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Of all the ‘overrated’ players, Michael Turner might be the most underrated

Andy Behrens
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Michael Turner, who just rushed for 1340 yards, is on everyone's don't-draft list (USP)

If there's one thing you really need to know about fantasy experts, it's that we're herd animals. We drift toward the same players, we veer away from others, we stumble off the same cliffs. Not everyone, all the time. But most of us, a lot of the time (myself included. I claim no special status).

Right now, you cannot find anyone who's willing to say good things about Michael Turner, the man pictured above. The way we're avoiding him, you'd think he was some sort of Lawrence Phillips-Curtis Enis hybrid. The case against Turner is usually built on these facts:

He's entering his age-30 season, and he's accumulated quite a bit of mileage during his four years in Atlanta;

Turner has never been much of a factor in the passing game, and the Falcons are expected to deploy an up-tempo, pass-heavy offense in 2012. After two exhibition games, the team's preseason run-to-pass ratio is 39-to-100;

[Related: Over/Under: Will Michael Vick pound the pylons in 2012?]

Atlanta's coaching staff, from the top down, has repeatedly indicated that the Burner's workload will be reduced in the year ahead;

He's carried the ball eight times for just 14 yards during the preseason;

Last year, in Weeks 12-16, Turner averaged 3.3 yards per carry and found the end zone only once.

Is that pretty much everything? I think so. It's a bunch of worrisome facts, and I can't dispute any of them. But as is often the case, things get a bit more complicated when we move beyond the bullet points.

For starters, let's consider Turner's end-of-season collapse in 2011. When experts discuss those final weeks, we typically don't mention the groin injury that kept Turner out of practices in December. And we generally tell you to ignore his 172-yard effort in Week 17 against the Bucs, because they were the Bucs. And obviously we don't want you distracted by all those other weeks, from September to November, when he gained the majority of his NFC-leading 1340 rushing yards. And please, don't get tripped up by his 11 touchdowns, his 4.5 YPC average, or the four runs that went for 50-plus yards. Or the 11 that went for 20-plus.

DON'T FILL YOUR PRETTY LITTLE HEAD WITH SO MANY DETAILS, gamers! We're the experts! You should trust us to tell you which Turner stats matter (this preseason, for sure. No question) and which stats do not (most of last season, except the bad weeks. That was the real thing).

Turner has actually given us back-to-back 1300-yard campaigns and four straight years with double-digit touchdowns. He's been a top-10 fantasy back in standard scoring leagues in three of the past four seasons, and he was more effective on a per-carry basis in 2011 than he was in 2010. When the man gets the ball near the goal line -- which happens fairly often -- you get results like this and this and this and this. (That last TD is probably the best, if you only watch one). There's no reason to think he won't see carries inside-the-5 this season, too. Plus he's tied to an offense that everyone loves. He's never been a PPR monster, of course, and that won't change. But in standard leagues he's been reliably great.

[Related: Pressing Questions: Is Cam Newton the biggest scam in fantasy?]

Honestly, if I weren't supposed to hate Turner so much, I'd really find it easy to build a case for him.

No reasonable person expects the Falcons to be as pass-reliant in 2012 as they've been during the preseason, and let's hope you've all learned not to obsesses over exhibition stats for established players. If you're panicking about this backfield, however, here's offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's attempt to talk you off the ledge, via the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

"I never worry about the running game in preseason," Koetter said after the Saturday walk-through practice. "I just don't see why you want to plow it up in there and get your backs beat up. We know that Michael Turner can run the football."

[...]

"We are trying to get guys evaluated," Koetter said. "I don't think we forgot how to run the ball overnight."

But still, the herd isn't grazing anywhere near Turner right now. He's fallen about as far as a 1300-yard back possibly can, drafted 18th at his position at Fantasy Football Calculator, and trending down.

[Related: Fantasy: Juggernaut Index No. 14: The San Diego Chargers]

To me, this makes him one of the more underrated names in our game, at least among the pool of supposedly overrated players.

Even if Turner were to lose, say, 70 carries in the year ahead, dropping from 301 to 231, I'd still forecast something close to 1000 yards with 9-12 TDs. That would give you a BenJaruvs-in-2010-style season, which wouldn't exactly kneecap your draft. We have to assume that Atlanta will play situational football in 2012, running the ball when they build a lead -- and they'll build plenty of leads. They're not going to pass 750 times this year. Let's recall that Koetter's last NFL stop was in Jacksonville (2007-11), where they rode the primary back mercilessly.

Bottom line: Sometimes, you need to zig when the experts collectively zag. This is perhaps one of those times. Unless you're cherry-picking data with Turner, it's awfully tough to prove decline. There are no guarantees with any player, but Turner has been a serious asset over multiple seasons, and he'll have more than a cameo role in a terrific offense. Take the discount, endure the abuse in the draft room.

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