Arian Foster’s Risk and Value
In Week 8 of 2013, Texans running back Arian Foster played his final snap of the season. He was forced to end the season early due to progressively worsening low back pain and unilateral lower extremity radicular pain. These symptoms were all due to a herniated intervertebral disc in his low back.
He underwent a microscopic lumbar discectomy on November 13, 2013. The surgery consisted of removing disc material from the herniated lumbar disc, and therefore decompressing the irritated spinal nerve root that was causing his lower extremity pain.
Foster’s surgery was a success. In March, his physician medically cleared him to participate in football activities.
And for those wondering, I’ve been medically cleared by my doctor.
— Arian Foster (@ArianFoster) March 16, 2014
Despite the encouraging signs that Foster will participate in preseason workouts, his fantasy value for 2014 is still in question.
There are three major questions regarding his fantasy value: the possibility he will have a decline in production due to the surgery, his increased risk of having another injury, and the projected productivity of the Houston offense.
Some good news for Foster is most NFL players that have recently undergone a lumbar discectomy have had good outcomes. In a 2010 study, performance-based outcomes were calculated for 96 NFL players who had recently underwent lumbar discectomies. The majority (78 percent) of them returned to play in the following season, and they did not have a significant decline in on-field production.
Foster’s overall injury history, however, is concerning. Throughout the 27-year-old running back’s five-year career, he has injured a plethora of body parts, including: knee, hip, quadriceps, calf, hamstring, and low back. The vast majority of these were soft-tissue injuries (i.e. sprains and strains), and they all have increased risks of reoccurrence. He also continues to suffer from an undisclosed congenital heart disorder that once caused him to miss playing time due to an irregular heartbeat.
Many of the aforementioned injuries and medical conditions are insignificant while evaluating the risk of owning Foster as a fantasy football player. All indications are his heart condition is being well managed by his physicians, and his herniated lumbar disc is no longer an issue.
Nevertheless, other parts of his injury history should be considered when estimating his risk in fantasy. The most concerning of these injuries are the multiple calf, quadriceps, and hamstring strains. These kinds of strains are largely problematic for athletes because of their high-recurrence rate (12-31 percent).2-3
It has been shown that recurrent hamstring strains require a significantly longer healing time than initial hamstring strains. For example, athletes that suffer a reinjured hamstring have a significant chance of taking four weeks or longer to return to play.
There is also a correlation found between the risk of a recurrent hamstring strain occurring and the size of the previous hamstring tear found on a MRI. The larger the previous lesion appears on the MRI, the higher the chance of a recurrent hamstring strain occurring. Foster’s infamous MRI image of his injured hamstring showed a significant grade 2 hamstring tear, and the resultant scarring of that hamstring has made it even more susceptible to a re-tear in the future.
There is one final concern regarding Foster’s multiple hamstring and calf strains: a history of low back pain or sciatic nerve irritation increases a person’s risk of having a recurrent hamstring or calf strain. This is especially problematic for Foster considering he has suffered from both, low back pain and sciatic nerve irritation, in the past 12 months.
As for the state of the Texans offense heading into 2014, it appears to be uninspiring. Their lackluster 2013 offense ranked 31st in the league for points scored, and ranked 23rd in the league for PFF overall performance metrics (-27.7).
The 2013 Texans offense’s only redeeming quality was their ability to run the ball. According to PFF metrics, they were the 10th best at both rushing and run blocking. Unfortunately for them, this strength was largely wasted, as they had to throw the ball often—which is not their strong suit—due to frequently being behind on the scoreboard.
For better or for worse, the 2014 Texans offense has a slightly different look. For one, they lost running back Ben Tate to the Browns, and signed former-Giant running back Andre Brown to be Foster’s backup.
The offensive line still has some solid and reliable players: Duane Brown, Brandon Brooks, and Chris Meyers. They also have some glaring weaknesses. This includes their left guards, rookie Xavier Su’a-Filo and Alex Kupper, and tight ends, Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin.
The most concerning position on the Houston offense is quarterback. The current quarterback battle is between Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, rookie Tom Savage, and T.J. Yates: not an inspiring group of candidates for the job.
Despite the Texans’ lackluster-offensive personnel, and Foster’s increased vulnerability to soft tissue injuries, he is still one of the best fantasy running backs in the game. From 2010 to 2012, Foster finished as a top-four fantasy running back each season. And in the limited time he played in 2013, he averaged a respectable 4.5 yards/carry (YPC)—which was more than many high-end fantasy running backs.
|Player||YPC in 2013|
Using Frank DuPont’s Value-Based Drafting (VBD) calculation in conjunction with PFF projections, Foster has the ninth-highest overall VBD for 2014. The VBD was calculated assuming Foster would play 15 games this season. It was also calculated for a 12-team standard-scoring non-IDP league with nine starters: one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one flex (WR/RB/TE), one defense, and one kicker.
|2||Adrian L. Peterson||15||RB||165|
Even if Foster were unfortunate enough to miss four weeks of the season due to another significant soft tissue injury, he would still be worth a third-round pick according to our projections. So, his upside still makes him a high-end fantasy pick regardless of his increased-injury risk.
Although, his increased-injury risk is the reason why some less-proven running backs should be taken ahead of him in fantasy drafts: Eddie Lacy, Doug Martin, and Zac Stacy. Theses players are less proven than Foster, but they also have less risk—which is important with early-round picks.
The bottom line is Foster should be picked somewhere in the late-first round or early-second round of all standard-scoring fantasy leagues. If you do draft him, it is advised you handcuff him with the also-highly-injury prone Andre Brown, as he is the clear back-up running back for Houston.