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Arian Foster: MVP

HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 07: Running back Arian Foster  of the Houston Texans rushes past Stephen Cooper  of the San Diego Chargers at Reliant Stadium on November 7, 2010 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

In a normal year, this is roughly the time of year where I’d be penning the annual “the Texans can still make the playoffs” article.  This is no normal year.  The 4-5 Texans have the most difficult remaining schedule in the league according to Football Outsiders, and even though they could very realistically be tied for first place in two weeks with consecutive wins, I don’t think that means much this year.  The Texans just aren’t better than either the Colts or the Titans, and even if they beat the Titans twice, that’s still not going to help them catch the Colts.

For Houston, a 5-2 finish puts them at 9-7, and on the wrong side of the playoff race even if things fall miraculously into place in their division to put them in second.  Their season will end in December, again.

However, it’s not for lack of great players on the offensive side.  In particular, Texans fans have enjoyed great seasons from injury-riddled WR Andre Johnson and 2nd year RB Arian Foster.  Johnson could debate-ably be having the best season of his career in spite of the mess in Houston right now.  As great as he’s been, what Arian Foster is doing right now might very well be historic.

As far as making history with every carry, Foster doesn’t benefit from being on a winning team or being Brett Favre, where every cutback and stiff-arm is replayed globally.  That, as well as being undrafted into the NFL, hurts his brand.  With that said, there has been no better player in the NFL this season at any position than Arian Foster.

Foster is the NFL leader through 10 weeks in both receiving DYAR for running backs and rushing DYAR for all players.  He doesn’t just lead in DYAR, he has 81% more defense-adjusted yards above replacement than the next best rusher in the NFL, Jamaal Charles.  81 percent!  He’s third in RB success rate behind just Peyton Hillis and Ricky Williams, who play behind great run blocking offensive lines.  Like Charles, Foster plays behind a good offensive line, but sets up his blocks to make them look great.

Chris Johnson led the NFL in DYAR last season, by a margin of 36% over the next back.  He also carried the ball 363 times to do so.  Foster is on pace to carry the ball just over 300 times.  That means he likely won’t get 2,000 rushing yards, but he should easily surpass 2,000 yards from scrimmage if he stays healthy and Foster doesn’t take away from the Texans ability to throw to Johnson 9 times per game.  Last year’s leading Titans receiver, Nate Washington, was targeted just under 6 times per game.  It’s because Johnson is so much better than Washington that Foster can’t expect to get the sheer volume of carries that Chris Johnson received.

Clearly, Foster’s season in 2010 is on pace to blow away the season that won Chris Johnson the league’s offensive player of the year award.  However, last year I argued against Johnson for MVP based on the fact that his season was hardly as historic as Brian Westbrook from 2007.  In that season, Westbrook led the league as a rusher and a receiver in DYAR.  I thought he, if not for Tom Brady, deserved to win the league MVP that year even though the Eagles missed the playoffs.

Foster is going to blow that season out of the water as well.  First of all, I’ll point out that this Westbrook season is much more similar to Foster’s current season, as neither was more than a 1a type option in their own offense.  Perhaps the best weapon, if not the most preferred (Westbrook had only 278 carries that year).  With 7 games to go, Arian Foster is just 34 DYAR behind Westbrook’s finish from that season, and could realistically get there before his 200th carry of the season.

But the big thing is that Foster also figures to finish in the same area of the historical receiving numbers of Westbrook from that season.  Westbrook had close to 800 yards receiving.  Foster figures to end up in the ballpark of 600 yards receiving, which will look great when added to his rushing total.

In a year where Kyle Orton is setting the statistical standard for quarterback play, it’s easy to get lost in the seasons that Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning are having among quarterbacks.  All would be deserving of MVP honors based on their on-field performance this year.  But I think if we limit the award to quarterbacks in a year where no one QB is dominant, we’re going to overlook one of the most historic seasons by a running back, one that should be recognized by the only honor that can properly discern how valuable Arian Foster has really been to the Texans this year: the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award.

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