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First Down: Father Time, retooled offense may be unkind to Michael Turner

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Time is ticking away for The Burner. (USP)

For Michael Turner, one of the most reliable, consistent rushers over the past four seasons, the sands of the hourglass are running thin.

At an age (30) when most RBs are making plans for life after football, the Burner hopes to keep bringing the heat. Coming off a season in which he accumulated 4.5 yards per carry, 1,340 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, placing him inside the RB top-15 in per game average for the fourth-consecutive year, a sudden sharp decline doesn't appear likely on the surface. In Turner's defense, he was underused by the Chargers early in his career, which has allowed him to keep plenty of tread on the tires despite three 300-plus carry workloads since 2008. That accompanied with his incredibly thick lower-half, excellent O-line and healthy offense as a whole suggest he could handle the burden with considerable ease in 2012.

But history tells us otherwise.

As prior owners of Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson and LaDainian Tomlinson can attest, when rushers blow out the big 3-0 candles, they most often transform into decrepit, crusty commodities. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule (e.g. Willis McGahee in '11), but most often these elderly backs slip into a statistical abyss, rarely flashing the Pro Bowl-level skills previously exhibited, especially in revamped offenses.

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Mike Mularkey's jettisoning to Jacksonville could extinguish The Burner. If he sticks to his guns, new Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who oversaw one of the league's worst offenses in football last year with the Jags, is expected to insert a more conservative brand. In most situations this would cater greatly to a physical grinder like Turner, but rumors have circulated a zone-blocking scheme will be implemented, a one-cut-and-go system that wouldn't favor a straight-line rusher. It's no wonder why Mike Smith openly expressed his desire to get Jacquizz Rodgers more touches earlier this offseason.

Turner's finish to 2011 also doesn't lend much confidence.

After a rousing start, he slowed considerably down the homestretch. He torched Tampa in Week 17 for a season-high 172 yards and two touchdowns, but a blind tortoise could have eclipsed 100-yards against the Bucs, the NFL's worst run defense. Excluding that max effort, Turner was complete rubbish from Week 12 on, including the Falcons' playoff loss to New York. During that stretch he failed to eclipse 80 yards in a game and averaged a laughable 3.2 yards per carry. Running into several barricades and dragging few tacklers, he looked sluggish, timid and old, evidenced in his sagging 2.3 yards after contact per attempt (3.0 from Weeks 1-11).

Bottom line: The Burner is going way too early in mocks (26.6 ADP) and bafflingly is a staple on many colleagues' top-15 RB lists. Sure, the offensive environment is quite favorable — Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez will help create wide running lanes — but given the risks involved and due to No. 33's lack of versatility, there's no way he's a better option than Darren Sproles (30.0 ADP), Ahmad Bradshaw (32.8), Doug Martin (38.3) or Reggie Bush (45.2).

If you prefer to avoid uncomfortable burning sensations this fall, don't draft Turner.

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