Is Arian Foster Still an Elite RB?

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Is Arian Foster Still an Elite RB?
USA TODAY Sports

Arian Foster has averaged more than 1,400 rushing yards, exactly 1,900 total yards and nearly 14 rushing touchdowns per season since 2010, but he's no longer an elite NFL running back.

What? 

Believe it. 

Recently, Foster was ranked by esteemed NFL.com writer Gregg Rosenthal as the 10th-best player in the league today. 

NFL Network's highly controversial—that's being nice—Top 100 players of 2013 list rated Foster as the No. 8 player in football.  

In both lists, the only running back placed ahead of the Texans sizable runner was Adrian Peterson

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Foster, the eccentric, former undrafted free agent has experienced an inspirational voyage from practice squad obscurity to All-Pro status. But entering his fourth year as Houston's workhorse, now's the appropriate time to classify him correctly among his contemporaries. 

He indisputably deserves an elite running back distinction if we're basing that distinction on overall averages over the past three seasons. However, that's not the desired criteria—his individual efficiency is, which is more telling than elementary yard and touchdown statistics.

Here's how Foster's 2012 production stacks up against some of the league's best backs (rookies were not included):

*ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required) provided the Elusive Rating and Yards After Contact/Attempt statistics. 

Clearly, Foster was one of the least efficient running backs of that select group. 

But, hey, everyone's allowed to have a down year before they're buried, right? 

Sure. 

With Foster though, his statistics and relative effectiveness has steadily declined in many key areas in each of the last three seasons:

Now, statistics are tricky. 

They can be utilized in a calculated way to simply support a preconceived notion. 

That's not the intention here. 

Is Arian Foster still an elite RB?

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Foster's touchdown totals have been ignored in this column, because, for the most part, they're too dependent on a team's offensive philosophy in the red zone. 

In theory, if the Baltimore Ravens wanted to get Ray Rice to 20 rushing touchdowns in 2013, they could simply hand him the ball on nearly every snap inside the 10-yard line, and chances are, he'd get close to the planned benchmark. 

That's why Foster's rushing touchdown totals were purposely omitted while per-carry statistics—one's that aren't necessarily reliant on the team around the running back—were highlighted. 

Foster will turn 27 on September 24 of this year, and his first touch of the 2013 campaign will be the 1,178th of his career. 

On a per-game basis, compared to his fellow star runners, Foster has been used more frequently during his career:

That doesn't mean he's totally worn down and has nothing left, but it's hard to argue the respectively high workload will benefit Foster this season and beyond. 

Heck, what do I know?

Foster could have a career resurgence this season. 

But if we're basing what Foster did in 2012—which was a regression from 2011, which was a regression from his breakout 2010 season—to label him as an elite, Top-10 overall player, well, then, it's quite obvious that the lofty designation is blatantly incorrect. 

Frankly, as it currently stands, there are a handful of backs who are more efficient and effective than Arian Foster, which would place him on the cusp, but not part of the "elite" running back group.

 

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