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First Down: Bow down, haters! ‘Foster’ is still fantasy for ‘stud’

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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Despite concerns, Foster is deserving of a top-two pick. (USAT)

When a high-priced player fails to meet expectations no amount of online Madden butt-whippings and comforting brewskies can wash away the nightmare. Typically, the all-consuming pain leads to bitter feelings and harsh grudges with owners vowing ... NEVER AGAIN!

Like seasonal change, May muscle gain reports and fractured Ryan Mathews bones, busts are an annual occurrence. Since 2007, on average 4.7 RB1s per year (First 12 rushers taken in 12-team drafts) have finished outside the position’s top-15, leaving a trail of broken hearts and dashed titles in their wake. Last year, Darren McFadden, DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte and, unsurprisingly, Mathews didn’t measure up in standard leagues.

Now with the 2013 season nearly upon us, new pitfalls await. 'Experts,' of course, think they have all the answers.

As is common practice every mock season, fantasy prognosticators are staking their reputations, boldly predicting what highly valued RBs are bound to underachieve. This year, Arian Foster, arguably the most consistent RB in the virtual game three years running, tops their lists more times than not.

The anti-Arian movement is rooted in substantive reasoning. According to subscribers, his unsavory odometer reading (414 touches/year, playoffs included, since ’10), dwindling yards per carry average (’10: 5.5 ypc, ’11: 4.4, ’12: 4.1) and underperforming offensive line are tell tale signs of a Shaun Alexander-like downfall. As critics contend, the injury risk is way too significant to sink a top-three pick in his services, a legitimate gripe. His calf strain, which is expected to keep him sidelined until training camp, suffered last Tuesday in OTAs was only a preview.

However, their crystal ball is out of whack.

Here are five reasons why Foster needs to be the next player taken after Adrian Peterson:

Numerical Fallacy. Contrary to popular 'expert' belief, Foster's demise a season ago was greatly exaggerated. Yes, his yards per carry was the lowest of his career and he generated a mere 1.6 O-rating according to Pro Football Focus, the 34th-best tally among eligible RBs, but it's silly to think he's in the midst of a dramatic decline.

First, his workload near the goal-line increased significantly. His 29 carries inside the five exceeded his 2011 mark by 16 and outpaced second-best in that category, Cam Newton, by 13 totes. Since he was leaned on heavily over short distances, it explains the YPC slide. Second, he continued to reel off long runs. Overall, Foster recorded 38 runs of 10-plus yards, the same number as Doug Martin and six more than what he logged the year before. And because Gary Kubiak insists on pounding the rock near the pylons – Houston ran 62.4-percent of the time inside the red-zone – his chances of double-digit TDs remains high, no matter what his YPC is.

Renewed Determination. As most are aware, the NFL's philosopher king is cut from a different cloth. Unselfish, introspective and a vegan by choice, he's the anti-diva. To eliminate distractions and remain focused, he's lived a 'Walden' existence this offseason abandoning travel and modern forms of communication (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, the Internet) in an attempt to 'bounce back' and reach football self-fulfillment. His recent calf setback derailed the process, but, according to all accounts, he looked spectacular prior to the injury. Without a doubt, he's hungry to prove cynics wrong yet again. Based on the undrafted product's history, bank on him doing exactly that.

Ease of Schedule. Many will point out last year's data is exactly that, last year. Due to constant offseason movement among the coaching and personnel ranks, a defense that was highly permeable a year ago could improve overnight (see the 2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers). To a certain extent that's true, however, many units remain overly generous from year-to-year. The Raiders, for example, have ranked inside the top-10 in fantasy points allowed to rushers 10 consecutive seasons.

With that in mind, and knowing Foster faces the sorrowful Silver and Slack in Houston Week 10, the former rush champ is very appealing. His schedule is the most favorable among ALL RBs. Most attractive, if Indy, a club the Texans face Week 15, doesn't rectify its trench issues in a hurry (eighth-most fantasy points allowed to RBs in '12), he could net investors a championship berth.

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Hopkins' presence will aid Foster (USAT)

Offensive environment. 'Fit' is an overused word in the football vernacular, but it definitely applies to Foster. His eagle-eyed vision and fantastic initial step explain why he's thrived in Kubiak's run-first, run-often zone-blocking system. Other associated parts have, and will continue to, enhance his overall worth.

First, the offensive line, which even in a down year finished top-10 in run-blocking, returns all five starters. Certain segments are deteriorating, but if right tackle Derek Newton can regain his mountain-moving ways, the unit has strong odds of returning to an elite level.

The addition of rookie wideout DeAndre Hopkins is also beneficial. If the ex-Tiger, who many scouts believed was the most polished target in this year's draft class, complements Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels nicely, defenses will be kept off-guard, creating exploitable opportunities for Foster between the tackles.

Ben Tate. For years, fantasy prognosticators showered the backup with praise, so much one would think his bust was encased in Canton. However, various physical setbacks have stunted his production. Last year, Tate, belittled by injuries, gripped the pill just 76 times averaging a modest 4.4 yards per touch.

However, considering the enormity of Foster's workload the past three years, it's very likely Tate will soon resemble the RB from 2011. That may seem detrimental to the incumbent, but it's actually a blessing in disguise. It's all about efficiency in numbers. Fewer carries should keep Foster fresher, helping him maximize every touch. Recall in Tate's breakout campaign two years ago, the starter averaged 19.7 fantasy points per game in standard leagues, the highest total in virtual pigskin. Even if Arian nets 22-24 touches per game, he should rack a top-flight per week average.

Bottom line: For the reasons above, it's asinine to think the three-time Pro Bowler is destined to slip into a statistical coma. Despite the concerns, he remains one of the safest first-round picks in fantasy this year. Ray Rice, C.J. Spiller and Trent Richardson, other RBs selected on average in Round 1, carry more risk.

Inevitably a handful of rushers will spoil owner seasons, but if you believe the Texan will be one of them, you're not playing with a full deck.

Let's officially put the ridiculous Isaiah Pead for 'Breakout Player of the Year' predictions to rest. On Friday, Warden Goodell suspended the popular mock 'sleeper' for one-game after he violated the league's substance abuse policy. Though Rams management was aware of the infraction months ago, it hurts his chances of nailing down lead carries in a jumbled backfield.

Pead's early-season absence paves the way for Daryl Richardson and intriguing rookie Zac Stacy, who averaged an impressive 5.6 yards per carry his last three seasons at Vanderbilt, to assert themselves atop the Rams' depth-chart. Because the former offers minimal upside – he ranked No. 56 out of 60 eligible RBs in overall worth according to Pro Football Focus' 2012 metrics – the latter is a name to watch this preseason.

Stacy, stolen in the sixth-round of April's NFL draft, has 'Alfred Morris' written all over him. He's a stocky, between-the-tackles grinder who also excels as a pass protector. It's conceivable, even when Pead returns, he will be Jeff Fisher's go-to guy inside the red-zone. A player likely to go well after pick Round 7 in 12-team drafts (103.2 ADP, RB42), he's worth a reach. With a strong camp and splashy Week 1 effort against Arizona, the Zac Attack could be in line for a 1,100-total yard, 6-8 TD campaign.

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