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2013 Draft Prep: The year after for AP, Arian

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson are two of the best Fantasy running backs in the game today. They might be two of the best all-time.

Last year, Peterson and Foster were the top two running backs in standard Fantasy leagues, in that order. They have finished back-to-back at the top of the rankings twice since 2010, which was Foster's breakout season. Foster was No. 1 that year.

This year, however, both superstars are facing questions after their performance in 2012. Peterson, who became the seventh running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards, is being asked if he can do it again. And Fantasy owners want to know if Foster can hold up after an immense workload last season.

This tale of two elite running backs is important to Fantasy owners, especially with Foster, because a bad pick in the first round could ruin your season. We'll find out soon enough when the season begins if Peterson was worth taking at No. 1 overall, and if Foster should have even remained a first-round pick.

Here is a look at what to expect for Peterson and Foster in 2013 based on what transpired last season.

The history of 2,000-yard rushers

Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson said he "watched a little bit" last season as Peterson came within 9 yards of breaking his single-season rushing record set in 1984. Dickerson said "he'd by lying" if he didn't want his mark of 2,105 rushing yards to remain the best forever.

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"When he got so close, I had to watch some of it," Dickerson said in an interview with CBSSports.com. "But it was good. It's always good when somebody gets close, but not break. Close, but not break. ... I asked him, 'You want that record don't you?' He said yeah, you know I want it. But it was good for the league, it was good for me, it was good for him. He's a great player, a great guy and I hope he gets close again -- without breaking it."

Dickerson knows first-hand the struggles Peterson will face this year in trying to replicate his performance. Peterson was amazing in 2012 when he racked up 2,097 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns while hauling in another score through the air with 40 catches for 217 yards.

He enters this season as the consensus No. 1 Fantasy running back and No. 1 overall pick in all leagues. But just as Fantasy owners are gunning for Peterson at the top of the draft, so are opposing defenses on the field.

"Now that he got so close, the defense is going to really be after him," Dickerson said. "They're going to really scheme for him."

Dickerson said Peterson could again challenge for the record this season, but it will be tough. His six predecessors in the 2,000-yard club -- O.J. Simpson (1973), Dickerson, Barry Sanders (1997), Terrell Davis (1998), Jamal Lewis (2003) and Chris Johnson (2009) -- all saw a decline in production the following year.

Not that all six were bad. Only Davis, who tore his ACL in 1999, failed to reach 1,000 rushing yards again, and Dickerson and Johnson each had double digits in touchdowns the next season. But Sanders had the best year post-2,000 yards -- and he was still over 500 rushing yards short of reaching the milestone again at 1,491.

"It's extremely tough," Sanders said in an interview with CBSSports.com in 2010 talking about 2,000-yard rushers. "But I think certain players thrive on those types of challenges."

The average for the six running backs prior to Peterson the year they ran for 2,000 yards was 2,040 yards and 14 touchdowns. The following season, if you take out Davis since he had just 67 carries, the average for the other five running backs drops to 1,244 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. At that rate of decline, Peterson is looking at 1,301 yards and six touchdowns this year.

Now, we're not saying that's what Peterson will do. Keep in mind he became No. 2 in the record books after coming back from a torn ACL just nine months prior to the start of last season. He's accustomed to defying odds and is up to the challenge of getting 2,000 yards again.

"Obviously, the first goal is to win a championship," Peterson said to USA Today this offseason. "I would sacrifice 1,000 yards rushing to win a Super Bowl. But I want to be the first back to have back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons."

I have Peterson projected for 1,644 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he's ranked No. 1. He should continue to be dominant. But don't expect him to run for 2,000 yards again. History tells us that it won't happen – even as great as Peterson is.

The 2,000-yard club
Player (Age) Year of 2,000 Carries Yards TDs Next year Carries Yards TDs
O.J. Simpson (26) 1973 332 2,003 12 1974 270 1,125 3
Eric Dickerson (24) 1984 379 2,105 14 1985 292 1,234 12
Barry Sanders (29) 1997 335 2,053 11 1998 343 1,491 4
Terrell Davis (26) 1998 392 2,008 21 1999 67 211 2
Jamal Lewis (24) 2003 387 2,066 14 2004 235 1,006 7
Chris Johnson (24) 2009 358 2,006 14 2010 316 1,364 11
Adrian Peterson (27) 2012 348 2,097 12 2013 ??? ??? ???

The Curse of 370

We all want workhorse running backs as Fantasy owners in an age when more teams are going toward tandems and the dreaded running back by committee. But sometimes that workload becomes too much even for the best rushers, and unfortunately it leads to a breakdown. That could be where Foster is headed.

In 2012, Foster led all running backs with 351 carries in the regular season. Factor in the playoffs, and he had 405 carries. Add on his 55 catches through the postseason and you're talking about 460 total touches. No wonder he's already banged up.

Foster missed the start of training camp with a calf injury and then a back problem. He was just activated off the physically unable to perform list Wednesday, but he's not expected to see any preseason action to keep him fresh. He maintains that he'll be fine for Week 1 and isn't worried about his workload from last year.

"The thing about that is, when you're a scat back, the knock on you is you can't carry the load," Foster told the Houston media Wednesday. "When you're a workhorse, it's you're getting too many carries. People just find things to talk about. I stopped listening. So, sure, the workload's big. I don't really care man. Whatever."

The workload isn't just big, it's worrisome for several reasons. Foster leads the NFL over the past three seasons with an average of 372 touches a year, and his yards per carry has declined each year over that span from 4.9 in 2010 to 4.1 last season. He also had a career-low 5.4 yards per catch last season, suggesting that maybe his big-play potential is waning.

