Fantasy Football 2013: Beware of Overworked RBs Like Arian Foster, Ray Rice

Will CarrollSports Injuries Lead WriterAugust 7, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against Donte Whitner #31 of the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Ravens won 34-31. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

You can't win your fantasy league in the first round, but you sure can lose it there. 

There's no feeling like seeing your top pick standing on the sideline, surrounded by doctors and athletic trainers, knowing that what they see and feel could make or break your fantasy season. That's why it's so important to understand the impact that last season had on this season. Don't let the curse of fatigue break your key runners.

There's an interesting theory, first created by Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, that's called the "Curse of 370." In his original research, running backs who went over 370 carries almost always had major issues in the year following, with only Eric Dickerson escaping its clutches. 

There are a couple simple concepts inside the so-called Curse that make sense on both a common sense and a football level.

First, it's simple fatigue. Anyone carrying the ball that much is going to have a seasonal-level fatigue. Second, anyone carrying the ball that much is being effective, likely very effective, and is going to be subject to the principle of regression. We call it a "career year" for a reason, though there's some overlap with seasonal fatigue.

Both Arian Foster and Ray Rice avoided Curse-level carry totals, but in the modern NFL, it's almost as hard to see high carry totals as it is to see an MLB pitcher go 150 pitches in game. Foster and Rice were close to those levels with Foster at 354 and Rice at 257, plus another 84 in the playoffs. 

Both backs are top-tier and have shown several years of production. However, fantasy football is as much about risk as reward, which makes picking either two at the very top of any draft dangerous. Balancing their injury risk against their projected production makes it difficult for me to advise taking them at their current ADP of 2 and 3. 

Even in PPR leagues, where Rice has added value, especially after the loss of Dennis Pitta, there's such a downside to Rice's workload levels that it's still difficult to advise it. While Rice's durability seems solid, playing in all 16 games over the past four years plus the playoffs, it's much the same as what we saw from Maurice Jones-Drew, a player with similar talent and physicality. Jones-Drew was surprisingly durable...until he wasn't, losing much of last year with a severe foot injury.

Foster is less durable but every bit as talented and given opportunity to use it in the Texans offense.

Foster has never made it through a season without some level of injury, usually a muscular injury, though his availability has often hidden these issues. All the way back to high school, Foster has been tagged as injury-prone and for good reason. While much credit must go to the Texans' medical staff, Foster remains a very risky player.

The Houston running back does project extremely well, according to the stats wizards at, as the No. 2 overall RB with similar totals to last season (337 carries, 1,444 yards).

Rice also has similar numbers to his 2012, projecting at the No. 5 slot with 253 carries and 1,065 yards. With both, the confidence intervals are very wide, with much of that due to injury risk, both specific and general.

With both projected so high, the risk has to be factored in and compared with other runners with similar projected production. Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris and LeSean McCoy all offer similar production and even upside without the injury risk. Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin and Trent Richardson are in the tier but have similar injury risk. 

Whether you base it on simple regression, Curses or risk-reward ratios, it's dangerous to take any risky running back in the first round. You simply can't miss or have a pick go down at that level and hope to win on the season. Knowing the risks on Arian Foster and Ray Rice may help you avoid those issues or at least understand them.