Welcome to Point/Counter-Point. This is where we take a hot topic and look at the issue from two differing perspectives. Today we discuss Falcons RB Michael Turner. Turner has been a very productive runner for us since being signed as a free agent in 2008. Since joining the Falcons, Turner has rushed for over 5000 yards and has achieved double-digit TD runs every year. We all know that RB is the toughest position in the NFL for players to enjoy sustained success. The shelf life of a RB is not what it once was. Is Michael Turner still a feature back in this league?
Why Michael Turner Is No Longer A Feature Back
Two things come to mind when you think about the current Atlanta Falcons. One is Matt Ryan, the other is Michael Turner. This "dynamic duo" has provided the Falcons franchise with hope and four years of relevance and winning. Something no other team before them could. However, Michael Turner is now about to turn 30 and has had the weight of 3/4 of his seasons in Atlanta relying on him in the form of 300+ carries (The 2nd season was cut short by a hamstring injury). Turner has been consistently in the top five in rushing, but much of that is due to the load of carries he gets. For example, even though Turner averaged 4.5 YPC he only had one game where he topped 100 yards against a good NFL rushing Defense (Chicago). The other times were against Carolina, Tampa, Detroit, Philly and Tennessee. Some of those are the worst against the run (Philly was 16th, Detriot 23rd, Philly 24th, Carolina 25th, and Tampa 32nd). To put it simply, Turner's best games are against the worst teams. He has consistently failed to show up in the playoffs and in primetime games. (Averaging only 2.9 YPC in the playoffs.)
What tells more than any stat can is the tape, and when you look at Turner's tape the past year one thing is clearly evident. He gets arm tackled quite often. The man is nearly 245 LBs. There is absolutely no reason a 245 LB running back should get arm tackled as much as he does. There is a reason behind this, Turner has to gain momentum to break those tackles. That means he has to get to the line of scrimmage and through the holes with Power and Speed, when he does that we see the Turner of 2008. Turner's complete lack of burst makes this very tough to achieve. To put it simply Turner takes a while to get to the LOS on straight ahead runs, he's even worse on runs to the edge where he hardly ever got past the LOS. For Turner to be consistently effective at this point he needs nearly flawless blocking. A task that is completely impossible to achieve, especially with the current state of the Falcons offensive line.
Finally, Turner's pass catching ability or lack there of really hurts his ability to be an every down back. Turner recently compiled his best receiving season yet, with 17 receptions for 168 yards. In a league where pass catching running backs are being used left and right Turner is basically a fullback coming out of the backfield. This would explain why Atlanta moved up in the 5th round to select JacQuizz Rodgers. Turner just isn't available to do the necessary job a RB is asked to do efficiently enough for him to warrant the contract he has and the roster space he is taking up.
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Why Michael Turner Is Still A Feature Back
In my opinion, this man deserves a lot more credit than most fans give him. I listen to sports talk radio each day, and to be honest I am ashamed that many fans want to go in a different direction.
Turner is making a base salary of $5,000,000 this season with a 2.5 million dollar signing bonus. In 2014 he will be an unrestricted free agent. This 5th round pick from Northern Illinois came to Atlanta via free agency in 2008. This was in my opinion the best GM decision the Atlanta Falcons have made during the TD/Smitty era. The Falcons needed to find a comfort piece for Matt Ryan. Since he has been here Turner has accounted for over 5,000 yards and is scoring double digit touchdowns every year he has been here. In fact, Turner is second behind Adrian Peterson in rushing since 2008. If the question is whether or not Michael Turner is a viable threat then the truth is in the stats. In 2011, he rushed for 1,340 yds. Turner also averaged 4.5 yds per carry, which is well above the league average.
Many people claim he has slowed down. The bottom line is Atlanta signed him after being with San Diego for 4 seasons. Even as a back-up that is not a young running back in the NFL. When Turner has been healthy he is getting well over 300 carries every season. Turner is a power back and he is not a scat back. He will not bust out 70 yard home runs like Chris Johnson, and I believe this is why most people complain. The ability to be a productive running back in the NFL is a dying art. The NFL has turned into a passing league, and Turner is one of the few backs that still refuse to accept that. When most NFC South linebackers are polled about the most feared tailback in the conference, they undeniably state Michael “The Burner” Turner. His power and size is a formidable weapon in the Atlanta backfield. Last season we saw glimpses of what Atlanta is trying to build with Matty Ice, Julio, and Roddy. I ask you all one question, who is a better running back available in the NFL now? Let me clarify, I mean free agents or a potential draft pick (that would be available when the Falcons draft)? The productivity has not stalled and until it does Michael Turner will be a valuable asset for the Atlanta Falcons.
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My thinking is that Turner could still return next year, but not as a work horse back. He has had way too many carries the past few years, and even with Snelling and Rodgers, Turner still had the bulk of carries. The last two seasons, you can see his YPC drop down the later half of the season. That is a problem with a run first offense once we hit the post season, because Turner has already broken down after 350+ carries of the season. I have to think that is one of the top reasons we fall flat in the playoffs, because despite ineffectiveness, the game plan doesn't change and we are still trying to run with him. I think he could stay as part of a committee, but that is about it.
@mFalcons5 He's the sixth highest paid Falcon (at least that's what my google search came up with). If we aren't gonna use him like we pay him then I don't think we should keep him.
And in that thought process....I DO believe Turner can still be a feature back but I don't think he fits what the Falcons want to do offensively. The Falcons want to be "explosive" but Turner is a 3 yards and a cloud of dirt type of back.
From the NFC South Blog on ESPN:
Simply cutting Turner isn’t totally out of the question. He’s scheduled to count $7 million against the 2012 salary cap. But I just checked the specifics of his contract. The Falcons would take a $4 million cap hit if they cut Turner. But they’d also free up $3 million in cap space.
@CFBZ Should have included, "with a restructured contract," in there somewhere. No one else would be willing to pay him very much money, and like every season there will be a good bunch of free agent running backs who are younger with a better skill set.
I think we will still have a heavy run game, but Turner would be best utilized with about 12-15 carries a game. This reminds me of how frustrated I was we kept running Turner in week 17 despite a commanding lead. How about lightning the guys load just a bit?
I do think Turner is one of the players Dimitroff was talking about when he said to expect some bigger names to be gone, short of taking significantly reduced money. We could replace him with say, Tolbert, who is better in the passing game for less than what Turner is expected to get this season.
@mFalcons5 I don't mind the reps. The only young player we have at RB is Rodgers and he's not an every down NFL back (at least in my opinion). The big thing for me is how he would fit into the offense and will we be too predictable with him in the game.
@CFBZ Well, $3 million, the roster spot, and taking away reps from a young player.
@mFalcons5 I'm not a salary cap guy but it sounds to me (based on what I posted from the ESPN blog) that Turner counts $7 against the cap if he's here and $4 if he's not. So the big question (if that's true) is he worth $3 million?