The retirement of Miami Dolphins running back Arian Foster on Monday brings to a close an incredibly productive career, and one that few could have predicted when he went undrafted out of Tennessee back in 2009.
Sometimes there is a happy, often unexpected, marriage between player and system, time and place. Foster finding himself on the Houston Texans, in Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking system, behind a running back in Steve Slaton who loved fumbling the ball almost as much as a fat kid loves cake, was such a marriage. In Foster’s second season, he took the starting running back job from Slaton, and finished the season with 1616 rushing yards (the most in the NFL that season), and a further 604 receiving yards. This tally of 2220 yards from scrimmage was the most of any undrafted player in a single season. A star, and a fantasy stud, was born.
Before the days of the “Zero Running Back” theory and practice (more of which can be read here), the player to take early in fantasy drafts was the stud, workhorse running back. From 2010 to 2014, that description was made for Foster. Among running backs in this period, his 6052 rushing yards ranks 3rd, his 91.7 rushing yards per game second behind only Adrian Peterson, and only one player scored more times on the ground than the 50 scores Foster managed. That’s an awful lot of Namaste salutes. But Foster was also an excellent receiver out of the backfield, with 219 receptions for 1948 yards in this span. 12 of these catches were for touchdowns. Only 11 players scored more total fantasy points than Foster through these five seasons, and all of them were quarterbacks. He was the number one fantasy running back with 1161.20 points, and a player that your author found himself owning in 2010 thanks to a bad internet connection made him an auto pick selection. Based on the fact that I had “never heard of him” he was immediately tossed aside before the regular season even started. Sometimes, even six years later, I still wake up screaming.
Such a high level of production came on the back of a very high workload, and Foster’s lower body began to break down. He suffered a succession of injuries, notably a ruptured Achillies tendon suffered in a game against the Dolphins in 2015 that saw him land on Injured Reserve, and after the 2015 season the Texans said goodbye to their franchise leader in rushing yards (6472) and touchdowns (54).
He remained on the shelf well into the 2016 offseason, but as soon as he was “healthy” (a sadly relative term with regards to Foster in recent years), he signed for the Dolphins. He managed to play in four games this season, rushing 22 times for a paltry 55 yards and reeling in nine catches for 78. No doubt conscious that he was past his best, and aided by back to back 200 yard rushing games by stable mate Jay Ajayi, Foster decided that it was time to go.
Whether it was his regarding his strong views on healthy eating (he briefly converted to veganism), the financial treatment of college athletes (he appeared in the Documentary “Schooled”, and told of how he played before packed houses of paying customers only to return to his dormitory to an empty fridge) or anything else he happened to be speaking about, Foster was one of the most thoughtful and insightful NFL players of modern times. Just like the role of the workhorse running back, this type of person only comes around so often. As a fantasy player and writer, I’ll miss trying to get him onto my (and YOUR) fantasy teams. As a football fan, I’ll miss the whole package. Fare thee well, Arian Foster. Namaste.