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|Falcons running back Michael Turner rushed for an impressive 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns in '08.|
Turner turned out to be one of the best values in fantasy drafts last season. After four seasons in San Diego behind LaDainian Tomlinson, he signed with the Falcons and thrived in his new role as a featured back. Turner finished second to Adrian Peterson in rushing yards (1,699) and second to DeAngelo Williams in rushing touchdowns (17) and become a real hero for astute owners who took a chance on him in drafts.
But despite all of his immense statistical success, the one number that has some fantasy leaguers will be concerned about is 394.
That's the number of combined carries he finished with between the regular season and postseason. In some cases, finishing with close to or more than 400 attempts in a season has been problematic for running backs.
Shaun Alexander, Jamal Anderson and Larry Johnson are just a few of the runners who saw a decrease in statistical success the season after recording close to 400 carries. However, excessive rushing attempts isn't always a surefire statistical death sentence for the following season.
Take into consideration Terrell Davis, who carried the rock an unbelievable 481 times (regular season and postseason) for the Broncos in 1997. He recorded 392 carries for 2,008 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns the next season. Of course, the 951 total attempts from 1997-1998 appeared to affect the rest of his career -- Davis rushed for an average of just 398 yards over the next three seasons.
In 1999, Eddie George had a combined 428 carries for 1,753 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. He had even better numbers in 2000, finishing the regular season with 403 carries, 1,509 yards and 16 total touchdowns. Of course, George's career sputtered shortly thereafter and ended in a thud with the Cowboys.
Speaking of America's Team, Emmitt Smith also proved that a large workload doesn't always mean decreased success. He ran the ball a combined 451 times for 2,071 yards and 31 touchdowns in 1995. While he did have an overall decrease in numbers the next season, Smith still rushed for over 1,200 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns.
In 1992, the NFL's all-time leading rusher finished with 444 combined carries. Again, his numbers in the next season, 1993, weren't as high as in the previous season, but he still had close to 1,500 rushing yards.
Fantasy leaguers also need to keep in mind the age of these backs when their best numbers were recorded.
Alexander was 28 when he had his best fantasy season, but his numbers fell off the board at age 29. George was able to bounce back from a large workload at age 26 and performed well at 27, but he wasn't able to rebound at the age of 28. Davis was able to handle the burden of huge workloads from ages 24-26, but his numbers tumbled due to injuries at 27 before he was forced to retire at the age of 29.
All of these numbers seem to point to one conclusion: Owners should have no fear in calling Turner's name in the 2009 draft.
Turner, who will be 27 when the regular season starts, is young and fresh enough to handle the massive amount of carries he received and still find statistical success. Furthermore, the fact that he had no more than 80 carries behind Tomlinson in his four previous seasons bodes well for his chances to remain a fantasy star.
The Falcons will also look to ease some of the burden off Turner's shoulders as Jerious Norwood will see more work in certain sets. What's more, the addition of Tony Gonzalez will mean a greater emphasis in the passing game. So while you should have no reservations about drafting Turner, expecting him to duplicate last season's incredible totals might not be the best course of action.
Instead, look for "The Burner" to finish with closer to 1,500 rushing yards and 13-15 touchdowns. Those are still solid numbers out of the position, especially at a time when backfield committees are growing in popularity around the league.
Turner, one of the league's last featured runners, will be well worth a first-round selection in all formats.
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