Ultimate Upside: Breaking Down Arian Foster & His Fit In Adam Gase’s Offense

The Miami Dolphins have done what many expected them to for months: sign veteran running back Arian Foster to fill a void at the position in South Florida.

While Foster was scheduled to meet with the Detroit Lions, many in Miami felt that if his health checked out, he would not be making it onto his northbound flight. This ended up holding true, as the team secured Foster on a very friendly contract ahead of training camp.

While Arian Foster rides into Miami brandishing a large red flag earned through years of injuries, he could end up becoming one of the team’s most dynamic offensive players. On a team friendly deal, the worst-case scenario doesn’t seem that bad for the Dolphins. In the best-case scenario, a healthy Arian Foster could end up becoming one of, if not the best, bargain signings of the 2016 offseason.

The Deal: 

Arian Foster’s contract is incredibly friendly for the Miami Dolphins. The deal pays him a $400,000 signing bonus, meaning that if the team cuts him before the first game of the season that is all they will be paying him for his services. The one-year deal is worth $1.5M, with escalators and incentives that could take the value to $3.5M.

Most who I spoke with expected the final number to come out to around $5M; if that is true the Dolphins clearly won this signing. Even if Foster doesn’t play in 2016, the team will be no worse than they were yesterday.

Strengths: 

Arian Foster is one of the most gifted running backs in the NFL. He doesn’t run defenders over with raw strength and he doesn’t zip by players on the edge. He makes his money through incredibly smooth cuts and exceptional vision.

On this play, Foster’s smooth running style takes center stage.

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Foster manages to stay on his feet despite running into traffic at the line of scrimmage. His balance and footwork allow him to stay upright and reach a running lane. Once Foster sees the lane, he accelerates and bursts through for what ends up being a 40-yard run (he was stopped at the one-yard line). When he accelerates, it’s easy to underestimate how fast he is moving because of how smoothly he reaches that speed. Foster’s running looks effortless.

Foster’s ability to cut with ease contributes to his status as one of the league’s most dynamic runners.

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Here, Arian Foster baits the Cowboys’ defender for as long as possible. Once the defender gets in position for the tackle, Foster snaps his body inside by pivoting on his foot without throwing his legs out or losing his body position. This allows him not only to deceive the defender for as long as possible, but also to maintain speed as he cuts, shooting a gap and ending up in the end zone.

Foster also sports outstanding cutback ability thanks to his vision.

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He wouldn’t be a lethal runner if he was just able to cut well, or if he just had good vision. The ability to do both is what makes him such an exciting player.

In Adam Gase’s offense, Foster will also be asked to catch the ball out of the backfield frequently.

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Okay, that should do.

Foster’s ability to track the ball is what differentiates him from many running backs who are asked to play the role of receiver on certain plays.

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Here, Foster tracks the ball well and is able to adjust to a low pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Adjusting and sticking with deeper routes are often difficult for running backs, but these tasks do not faze Arian Foster.

Hey, maybe he could even be the third quarterback.

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Weaknesses:

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(Troy Taormina/USA Today)

The best ability is availability in the NFL, and unfortunately availability has not been in Foster’s wheelhouse in recent seasons.

In his six-year career, Arian Foster has only played in 16 games twice. During the 2012 season, he rushed for 1,424 yards and 15 TDs. In 2010 he produced 1,616 yards and 16 TDs. If it weren’t banned under the numbering system I would suggest he try wearing No. 16 in Miami.

In both of those seasons, Foster went well over 300-carries, showing the wear-and-tear he faced in his time with the Texans. Even in 2011 when he only played in 13 games, Foster was given the ball 278 times on the ground and caught another 53 passes to add to his total number of touches.

When Foster is on the field, you will be hard pressed to find a serious flaw in his game. He is a strong receiver and can block if asked to do so (although he doesn’t excel in this area). It is tough to criticize any element of Foster’s game when he is carrying the ball and sporting a clean bill of health. The problem is how rare those two circumstances have become.

Where He Fits in Adam Gase’s Offense:

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(Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Foster was reportedly scheduled to meet with the Detroit Lions this week as well following his workout with the Miami Dolphins. However, the Dolphins knew that they weren’t going to let Foster onto the plane if they were comfortable with his health.

How could they be so sure that they’d be able to lock him up? Adam Gase.

The Dolphins have reportedly bought in to Adam Gase’s offense (as all teams do publicly with new coaches, but I digress), and you can add Arian Foster to the list of players who have become believers. It is reported that Foster’s decision to not take his other workout stemmed from his confidence in Adam Gase’s ability to fit him into a specific role in Miami.

The Dolphins will be feeding Jay Ajayi the ball consistently. The team also will look to evaluate Kenyan Drake during his upcoming rookie season. These two players will ease some of the load on Arian Foster.

It is clear that Foster can no longer be the bell cow runner that the Texans wanted him to be. Between his 327 rushes and 66 receptions in 2010, Foster nearly hit 400 touches in a single season. This occurred once again in 2012, with Foster getting close to the 400-touch plateau, totaling 391.

Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake will shoulder some of the load in 2016 (more so Ajayi). Even if Foster is unable to play 16 games (a fair expectation would be 10, given his hamstring issues and status returning from an Achilles tear), having a veteran presence in the meeting room will be valuable.

The Dolphins will most likely be forced to enter the regular season with four backs. Given Adam Gase’s approach of going with the hot hand in Denver, this should bode well for the Dolphins. If the final roster allows for Gase to utilize Jay Ajayi, Arian Foster, Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams in different weeks, it will lead to a dynamic rotation for the Dolphins.

The Skinny:

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(AP Photo/AJ Mast, File)

The Miami Dolphins evaluated Foster much earlier in free agency. Their conclusion was that they would come back and reevaluate as his recovery from an Achilles injury progressed. The team is clearly comfortable with the current pace of his recovery and didn’t even let Foster get on his flight to Detroit.

The volatility of a running back corps led by Jay Ajayi and Arian Foster should not be overlooked; both players are prone to injury and might not be the most reliable options to appear each and every Sunday. However, the team lessens the potential risk by adding another ball carrier; while this might seem to make sense, never count out Murphy’s Law when looking at the Dolphins.

It is tough to criticize the Miami Dolphins for bringing in Arian Foster. They add an immensely talented player at a position of need. If Foster is healthy, he becomes an enormous contributor. However, even if Foster does not return to form (or even see the field), how much harm does that really do? The Dolphins have not committed long term resources and, as I wrote earlier, would be in the same position they were in yesterday if he did not play. They would be no worse off in 2017 and would still be able to make moves at the position if Jay Ajayi does not pan out this season.

This isn’t a boom or bust signing. It’s a boom or fizzle.

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