Airan Foster carted off practice field with ice around his calf.
— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) May 28, 2013
I’ll update this post shortly with panicked words and loud noises when we know more.
UPDATE (2:20 ET): And here’s that update.
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said Foster suffered a strained calf muscle, and while there’s no timetable for how much offseason work he’ll miss, which isn’t serious. It feels pretty safe to assume that he’ll miss the rest of Houston’s OTAs, and he’ll likely be coddled and brought along slowly in training camp too while seeing limited time in the preseason.
All of that will scare you as the heart of fantasy draft season starts chugging along in August. But a calf strain in May doesn’t erase the fact that Foster is still easily a top five pick in all formats, and usually a top three pick.
Hell, he’ll often be the second overall player off the board, behind only Adrian Peterson. That’s what happens when the proper positional value is emphasized, and the top two players at a position where demand easily exceeds supply early in drafts are coveted.
But even if this specific injury in May shouldn’t worry you too heavily, it should still be a more general reminder of the danger that lurks with Foster due to his heavy workload in recent seasons.
Foster finished 2012 with 351 carries, and before Kubiak eased up on the throttle near the end of the season, he was on pace for just over 400. Historically, that’s led to certain destruction the following season for most running backs who are forced to sustain that kind of pounding and abuse. Some break down and they’re unable to get through the next year, while others just dramatically under perform.
Thankfully, Foster avoided that fork of death, but over just 51 career games he’s already logged 1,010 carries. That includes two +300 carry seasons, and being exposed to brick walls so regularly has now led to multiple muscle strains, the most concerning type of injury for a running back who’s expected to cut, find holes, and just generally be elusive. During a preseason game in 2011 he suffered a hamstring injury, which led to three missed games.
Towards the end of this past season we started to see Foster wear down, which is why he’s frequently been given the early bust label as fantasy prognosticators look ahead to the 2013 season. Between weeks 13 and 16 Foster averaged 65.8 rushing yards per game. For most, that’s still pretty alright. But for Foster, it was nearly 25 yards below his overall season per game average.
Toss in the fact that his total rushing yardage was mostly a product of carry volume and not his signature burst as he recorded nine games with a yards per carry average lower than 4.0 (most notably 1.7 in Week 6, 2.7 in Week 13, and 1.5 in Week 16), and there are real reasons for fear.
The strategy then with Foster moving forward is obvious, but its importance can’t be overstated: take him early and confidently, because a healthy Foster averaged 15.5 fantasy points per game last year (second best at his position), but then reach early for Ben Tate. The current price for Foster’s backup is about the 105th overall pick, so a reach is still a small payment for insurance and mental stability.