As far as analyzing the potential impact of recent Miami Dolphins acquisitions goes, Arian Foster is a challenging case. On the one hand he is one of the more productive backs by season averages in history. On the other hand he has sustained notable season ending injuries and isn’t getting any younger at age 29. Age 30 is when many experts suggest running backs will hit their wall if they are ever going to hit one. Other important factors to consider are how much time will he split with Jay Ajayi, and in what situations will he be given the ball.
In analyzing Foster’s game tape, it’s easy to notice a significant lack of second and third cutbacks. Normally this would be cause for alarm, but in this case the lack of extra cutbacks comes from Foster’s superb ability to make good on the first cut. His first cuts happen extremely fast and are so hard and sometimes come at such extreme angles, they are almost turnarounds, rather than cuts. This enables Foster to turn up the field and spend most of his carrying time running vertically.
It doesn’t take an expert tape analyst to know that catching is another key strength for Foster. The numbers back this up as well. Dolphins players and coaches have also been singing praise to Foster’s hands early in training camp. This was reinforced by a wide-receiver like one-handed grab from Foster during one camp session. As far as tape is concerned, Foster’s catches often come while he is already moving vertically up-field. This makes for plays that resemble ultra fast-developing runs. This is also something that plays into quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s efficient midrange game.
The most significant strength Foster shows on tape is patience, patience, patience. Game announcers have gone as far as to compare Foster to Gale Sayers, which seems at first like a hyperbolic complement, but upon a closer look at the tape, such a comparison starts to make more sense. Foster frequently does something few backs in history do on a regular basis, and that is to make good on closed running lanes at the line of scrimmage. This is all done with patience. For instance, if Foster takes the ball to the left side of the line, then as the play-call dictates cuts right while the defense closes the lane available to the left, Foster does not always immediately accelerate into the right lane. If the right lane closes or even begins to close, Foster will often, with what appears to be ease, cut back to the left yet again and follow his linemen to the end of their blocks as the lane opens by a sliver due to the misdirection. While this can be difficult for an offense to manage at the line, it makes things phenomenally easy at the second and third levels of the field, providing an immeasurable increase in yardage. A watered down example of this, lacking two cuts, but brilliantly demonstrating Foster’s patience with blocks is analyzed by Texans offensive tackle Tyson Clabo on the NFL Top 100 Countdown, here.
The drawbacks to Foster’s game have more to do with the aforementioned age and injuries. Blocking is something opposing teams should be able to key in on when facing the Dolphins. It will be more prudent for the Dolphins to run plays that rely on blocks from the running back with Ajayi in the lineup. Ajayi is a young, sturdy, and notably ground and pound back. The Dolphins will likely want to limit heavy blocking contact for the aging and recovering Foster.
Another of Foster’s strong suits is hard hitting at the end of runs. Foster does not shy away from contact at the end of runs. One could argue that this is how he makes up for some of the speed that smaller “scatbacks” have over him. This leads to extra yardage when defenders make early contact, but at the risk of wear and tear. The question is can Foster keep this up into his older playing years.
Foster has 54 touchdowns in seven years in the NFL. Several of those years he did not start all sixteen games. He is capable of finding the endzone. However, the tape shows that he does this most often from within 20 yards of the goal line. Foster is not quite the home run threat in comparison to some starting backs, like Lamar Miller, who departed the Dolphins for Foster’s former team, the Texans. As stated earlier, much will depend on how Adam Gase decides to use Foster in tandem with Ajayi.