Football fills many voids for America’s sport-crazed population, but a steady job isn’t high on the list. The NFL—referred to lovingly by its players as Not For Long—isn’t exactly known for giving athletes career longevity. Countless careers have fizzled out just after taking off (Larry Johnson, anyone?), and every year another great player sees his level of play fall dramatically.  Debating which one of our idols is on the verge of a swift, public fall from grace is a sad discussion that no one could possibly want to take part in.

So without further ado, part one of an ongoing hypothetical examination of superstars whose best years may possibly be found in the NFL Films’ Archive.  

Arian Foster

Ouch. Yeah. I know. Who wants to see a not-even-27-year-old mentioned on a list of careers potentially facing a downturn? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the NFL. Even if you feel like my shameless leap onto the Arian Burnout Bandwagon is more premature than Jason Biggs in American Pie (bada-BING), the fact that this conversation exists speaks volumes about the NFL. How insanely brutal is a profession where someone is three years removed from their 30th birthday and can be considered past their prime?

Foster has had 300+ carries in two of the past three seasons, including a 278-carry outing in 2011 where he missed three starts. Backs such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Curtis Martin routinely passed the 300 carry mark, but that is less and less the norm. Workhorse running backs are slightly more prevalent than pagers in today’s world (if you don’t know what that is, you’re probably late for lunch period).

In fairness, I will acknowledge two possibilities.

  1. Early in the season, Arian Foster pulls a hamstring/strains a calf/mistakes Brian Cushing’s testosterone for a Vegan Milkshake which results in one of the aforementioned ailments, subsequently turning into InjuredRunningbackGuy for the remainder of the season. You know, the Darren McFadden role? Dude who’s questionable every week, continually filling his fantasy owners with hope, only to be announced as a scratch 6.5 minutes before kickoff. Yeah, you know who I’m talking about. Unfortunately, this reality likely leads to an injury-plagued career where Foster never gets back to his 2010-12 heyday.
  2. Foster pulls off a magnificent 2013 season, ending the year amongst the NFL’s leading rushers and letting his on-field play flip a bird to the haters. He establishes himself as the rare workhorse ‘back who can actually sustain a “lengthy” NFL career. In this scenario, I was always an ardent supporter of Foster’s 2013 prospects and viciously denounced any opposing viewpoints. How DARE you speak ill of Arian Foster.

It takes a special combination of spinelessness, hypocrisy, and indecisiveness to propose someone’s downfall while simultaneously asserting their inevitable success. It’s nice to meet you too.

Foster exhibited signs of wear-and-tear last season, averaging less than 4 YPC in 9 games. His YPC has steadily declined, down from 4.9 in 2010 to 4.4 in 2011, and finally 4.1 this past season. Despite coming off of a 1400+ yard season, Foster is entering a critical year. In 2013, Foster can begin the Shaun Alexander downward phase of his career, or take a step into Tomlinson territory with a statement season. He’s displayed signs of resiliency with hints of decline, and in September he’ll show the world which reality will prevail.

Until then, I will boldly straddle the line. Someone’s gotta step up and be brave.