Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
After handling the football 1,243 times over the last three seasons (playoffs included) and spending most of the last three months on the sidelines with calf and back injuries, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster is almost certainly going to have his touches cut down in 2013.
And yet, because of his red-zone work, Foster is still one of the safest picks in standard fantasy football drafts.
There are concerns that Foster's workload over the last three years -- 21.7 carries, 3.7 receptions per game -- means he'll break down in 2013. While those concerns are understandable, they are also overblown.
Foster is still just 27 years old, and he only carried the football 704 total times from his freshman year with Tennessee through his first season in the NFL, so it's not like he had accumulated a lot of mileage before becoming the starting running back in 2010.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin, who is a popular No. 2 overall pick in mock drafts, carried the ball 464 times over his last two years with Boise State and 319 times as a rookie, but there don't seem to be any workload concerns about him even though he's shorter and lighter than Foster.
Martin finished with 1,454 rushing yards. Because he was a rookie, fantasy owners automatically assume he'll progress from there and have an even better season in 2013. However, of the 15 players who rushed for at least 1,300 yards a season from 2009-11, only one -- Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011 -- had more yards in the following year.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, another top-five fantasy pick, had 285 carries last year after tearing his ACL in 2011, and Charles stands at just 5-foot-11, 199 pounds.
Now that Foster has returned to practice, he shouldn't go lower than second in any fantasy drafts.
Even if his carries are slashed by 75 from last season's total, he still will receive all the red zone work and should chip in another 13-15 touchdowns.
Last year, Foster had 74 carries inside the red zone, and 42 inside the 10-yard line. Martin had 53 and 27 and Charles had 23 and five.
Martin scored 12 total touchdowns last season, but 33.3 percent of those came in one game, his 251-yard, four-TD evisceration of the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 4.
Going back to Oct. 23, 2011, Foster has scored at least one touchdown in 21 of his last 25 games.
When the Houston Texans get in close, they give the ball to Foster. That won't change in 2013, even if his touches between the 10s are reduced.
In an interview this week with Sports Illustrated's Peter King, Foster put a positive spin on his absence during training camp.
"I'm fine," he said. "My body feels great. I actually think all this time (off) might help."
"You ask any player: 'How'd you enjoy the lockout season?' Great time. You had a chance to train without [having to] practice every day. When you got back to training camp, everyone felt fresh," Foster said. "That's exactly how I feel right now. Over the past couple of months I had the chance to just train and rehab and work on my body and didn't have all those carries in training camp. Even during camp I got a long rest (because of the back injury). It's usually a grind. Now I feel fresh. I feel rejuvenated."
Meanwhile, Martin went down with a head injury and Charles suffered a sprained foot during the preseason. Neither ailment should be a problem come Week 1, but they show that the NFL has inherent injury risks regardless of prior workload. Anyone can go down at any time.
And even if the heavy workload does catch up to Foster and his yardage declines this season, his touchdown production alone will make him a top-10 running back anyway.