The Houston Texans drafted DeAndre Hopkins in Round 1 of the 2013 draft to add more explosiveness to their passing game, but let's be real. They're still a run-first team and Arian Foster is still the offensive focal point.
Unfortunately, Foster's efficiency has decreased in each of the past two seasons after a sparkling breakout season in 2010.
The soon-to-be 27-year-old logged a league-high 351 carries in 2012 and finished the year with a career-low 4.1 yards per carry.
To avoid another season of regression, the Texans should be looking to find an optimal number of carries for Foster while factoring in an optimal number of carries for his backup, Ben Tate.
Let's try to help them out.
Foster has 1,010 career carries. Since he took over as the team's feature back in 2010, the former University of Tennessee Volunteer has averaged 318.6 carries per season.
Every running back and his situation is different, but here's a look at a few of Foster's contemporaries who recently averaged close to 318 attempts per season over a three-year stretch:
While nothing definitive can be drawn from the chart, it's worth noting that recently, running backs who've neared 310 carries per season over a three-year span either suffered an injury or had their workload decreased in the following campaign.
Alexander, however, provides hope for the Foster optimists.
Enough about what other running backs did in the past. What about Foster? Well, here's how efficient he's been since 2011 on a per-game basis:
While 29 games isn't necessarily a significant sample size, over the past two years, Foster has been the most efficient when he's been able to get into a rhythm, but not when he wears himself out, which isn't surprising.
Here's how Foster has fared more specifically on a per-game basis:
It's a minimal difference, but a difference nonetheless.
Before we come to a final conclusion on Foster's optimal carry total, let's look at Ben Tate's optimal carry total.
After erupting in 2011 with 175 carries for 942 yards and four touchdowns (5.4 yards per carry), Tate appeared in only 11 games in 2012 due to a nagging hamstring injury, as his yards-per-carry average dropped to 4.3.
He has 240 career carries in the two seasons in which he has been active (he was placed on IR prior to the 2010 season).
Here are the results after putting Tate through a similar per-game efficiency test as Foster:
Based on the only NFL data we have for Tate, he is actually been more efficient when he's had more than 10 carries in a game. However, it's important to remember the majority of his production came in 2011, when he was healthy.
Optimal Carries for Foster and Tate
Based solely on the research provided involving looks at each runner's previous two seasons, the following projections can be made.
Foster should be given 17 carries per game. Multiplied by 16 games that equals 272 carries, a far cry from the 351 he received in 2012.
The Texans should make a concerted effort to get Tate at least 10 carries per game. That way, Tate will be in a position to reach his optimal efficiency—as history suggests—and Foster can stay relatively fresh all season.
For Tate, who averaged averaged 11.6 carries per game in 2011, an average of 12 carries per game in 2013, multiplied by 16 games, equals 192 carries for the former Auburn Tiger.
Though far from an exact science, based on their past production, 272 carries for Foster and 192 carries for Tate in 2013 are optimal totals for each to run as efficiently as possible for the Houston Texans.
A total of 464 carries between two isn't a stretch in either direction. They combined for 453 carries in 2011 when both were healthy.