It would be a big surprise for the Houston Texans to re-sign Ben Tate this offseason, because Tate will most likely receive considerably more money from another team. The Texans already have one of the best backs in the NFL in Arian Foster, who is a more durable back and a better overall player than Tate. Although Tate deserves to get a starting gig from a team like the Cleveland Browns, there’s little doubt in my mind that the Texans can’t afford to spend their money on a guy like Tate at RB, especially since Dennis Johnson looks like a capable No. 2 back. Even if that isn’t the case, the Texans already have too much committed to Foster to throw more money at Tate, and Foster is such a workhorse that drafting a running back would be a cheaper way to spell Foster on the field. Because while Foster is a workhorse and an elite back, the Texans need to manage his carries now that he’s 27, suffered a critical injury, and was clearly overworked over the past few seasons.
There is little doubt that Foster was one of the best running backs in the league before going down with a back injury that required surgery and cut his season short. Foster had 542 yards on 121 carries in eight appearances (six games), though he probably could have had better numbers. Still, when I watched the games I didn’t see a drop-off from Foster’s play at all, and he was certainly the focal point of the Texans offense when healthy. Teddy Bridgewater will most likely be the Texans first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and I think taking somebody else would be a mistake. Even though Bridgewater is talented and pro-ready, the Texans will still be just as much of a running team as before, especially since they will likely end up easing a rookie QB into the mix.
Foster had rushing totals of 1,616, 1,224, and 1,411 yards from 2010 to 2012, so he was a bit off the pace in 2013. However, his average of 4.5 yards per carry was quite impressive for a back who runs as much as he does, and it represented his highest average since putting up a monstrous 4.9 yards per carry in his breakout season of 2010. And yes, an average of 4.9 yards per carry for a running back who had 327 carries in a season qualifies as monstrous.
The touchdowns will be back in 2014, and I would be surprised if Foster didn’t have 1,200 rushing yards. Even though he will be 28 and coming off of a significant back injury, I don’t think there are signs of a notable decline from Foster. It would be a shock to see him approach is 2010 numbers, but I think an average of 4.5 yards per carry and some more great rushing are realistic expectations of Foster, who still has excellent vision, burst, and a nice mix of size and speed. As a back, Foster does it all, and I’ll always remember his incredible solo effort against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2. When you can make that many defenders miss and show that kind of power, it doesn’t matter who you are playing against or how many yards you had in total.
I think the scary part about Foster’s season is the fact that his year was cut short right when he was starting to hit his stride, and he was getting better blocking between weeks four and six. In those three games, Foster had rushing totals of 102, 98, and a memorable 141 yards against the St. Louis Rams. The scariest part is the fact that those first two rushing performances were against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers respectively, and those are unprecedented numbers against two of the league’s elite defenses and front sevens.
Arian Foster did that, and I think those three straight games against NFC West teams illustrate just how good Foster still is. In fact, I’d say it is a bit ridiculous for anyone to be predicting a decline from him, because all he has done is continue to play at a high level. He still bounces off of defenders, he can still make guys miss in the open field, he’s still fast, he’s still great at finding holes (vision never deteriorates), and Foster is also a very good all-purpose back who had four games with at least four receptions last season. He’s also caught over 50 passes in a season twice in his career, and hands don’t get worse with age either.
The Texans and new head coach Bill O’Brien will have to be cautious with overworking Foster, because he was definitely overworked under Gary Kubiak, with the 351 carries he got in 2012 really standing out on the stat sheet. And with Tate hitting free agency, the wisest move to protect one of their best players is to find another young, cheap replacement to back up Foster. That said, the Texans can’t be afraid to use a guy as talented as Foster, and I think they’ll be safe if they keep his carries between 250 and 300 yards. It’s more ideal to keep things closer to around 270, but the Texans could be forced to give their superstar the full brunt.