
Nevertheless, the team and Foster have turned the page on 2013 and are preparing for 2014. As fantasy owners, we need to do so as well. Last year’s disappointment has no bearing on anticipated production – and again, in terms of efficiency it wasn’t all that bad. Foster was hurt, sure, and perhaps we need to consider him a bit of an injury risk on draft day but we can’t say he was ineffective when on the field.
Foster averaged 90.7 total YPG through eight contests, despite averaging just 17.75 touches in those eight games carrying the ball for 4.5 YPC. He didn’t score at all, mind you, totaling just two touchdowns on the season on an offense that didn’t score that much either. Regardless, in weeks 1-9 Foster was the 15th best fantasy RB, according to FantasyPros.
The moral here is simple. Don’t let last year’s disappointment keep you from this year’s value. I’m not touting Foster as a top five back again, of course, but I do think he has RB1 value.
As for reinjury, and his overall frailty last season, I have acknowledged the concern but all we know at this point in the offseason is that Foster participated fully in minicamp and is healthy by all accounts. You’ll recall last year at this time there was a significant cloud of uncertainty circling Foster regarding his health and availability for Week 1. This year, there is no such concern.
In addition to the injury prone label Foster seems to be carrying around, there is a perception that his body may be wearing down in response to his workload. Again though, it wasn’t as if he was unproductive when on the field last season, suggesting that there is plenty left in the tank. He did average 372 touches a year from 2010-2012, but will turn just 28-years-old in August and spent his rookie season as a practice squader so he shouldn’t be on the edge of the cliff just yet.
Now that we’re five paragraphs deep, let me get to my point: Bill O’Brien‘s offense is going to be a good fit for Foster, who had finished as a top 5 fantasy back in each of the three seasons he was an NFL starter before last year. No doubt O’Briens offense will be more pass heavy than that deployed under Gary Kubiak, but that doesn’t mean it won’t involve the running back position. In our review of AFC Coaching Changes we discussed the fact that New England’s backs didn’t catch a ton of balls during O’Brien’s tenure as OC there, but he is still expected to involve the position heavily in the passing game.
Foster spoke openly about his happiness with the new offense early this offseason, touting its versatility and the plan to get him looks in different lineups against linebackers and running in different zones. All of this points to a plan to get Foster the ball in space – as does the discussion of ensuring his involvement as a receiver. While expected, O’Brien has been effusive in his praise of Foster, per ProFootballTalk:
“The most important thing to do is to make sure that you look at the player’s skill set and figure out how they fit your system or our system… [w]hat we do is if we have a back for instance that is a three-down back like Arian is, a guy that can play on first, second and third down, then your finding ways to incorporate him into the passing game and the running game and it really works out well for your offense. In the past we’ve had guys like Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead in this offense that have filled those types of roles. Now it looks like definitely Arian will be able to do that and more.”
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Of course, part of the reason for building a scheme around Foster’s skill set comes from limited options on offense. Fantasy scoring revolves around overall offensive production, I know, particularly in touchdown heavy formats and I’m not expecting O’Brien to revolutionize the offense in year one, with (likely) Ryan Fitzpatrick under Center but I think that is more reason to believe that Foster is in for a healthy workload yet again. Andre Johnson will check in sooner or later, and DeAndre Hopkins should have more to contribute this season but this is unlikely to be a team that will live and die by the deep ball. As such, they’ll look for creative ways to get Foster involved on all three downs.
With Ben Tate departed, there is no real threat to his status as an every down back. Andre Brown may get looks in certain first and second down settings, but this this Foster’s backfield. When it comes to goal line scenarios, we should expect some work for Brown, though he didn’t overwhelm in that role for New York last season and you’re not paying for 2011′s 15 rushing touchdowns from Foster anyhow.
With a current average draft position of 11.2 (per FantasyFootballCalculator), Foster isn’t a steal on draft day. Still, that number does represent a significant dip from where most owners took Foster last season – and is right on track with my own RB7 rank. Often times, owners will avoid drafting a player in the current year because he burnt them the year prior, and with a first round price tag Foster did just that in 2013 but that doesn’t mean you should avoid him this year. If your leaguemates fail to acknowledge that, take the plunge on a back that seems to be a good bet for 320-340 touches in 2014.