The sad reality of the NFL running back position is that once a player takes the dive off a cliff, the climb back to the peak is all but impossible.
Owners have been burnt for ages by backs who were hobbled and run into the ground by coaching staffs, and the latest example of this situation is Arian Foster.
For one reason or another, the Tennessee product has an average draft position of 2.08 as the No. 11 back off the board in standard leagues.
Maybe it is because Foster has not hit the dreaded age of 30. He is, after all, only 28. His production has been consistently elite when healthy, but look at those usage numbers there on the left after admiring the sexier stats to the right:
The wheels fell completely off on the way down the mountain.
Not only did Foster miss half the season a year ago with a serious back injury, he also considered hanging up the cleats for good. ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli has the scoop:
Any time an athlete goes through an injury like that -- a back, a neck, even knees or hips, something that puts you out for the entire season -- you kind of re-evaluate your life. You see what's really important. Is getting paralyzed more important than playing with your grand kids when you’re 50, 60 years old. People die on the football field. This is a really brutal sport. Going through an injury like that, being 27 years old, I’m young, still I’m at the prime of my career. Is it worth it to try to come back?
Not serious enough to deter owners, right? It seems to be a serious issue that only creates other problems, though, which would explain why Foster's status remains a question mark for preseason contests thanks to a hamstring injury.
But say Foster makes a miraculous recovery, gets on the field and his body is able to withstand the physicality of the pro game.
Will he even get the typical 25 touches per game as he did with past staffs?
Bill O'Brien is the man in charge now, and yes, the quarterback situation stinks, but the passing game cannot completely go out the window, especially with talented wideouts like Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins on the roster.
Not only do we not truly understand O'Brien's approach to the ground game just yet (detractors will point to his back usage in New England, supporters will show that Penn State's rushing totals went up under his guidance), that staff may want to preserve Foster's body for years to come. Jonathan Grimes and Alfred Blue are talented enough to steal carries, especially if the former continues to play in a way that John McClain of the Houston Chronicle describes:
While Arian Foster nurses a hamstring injury, Jonathan Grimes does a, well, Arian Foster impersonsation. He's the hit of the offense.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) August 10, 2014
For owners weighing the decision on Foster in the second round, the word "committee" comes to mind after reading that.
Either way, owners should feel a huge amount of discomfort with the fact that Foster has yet to throw his weight around a ton in practice. He is a veteran, yes, but he is not just going to skip all of the preseason and get thrown into the fire with 20 carries per game in Week 1. Well, he could, but he will more than likely wind up hurt again.
In the second round, the return on investment simply does not appear to be in the cards with Foster. Backs behind him such as Alfred Morris, Zac Stacy, Andre Ellington and even Reggie Bush seem poised to act as sure things, and even players such as Frank Gore can be had in the fourth round.
As Footballguys' Chad Parsons notes, at Foster's current ADP, there is a lot more downside than upside:
Arian Foster with an ADP of RB11 is filled with downside and not much, if any, upside from there. Draft at your own risk.— Chad Parsons (@ChadParsonsNFL) August 14, 2014
Could Foster defy all of this and explode back into the top five scorers at his position?
Sure, but fantasy football is all about smart bets in the right places. Foster is a guy who has contemplated retirement after a very serious injury, has a ridiculous amount of usage under his belt and is already limping his way through training camp toward a regular season under the guidance of a new coaching staff.
Let somebody else roll what appears to be extremely volatile dice.