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Turner's heavy workload no reason to avoid him in '09 drafts

Michael Turner became a hero for countless fantasy footballers in 2008.

After four seasons in San Diego behind LaDainian Tomlinson, Turner signed with the Falcons as a free agent. For the first time in his NFL career, he was a featured back, and he thrived in the role. Turner finished second to Adrian Peterson in rushing yards (1,699) and second to DeAngelo Williams in rushing touchdowns (17). He was also ultra-consistent in the stat sheets, rushing for 100-plus yards eight different times and finding the end zone in an amazing 62.5 percent of his starts.

But despite all of his immense statistical success, the one number that has some fantasy leaguers worried about Turner's value for next season 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.

2008 statistics:
Attempts 376

Yards: 1,699

Touchdowns: 17

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 400-plus carries. Alexander ran the ball a combined 430 times for 2,116 yards and 29 touchdowns during Seattle's Super Bowl season of 2005. He finished the 2006 regular season as a serious fantasy disappointment with 252 carries, 896 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He never returned to prominence, on the football field or in the world of fantasy football.

Anderson was a workhorse for the Falcons in 1998, rushing the football a combined 480 times for 2,122 yards and 16 rushing scores en route to a Super Bowl XXXIII berth. He would run the ball just 19 times the next season, as a torn knee ligament landed him on the sidelines. He would return to action in 2000, rushing 282 times for 1,024 yards and six touchdowns, but another serious knee ailment in 2001 ended his career at the NFL level.

Like Anderson in 1998, Johnson was a fantasy dream with 1,789 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns in 2006. Overall, he finished with a combined 429 carries. Johnson missed half of the next season due to an injured foot, finishing with 559 rushing yards and four scores. What's more, he's averaged an unimpressive 716 rushing yards and scored nine total touchdowns since his amazing season in 2006. In Johnson's case, 400-plus combined carries turned him from an elite fantasy running back to an absolute headache for owners.

While these three cases don't seem to bode well for Turner's chances at a second consecutive campaign with monster fantasy numbers, there are quite a few more that prove a season with a combined 400-plus carries is not a statistical death sentence. Take into consideration the 1997 season of former fantasy superstar Terrell Davis.

No running back has had more total carries in a season in the last 38 years than Davis, who carried the rock an unbelievable 481 times for the Broncos in 1997. He would record 392 regular-season carries (470 combined) for 2,008 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns the next season. Of course, those 951 attempts in 1997-1998 appeared to affect the rest of his career -- Davis rushed for an average of just 398 yards and scored a total of four rushing touchdowns over the next three seasons.

Eric Dickerson was also able to produce solid numbers after a season with excessive carries. The graceful back out of Southern Methodist carried the ball a combined 423 times in his rookie season (1983), rushing for a total of 1,923 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was even better in 1984, running for an NFL-record 2,105 yards and 14 touchdowns in the regular season. Dickerson did hit a wall after rushing for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns with the Colts in 1989, and he faded fast once he hit the age of 30.

In 1999, Eddie George had a combined 428 carries for 1,753 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns as a member of the Titans. He had even better numbers in 2000, as George finished 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 a decrease in success.

He ran the ball a combined 451 times for 2,071 yards and 31 touchdowns in 1995 en route to the Cowboys' 27-17 win over the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. 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 weren't as high as the previous season, but Smith still had close to 1,500 rushing yards in the 1993 regular season.

And don't forget, he held out of training camp and the first two games of that season over contractual issues.

One of the common denominators in our look at the successes or failures of running backs who have logged 400-plus combined carries in a season is age. 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. Corey Dillon ran the rock a combined 410 times in 2004 at the age of 30, and his yardage totals dropped by more than half at the age of 31.

On the other hand, young backs with a high number of carries had an easier time finding success.

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. Dickerson was a 23-year-old rookie when he ran the ball a combined 423 times in 1983 and was able to thrive the next season (and for much of his career). Smith, who had 400-plus carries a total of three different times in Dallas, was no older than 27 during those any one of campaigns. Another prime example is Curtis Martin, who had a combined 418 carries for the Jets (1998) at the age of 25. He finished with more regular-season rushing yards and just two fewer carries the next season at 26.

All of these numbers and statistics seem to point to one conclusion: Fantasy leaguers should have no fear in calling Turner's name in the draft.

Turner, who will be 27 when the 2009 regular season starts, is young and fresh enough to handle the massive amount of carries he received and still find statistical success moving forward. 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.

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