How Good Has Arian Foster Been This Season?

Foster has overcome nagging injuries to become an elite running back once again. Can he keep it up?

In today's pass-heavy NFL, the value of the running back on the free agent market and in the draft is considerably low.

In fantasy football, though, the inverse seems to be true as running backs are highly valued heading into fantasy drafts because the good ones are guaranteed more touches a week than any non-quarterback. Those running backs fortunate to find themselves not in a running back-by-committee backfield tend to be held in super high regard during fantasy football drafts, especially those with a track record.

With that in mind, and considering after Week 8 of the fantasy football season that a running back who has 31 total touches finds himself in the top 20 in fantasy points in some leagues (in case you are wondering that player is Antone Smith), you come to appreciate the running backs who have been really good in 2014. That's why running back Arian Foster just may have been the steal of your draft thus far if you took the risk of his numerous past injuries and still drafted Foster, the 20th-ranked player in terms of average draft position according to Fantasy Pros.

Arian Foster's 2014: From Anti-Awesome to Awesome

For a player who once described an MRI showing his injured hamstring as "anti-awesome," and who in the same interview said he wants to do well in fantasy football and that he was on his mom's fantasy team in 2011, there's only one word to best depict his play in 2014: awesome.

How awesome, you ask? Well, our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics point out that Foster is back in the fantasy football running back elite. Among the 28 "high-volume" running backs who have 75 or more carries on the season, Foster is at the top of the list in many key categories:

PlayerCarriesRush NEPRush NEP/RushRush Success RateRecRec NEP
Foster146 (2nd)9.38 (3rd)0.06 (5th)41.8% (14th)24 (7th)11.67 (8th)

In spite of missing one game due to a hamstring injury and being severely limited by it the following week, Foster ranks second in the NFL in carries, is tied for first among position players with nine total touchdowns (7 rushing, 2 receiving), and is second in rushing yards with 766 yards rushing in 7 games.

In terms of our NEP statistics, Foster ranks third in Rushing NEP, a cumulative statistic in which a good player sometimes has trouble staying above zero. Additionally, on a per-rush basis, Foster is supremely efficient, busting out a Rushing NEP per carry of 0.06, good for fifth among runners with at least 75 carries.

He's also a fairly big factor in the passing game. His 24 receptions and 11.67 Reception NEP rank 7th and 8th, respectively, among the 28 high-volume running backs. For perspective, that Reception NEP ranks ahead of Giovani Bernard, who is viewed as an elite pass-catching running back.

While touchdowns typically are plays that bring up NEP significantly and Foster has scored multiple touchdowns in three of his seven games, Foster isn't necessarily touchdown-reliant. He has broken off many big runs this season, making reaching the second level of opposing defenses look easy on most carries. Foster is also second among high-volume running backs behind only Justin Forsett in yards per carry with his 5.2 yards per carry average.

Considering that Foster came off of a season-ending back injury in 2013 and had nagging hamstring injuries in training camp, many a fantasy owner would have been skittish in picking Foster in the first two rounds. However, considering how highly drafted running backs like LeSean McCoy and Montee Ball have underperformed, Foster is exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of fantasy production.

Of the 47 total 100-yard rushing performances by running backs, Foster has a whopping 6 games with 100 yards or more, second behind only the record-setting pace of DeMarco Murray, who has 8 games over the century mark on the ground, keeping the biggest monopoly since the US oil industry in the state of Texas.

Foster is also doing his damage with quarterback play that is far from solid. His signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick has the 27th ranked Passing NEP on the season. So, while defenses may try to stack the box and stop Foster from going wild, he has simply eaten in spite of that.

numberFire Projections for Remainder of 2014

Foster has basically cemented himself in the top 5 of running backs so far this season, our numberFire Week 9 Projections see Foster continuing this despite Philadelphia's strong run defense. We are projecting Foster to be the 5th-ranked running back in Week 9, with 17 carries for 77 yards rushing and 0.5 touchdowns as well as 4 catches for 32 yards.

For the remainder of 2014, we are bullish on Foster. Our remaining year projections have Foster as the 4th-ranked running back, expecting him to finish strong with 148 carries for 700 yards and 5.3 rushing touchdowns. On the reception side, we like Foster for another 29.2 receptions for 239 yards and a receiving touchdown.

So combining his first half of 2014 with our projections for the second half, Foster has been more than good this season. He's been elite once again and a huge value to fantasy owners considering his average draft position. I'm sure like his fantasy owners, he thinks that's pretty awesome.