Along with that, the Texans have another running back in Ben Tate who they trust to handle a significant workload to keep Foster fresh. The Texans want Foster healthy for the playoffs, and using Tate in tandem is the best way to make that happen. It's not what Fantasy owners want to hear, but the Texans have Super Bowl aspirations and need Foster to get there.

"When you have a guy who is going to carry the ball that much, you do have to have a plan for him," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said in an interview with CBSSports.com this offseason. "How you protect him during the practice week, how you go about doing things. We've been able to figure that out. Obviously, we're going to play a second guy a little bit and give him a break.

"It's something you're always looking at, but he is a player who gets better with reps and carries. There was a point in the season last year where he was carrying it too much, and those things work themselves out. You look at the end of the year, and I think we were fine. It's something you're always thinking about, watching, paying attention to. But at the same time we have a player who plays his best the more he carries it, so we want to do what he does best."

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But are the Texans giving Foster too much? History tells us that running backs who carry the ball as much as Foster did last season suffer the following year. In 2004, Football Outsiders came up with the "Curse of 370," which shows that running backs who carry the ball at least 370 times tend to struggle or get hurt the next season. The wear and tear just catches up to them.

In looking back at the last 25 years, there were 31 times a running back hit that mark, including the postseason, which doesn't include Foster and even Peterson from 2012 (he had exactly 370 with the playoffs). Of those 31, 25 suffered a decline in production the following year, and Ricky Williams retired in part due to two years in a row of a heavy workload in Miami. There were also 11 who had significant injuries, including four who suffered a torn ACL and two with a broken foot.

Now, we're not predicting a Foster injury. We're also not saying to avoid him as a first-round pick. In that offense, Foster is a beast, and if he plays 16 games he will wind up as a Top 10 running back.

But there's a risk involved with him this year, and he should not be drafted as a Top 5 overall pick. I'd rather have Peterson, C.J. Spiller, Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin, LeSean McCoy, Trent Richardson, Marshawn Lynch and Ray Rice at running back, and Calvin Johnson is also a safer pick in the first round. All those players have just as much upside as Foster with slightly less downside. Move Foster down your draft board toward the bottom of the first round.

You also should consider Tate a sleeper in case something happens to Foster because, like Foster, if Tate got an extended look in this offense he could post quality stats. In part to Foster missing three games in 2011 with a hamstring injury, Tate finished that season with more than 1,000 total yards and four touchdowns.

In an ideal Fantasy world, Peterson and Foster will again finish as the top two running backs. We'd love nothing more than to see that happen. But it's unlikely, and it's something you should be prepared for coming into the year.

The Curse of 370
Player (Age) Year of 370 Carries Yards TDs Next year Carries Yards TDs
Playoff carries were not included in the year after a running back reached 370 carries to reflect their performance in the regular season only (* playoff carries included).
Eric Dickerson (28) 1988 388 1,659 14 1989 314 1,311 7
Christian Okoye (28) 1989 370 1,480 12 1990 245 805 7
Emmitt Smith (22) 1991* 406 1,748 13 1992 373 1,713 18
Emmitt Smith (23) 1992* 444 2,049 21 1993 283 1,486 9
Barry Foster (24) 1992* 410 1,794 11 1993 177 711 8
Thurman Thomas (27) 1993* 418 1,582 11 1994 287 1,093 7
Emmitt Smith (25) 1994* 395 1,602 24 1995 377 1,773 25
Emmitt Smith (26) 1995* 451 2,071 31 1996 327 1,204 12
Jerome Bettis (25) 1997* 423 1,837 8 1998 316 1,185 3
Curtis Martin (25) 1998* 418 1,425 8 1999 367 1,464 5
Terrell Davis (26) 1998* 470 2,476 24 1999 67 211 2
Jamal Anderson (26) 1998* 480 2,122 14 1999 19 59 0
Edgerrin James (21) 1999* 389 1,609 13 2000 387 1,709 13
Edgerrin James (22) 2000* 408 1,816 13 2001 151 662 3
Eddie George (27) 2000* 430 1,600 15 2001 315 939 5
LaDainian Tomlinson (23) 2002 372 1,683 14 2003 313 1,645 13
Ricky Williams (25) 2002 383 1,853 16 2003 392 1,372 9
Jamal Lewis (24) 2003* 401 2,101 14 2004 235 1,006 7
Ricky Williams (26) 2003 392 1,372 9 2004 -- -- --
Ahman Green (26) 2003* 403 2,105 17 2004 259 1,163 7
Curtis Martin (31) 2004* 408 1,840 12 2005 220 735 5
Clinton Portis (24) 2005* 385 1,610 12 2006 127 523 7
Tiki Barber (30) 2005* 370 1,901 9 2006 327 1,662 5
Edgerrin James (27) 2005* 373 1,662 14 2006 337 1,159 6
Shaun Alexander (28) 2005* 430 2,116 29 2006 252 896 7
LaDainian Tomlinson (27) 2006* 371 1,938 30 2007 315 1,474 15
Larry Johnson (27) 2006* 429 1,821 17 2007 158 559 3
Adrian Peterson (23) 2008* 383 1,843 12 2009 314 1,383 18
Thomas Jones (31) 2009* 376 1,519 15 2010 245 896 6
Michael Turner (26) 2008* 394 1,741 18 2009 178 871 10
Rashard Mendenhall (23) 2010* 385 1,503 17 2011 228 928 9
Adrian Peterson (27) 2012* 370 2,196 12 2013 ??? ??? ???
Arian Foster (26) 2012* 406 1,654 17 2013 ??? ??? ???

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg .

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