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Injury Analysis: Running Back Risks and Rewards

Jeff Stotts

Jeff Stotts works as a Certified Athletic Trainer (MAT, ATC, PES, CES). He won the 2011 Best Fantasy Football Article in Print from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

The running back position makes up the backbone of most fantasy football teams. Unfortunately it's also the position with the highest degree of associated risk and requires an owner to look for top tier talent but also depth for when the unavoidable injury finally occurs. Handcuffing a star to his backup is another sound strategy that can help prevent you from scrambling to the waiver wire. Here's a look at a few individuals you may want to seek out or avoid.

Low-Risk Options

Montee Ball

The departure of Knowshon Moreno has vaulted Ball up most draft boards and his ability to catch out of the backfield could make him a valuable option in the potent Denver offense. He's avoided injury in his brief career and it was the presence of Moreno during Ball's rookie season that made him a candidate for this ranking. Ball carried the ball a mere 120 times last year, saving his body from a barrage of hits. A young healthy body and an elite aerial attack to compliment the ground game should help Ball minimize and better handle his injuries.

Jamaal Charles
Still just 27, Charles has shown a remarkable ability to bounce back from injury. Now two-years removed from his torn ACL, Charles will look to remain Kansas City's workhorse in 2014. Further strengthening Charles' case is Kansas City athletic trainer Rick Burkholder, who is considered by many to be one of the best in the business. Burkholder came from Philadelphia with Head Coach Andy Reid and was recently elected as President of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society. Burkholder has a good track record with running backs and will work with Coach Reid to put Charles in the best position to remain both effective and healthy.

Mildly Risky Options

Matt Forte
The Bears running back played in all 16 games last season, amassing a career best 1,339 yards and 12 total touchdowns. However his previous two seasons can't be completely ignored as a severe ankle sprain in 2012 and a MCL sprain in 2011 kept him off the field. Helping Forte along the way will be an improving offensive line that includes Pro Bowl selection Kyle Long. If the o-line can continue to develop and reduce the number of hits Forte absorbs, he could be in for another big season.

Marshawn Lynch
Lynch is one of the most entertaining players to watch but his aggressive style of play does elevate his inherent level of risk. He's also averaged over 300 carries over his last three seasons. However Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense should prevent teams from stacking the box against Beast Mode and allow him to remain a dangerous fantasy option. Seattle also has plenty of depth at the position with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael available to spell Lynch on occasion and keep him fresh.

Adrian Peterson
Peterson shocked the world by rushing for over 2,000 yards less than a year after suffering a devastating knee injury. His 2013 campaign didn't quite live up to the hype but he still managed 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns. However Peterson's approaching 30 years of age, the usual breaking point for most NFL running backs, and has carried a substantial workload since joining the Vikings. He shouldn't be ignored on draft day but there are indicators that he may begin showing signs of slowing down.

Risky Options

Arian Foster

Foster appears full recovered from the back surgery he needed last season to repair a ruptured intravertebral disc in the lumbar section of his spine. He underwent a discectomy procedure in which the troublesome portions of the disc were removed. However recovery from the surgery can be hard on the lower extremities, an area of the body that has previously been an issue for Foster. The three-time Pro Bowler has also carried a significant workload since 2010, averaging nearly 319 carries in the three seasons preceding last year's injury-riddle campaign. Factor in Foster's receptions and his workload jumps to 371 touches a season. That's a lot of mileage is a short span for any player, regardless of their injury issues.

Additionally, the Texans offense remains in shambles with veteran Andre Johnson seeking a trade and a crop of underwhelming signal-callers fighting for the starting quarterback position. Expect teams to hone in on Foster and apply additional pressure on the 2010 NFL rushing champ.

Steven Jackson
When going down the checklist of issues that increase injury risk, Jackson, unfortunately, meets them all. He is 30 years old, has an injury-riddled history, and high career workload. His first season in Atlanta was a disappointment as a hamstring strain cost him four games and he never appeared comfortable in the Falcons offense. He failed to rush for over 100 yards in a single game and averaged a career-worst 3.5 yards per carry. Atlanta's offensive line didn't help him much and injuries to the Julio Jones and Roddy White stunted the passing game. Given the situation it's hard to invest a valuable pick on Jackson and fantasy owners shouldn't depend on him for productivity.

DeMarco Murray
Murray's situation is interesting because he plays behind an elite offensive line and is part of a high-powered offense. However the Dallas play calling remains suspect and Murray cannot seem to shake the injury-prone label that has stuck with him since his days at OU. A dislocated kneecap and a hamstring injury were his most notable collegiate injuries and were one of the reasons he fell to the Cowboys on draft day in the first place. Since donning the star, Murray has missed time with a fractured right ankle, a significant left foot sprain, and a MCL sprain on his left knee. Each of these injuries can be very problematic for a running back and when amassed together the integrity of the individual's lower extremities remains susceptible to future injury. Factor in a previously strained hamstring and the risk associated with Murray is simply too high to ignore. If you do elect to invest in Murray, it would be best to draft a reliable back-up plan for when he is inevitably sidelined.