Arian Foster Says He'll Be Ready for Week 1, When Should You Draft Him?

Chris TrapassoAnalyst IAugust 22, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 23: Arian Foster #23 of the Houston Texans rushes in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Reliant Stadium on December 23, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Rejoice, fantasy owners! Houston Texans running back Arian Foster is off the physically unable to perform list! And he recently said, "I’ll be ready," when asked about his availability for the season opener against the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 9, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, of course.

Now, all you have to do is decide when to draft him. 

Easy, right? 

Yeah...not as easy as it used to be.

Back in the good ole days—as in 2011 and 2012—if Foster was available in your fantasy draft, you picked him. Third pick, second pick, first pick—whenever.

It was really that simple. 

After he emerged from undrafted obscurity in 2010 with 1,616 yards on the ground, 16 rushing touchdowns, 66 receptions and 2,220 yards from scrimmage, he was a top-three fantasy lock in 2011.

Despite missing three games that season, Foster ran for 1,224 yards, reached the end zone 12 total times and finished with 1,841 yards from scrimmage. 

That high level of production for a second straight year meant Foster's fantasy value was essentially unchanged.

In 2012, he racked up 15 rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns and 1,641 total yards, but it took a whopping 391 touches to do so. His 4.1 yards per carry was the lowest seasonal average of his young career. 

The youthful breakout star's declining rushing efficiency was noticeable, and suddenly, he was over 1,000 professional carries.

Then, Foster strained his calf in spring practice and started training camp on the dreaded PUP list. Soon after, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle tweeted this:

Kubiak said he's hoping to get Arian Foster back at practice Monday. He's been out with back injury. His calf is fine.

— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFLAugust 15, 2013

And this:

If I'm Kubiak and Arian Foster has a back injury that's requiring injections and feeling pain in legs, I'm worried about him for opener.

— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) August 18, 2013

That's how we arrived where we are today in regard to Foster's fantasy value, a place called Red Flag City. 

So, when's the appropriate time to draft Foster this year? 

To start, here's a look at his average draft position on some of the most popular fantasy-football sites on the Internet (PPR leagues):

Yikes, that's early. 

Here's another chart that illustrates Foster's regressing effectiveness:

Those deteriorating efficiency metrics aren't exactly third-pick-in-the-draft-worthy.

Furthermore, some of the decline isn't solely on Foster himself. 

Lance Zierlein, who has his own Houston Chronicle blog, wrote a piece in June about how the Texans can get their running game back on track. 

In the introduction, he opined that after replacing the right guard and tackle, the "continuity of the offensive line completely fell apart," a development that especially doesn't bode well for a zone-blocking group and the back running behind it.

I reached out to Zierlein on Twitter about the possibility of Foster and Houston's running game returning to form, and this was his response:

@ChrisTrapasso Based on what I've seen from oline and I haven't seen from Foster due to injury, returning to form may be a longshot.

— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) August 19, 2013

Then again, a case can be made that most fantasy owners aren't drafting Foster with the expectation that he'll eclipse 2,000 yards from scrimmage or catch 66 passes. They're more interested in, well, touchdowns. 

That's one area in which Foster remains an elite fantasy option. 

An ESPN Insider article (subscription required) by Pro Football Focus writer Mike Clay introduced an advanced touchdown statistic which weights a running back's carries and subsequent touchdowns inside the 20-yard line based on proximity to the end zone.

In that article, Clay provided the following information about Foster that will make fantasy owners drool:

He was handed the ball at the 1-yard line a whopping 11 times, converting six into scores. Of his 15 touchdowns, 12 came from within 6 yards of the end zone. Overall, Foster was given the ball 26 times from inside the 5-yard line last season.

Powerful fantasy stuff right there. 

Clay went on to add, "Houston added an impact offensive player in WR DeAndre Hopkins this offseason, but Foster is still its top scoring threat."

He's probably right.

There's reason to be concerned about the nagging injuries that have kept Foster off the field this offseason, and they should drop his ADP a bit, but it's impossible to predict a significant injury. 

More worry should be centered around what will likely be a decrease in his overall workload and the potential decrease in red-zone touches that may come as a result.

It's probably safe to assume Foster won't be the unquestionable, 391-touch workhorse for the Texans in 2013, especially with Hopkins out wide and Ben Tate behind him. Tate is a 25-year-old running back who's carried the ball 240 times in his NFL career for an average of 5.1 yards. 

Beyond that, factor in Foster's physical slide and an offensive line that's not as sturdy as it was when the running back broke out, and it's easy to realize he's no longer worth a top-three fantasy selection. 

These are the running backs who should be taken ahead of Foster this year:

  • Adrian Peterson - Ran for 2,097 yards in 2012 and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. He's had at least 10 rushing touchdowns in all six of his NFL seasons. Come on now. 
  • C.J. Spiller - Also averaged 6.0 yards per carry last season. Only 494 career touches from scrimmage. Home-run hitter.
  • Jamaal Charles - Want efficiency? Charles takes a career 5.8 yards per carry into the 2013 season. Also quite fast.
  • LeSean McCoy - Chip Kelly likes running backs. Only 835 career rushes.
  • Doug Martin - A 2012 rookie. Only 368 career touches. Amassed 1,926 yards from scrimmage last year. No legitimate backup pushing him. 

Heck, even taking Trent Richardson ahead of Foster wouldn't be nuts. 

While there are many reasons to be down on Foster heading into 2013, let's not overthink things. He's still in line for between 275 and 325 carries and should be Houston's "goal-line back." But with younger, more explosive running backs taking center stage, Arian Foster's true value probably now lies in mid-to-late Round 1 of fantasy drafts.