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Arian Foster Will Play As Much As He’s Physically Able To

With ADP still an unknown, here is the optimistic projection for Arian Foster if it stays relatively in check. For concerns about Foster’s ability to return value at a potentially higher ADP, check RotoDoc’s take here.

Arian Foster has signed with the Dolphins. Initial reactions on Twitter and elsewhere suggest many are unsure what his role will be, and how the backfield roles will shake out. From the information we’ve been given, I think there’s a pretty clear answer. I think Foster will play as much as he’s physically able to, and I think that will make him a great draft target heading into this season, as his advanced age and injury history should keep his ADP down.

Adam Gase Wants a Lead RB

Back in February, I took a look at each of Adam Gase’s four seasons as an offensive coordinator. While he hasn’t had running backs who have totaled gaudy end of season numbers every year, there have been some injuries to his lead back his offenses have had to contend with. Subdividing those seasons to account for injury, we see Gase has favored a lead back.

PlayerSegmentMS ruATTMS TRGATTTRGPPR FPG
Willis McGahee2012, Weeks 1-100.6560.09417.83.415.2
Knowshon Moreno2012, Weeks 12-170.6180.11721.84.217.5
Knowshon Moreno20130.5250.1115.14.618.5
Montee Ball2014, Weeks 1-30.690.07316.32.711.5
Ronnie Hillman2014, Weeks 4-90.6120.12116.44.817.8
C.J. Anderson2014, Weeks 10-170.6810.13220.34.924.5
Matt Forte2015, Weeks 1-70.7240.15215.318.1
Jeremy Langford2015, Weeks 8-100.5490.14716.74.721.7

After Matt Forte returned from injury late last season, the Bears split the workload, but prior to that there was a clear trend.

Interestingly, Gase confirmed his desire for a lead back earlier in the offseason.

“Any time you’re playing that spot in this offense, you have to be able to do it all,” Gase told reporters on Monday, specifically in response to a question about Ajayi’s receiving skills. “It’s not a one-trick pony type of offense. You have to be able to protect. You have to be able to run the ball. You have to be able to catch. So we really don’t believe in, ‘Hey, you’re just a first- and second-down back.’ I don’t know what that means. We look for guys that can stay on the field all three downs because we’re not looking to ‘sub’ personnel. We want guys that can be in great shape, stay out there and then, if we need to switch somebody out because we’re having a long drive, then so be it. But really, whoever the guy is that we’re starting with in the series, that’s the guy I want to finish.”

The Deal with Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake

Not long after those comments, Rotoworld noted Jay Ajayi got poor reviews as a receiver in minicamp.

Jay Ajayi

Ajayi came into the league with a great production profile, and was a back we really liked. But there was concern surrounding the health of his knee, and many believe this is why he fell to the fifth round of the 2015 draft.

Both the head coach and general manager have been replaced since that draft, and in their short time in Miami the new leadership have drafted third-round rookie Kenyan Drake and now added Foster. These are the people who are tasked with shaping the team and ultimately doling out playing time. Whether there is a serious concern with Ajayi’s knee or not, the actions of the Dolphins’ brass seem to suggest they don’t see him as the back they are looking for.

As for Drake, he profiles as more of a pass-catching back than a three-down workhorse, but Rotoworld also recently quoted the Miami Herald as noting he didn’t “suggest he was ready to be a reliable No. 2 back” in the early part of the offseason.

Arian Foster’s Typical Workload

You probably don’t need me to explain that Foster has been one of the biggest workhorses in the NFL over the past several seasons, but this chart from 14TeamMocker’s look at potential landing spots for Lamar Miller (which identified Miller as a potential Foster replacement in Houston) shows that well.

Arian Foster Stats

YearAgeGamesStartedAttRush YdsRush TDTgtRecYdsRec TDY/TgtScrim YdsPPR FPS/GameFPS/Touch
200923615425739893010.3335010.170.9839
2010241613327161616846660427.19222024.751.0076
2011251313278122410725361728.57184123.780.9338
2012261616351142415584021723.74164119.130.7829
201327881215421352218315.2372513.310.7448
201428131326012468593832755.54157321.020.9171
20152944631631282222728.1139019.750.9294
Career766814546472543452492268146.57874020.140.8990

Though many have pointed to Foster’s low YPC in 2015, his four-game sample averaged 19.8 PPR points, good for the third highest per-game rate in the league among RBs last season.

But Isn’t the Achilles a Death Knell?

Maybe not. Our own Dr. Jeff Budoff recently noted in an internal email that there have been advancements in Achilles repairs in recent years. Specifically referencing a six-year old study, he noted:

“In good hands (foot/ankle orthopedic sub-specialist), this is now considered a pretty predictable procedure, as opposed to years past. [The six-year old article] assesses repairs from 2008-2009 and 1997-2002. We’ve come a long way since then.”

Foster is still an older back, and his injuries have piled up in recent years. But it seems there is some reason for optimism regarding his return from the Achilles injury that ended his 2015. Whether he holds up throughout 2016 is another story, but I suspect fears about his injury history and competition for touches will combine to keep the risk assymetrical to the cost, wherever his ADP settles in.

Conclusion

For many, the signing of Arian Foster has clouded the situation in Miami. Interestingly, I was having an extremely hard time parsing it before the signing, given that Miami seemed unwilling to commit to any of the backs on their roster. They’ve now added one of the best complete backs of his generation.

To me, the signing signifies a few things. Number one, the prior concerns about the rest of the backfield become glaring neon signs of what they’d prefer to do. They won’t come right out and say it, because there is still a significant possibility they need to rely on some combination of Ajayi and Drake this season. There are undoubtedly still concerns about Foster’s ability to stay healthy after three separate surgeries in three years.

Secondly, there are obviously discussions before these things occur, and Foster’s choice is another data point. Brian Malone wrote about the initial talks Miami had with Foster back in early June, and nailed his recommendation to wait on acquiring Ajayi until things shook out. While I’ll stop short of suggesting Foster was promised playing time, it would seem Foster was comfortable with what his role might be. He’s one of the more introspective athletes of his generation, and while I’m veering a bit down narrative street, I think it’s fair to assume rehabbing and getting himself back to game-ready at his age was a venture he set out on with the intention of playing.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Foster’s health and ADP throughout the next month. Matt Harmon noted in his initial reaction yesterday that he’d take him in the eighth or ninth round of fantasy drafts as a high-upside dart throw. If that Achilles seems like it can hold up and his name value doesn’t boost his ADP much further than that, I’ll be adding him as a mid-round back with the potential to take advantage of a huge workload for as long as he can stay healthy.

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