SB Nation is taking a look at the NFL's most notable underachievers, the players who failed to live up to big expectations in 2013, and exploring whether they can turn things around in 2014.
Arian Foster's stock didn't just fall after his injury-shortened 2013 -- it was canceled altogether. Literally.
Fantex, the company pioneering the concept of athlete stock exchange, indefinitely postponed it's stock offerings for Foster last year after the Houston Texans running back suffered a season-ending back injury midway through the schedule.
With Foster medically cleared to return to action this season, the company has yet to announce if shares will be available this year. Either way, the Texans have already invested heavily in the 27-year-old former Pro Bowler. New head coach Bill O'Brien and a restless fan base are hoping a healthy Foster can yield higher returns in 2014.
How he got here
Despite a horrendous Texans losing streak that eventually bottomed out at 14 consecutive losses, Foster was having a relatively strong season entering a Week 9 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. Though his absence from the end zone was troubling (just one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown), he led the AFC in rushing through the first six games and his 4.5 yards per carry average was his best since 2010.
But Foster was sidelined with a back injury just two snaps into the game against the Colts. A week later he was on the IR awaiting surgery.
Anyone who's owned Foster in fantasy football over the past few years is well aware of his growing perception as injury prone. The Week 9 injury last season was the knockout blow in a fight that started with another back issue in training camp and continued with a hamstring problem in Week 7. Hamstrings been especially problematic for Foster over his five-year career.
If Houston bounces back from 2013 with a successful campaign under O'Brien, Foster's ability to stay on the field will likely have a lot to do with it. O'Brien has historically leaned on run-heavy offenses and power formations (he ran the ball over 40 times per game last season at Penn State), and his reliance on the ground attack will only increase with the unremarkable Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.
In seasons past, Foster's absences were mitigated by the presence of Ben Tate, long considered one of the top backup running backs in the league. But Tate bolted in free agency, leaving New York Giants transplant Andre Brown behind Foster on the depth chart. Foster's injury concerns pale in comparison to Brown, who, even when healthy, has never made much of an impact in the pros.
O'Brien has praised Foster's versatility and plans to use him as three-down back heavily involved in the passing game. Battle Red Blog detailed O'Brien's plans recently, wondering about his production level and if his new role in the offense could help save his legs.
Make no mistake about it, this offense will run through Foster. Without him, it's hard to see where the production comes from.
Can he succeed in 2014?
The first big question for Foster's upcoming campaign is whether he can stay on the field.
In fairness to Foster, his injury issues are overblown. While it does seem like he's on the injury report every other week, he typically plays through his grievances. Looking past his eight absences in 2013, Foster missed only three games in the three seasons prior.
The next concern is whether Foster's back surgery -- the same one undergone by Rob Gronkowski last year -- will continue to hamper him in 2014. A microscopic lumbar-discectomy is a fairly common procedure among football players, and reports indicate most bounce back from it (Gronkowski's 2013 issues stemmed from complications from a separate forearm surgery). A 2010 study entitled "Performance-Based Outcomes Following Lumbar Discectomy in Professional Athletes in the National Football League" concluded that NFL players who returned to play after the procedure did not see a significant decline from their pre-injury level of production.
Most applicable to Foster is the case of Steven Jackson, who came back from a microdiscectomy in 2010 to rush for a respectable 1,200 yards and six touchdowns.
Every indication says Foster has made a similar recovery and is fully healthy heading into training camp. If he can stay that way all season, he should be able to return to the form that once earned him three consecutive Pro Bowls.
Wall Street may be counting on it.