Turner due for a bounce back year in 2010?

Michael Turner didn’t want to hear about the “Curse of 370” heading into last season, but after ankle injuries limited him to only 871 yards on 178 carries, it appears as though “the Burner” is well aware of the damages a full workload can have on a running back.

And so are the Falcons.

Turner recently admitted that he fell out of shape last offseason, which may have contributed to his slow start. Turner didn’t really resemble the ’08 version of himself until a Week 8 Monday night effort against the Saints in which he rushed for 151 yards on 20 carries with one touchdown. Until that point, Turner didn’t appear to be hitting holes with much authority and even looked slow at times.

But Turner apparently learned a lesson from last offseason, because he reported to a recent Falcons mini-camp in great shape according to several reports. Head coach Mike Smith was even quoted as saying his running back was in “outstanding shape” and was moving “extremely well” in his first day back. That’s great news for Turner, the Falcons and a handful of fantasy owners that were burned (no pun intended) by the running back’s production (or lack thereof) last season.

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Another reason to be down on Michael Turner this season…

I’ve already mentioned the “Curse of 370,” but Michael Turner is facing yet another challenge this season — a much tougher schedule.

Here’s a look at Turner’s performance last year against good, mediocre and bad rush defenses:

– In three games against top 10 rush defenses (Chicago, Philly and Minnesota), Turner averaged 20.3 carries for 60.7 yards and 0.3 TD, which translates to 8.1 fantasy points.

– In seven games against teams ranked #11-#20 in rush defense (New Orleans x 2, Carolina x 2, Tampa Bay x 2, and San Diego), Turner averaged 23.4 carries for 92.0 yards and 1.0 TD, which equals 15.2 fantasy points.

– In six games agains teams ranked #21 to #32 in rush defense (Denver, St. Louis, Detroit, Kansas City, Green Bay and Oakland), Turner averaged 25.2 carries for 145.5 yards and 1.5 TD, which is 23.5 fantasy points.

In short, Turner killed poor rush defenses, did pretty well against mediocre defenses and struggled against good ones. That makes sense, right?

Heading into the 2009 season, Turner’s schedule is shaping up to be tougher. He has six matchups with teams that finished in the top 10 last year, nine matchups with teams that finished #11-#20, and just one game against a team that finished #22-#32 (#22 Buffalo). On average, he’s going from a schedule that has an average rank of 19.3 against the rush to one that has an average rank of 13.6. Not good.

So assuming that Turner has the same averages against each of the three groups, and last year’s finish is a reasonable expectation for how these defenses will fair (a big assumption, I know), then Turner would project to 358 carries for 1338 yards and 13 TD. Those are still good numbers, but a far cry from the 1699 yards and 17 TD he posted last year.

Assuming he continues to be a non-factor in the Atlanta passing game (and with the addition of Tony Gonzalez, this is not a big assumption), and posts another six catches for 41 yards, then these rushing and receiving totals translate to 221 fantasy points (in a high performance PPR league). That would have made him RB15 last year.

I still like Turner — hell, I have him in a keeper league, so I’m rooting for the guy — but I just don’t think he’s first round material this season in PPR leagues.

Will the ‘Curse of 370’ slow Turner down?

Michael Turner carried the ball 376 times last season, which is a bad omen if you believe in the “Curse of 370.”

The stat was “discovered” by Football Outsiders founder Aaron Schatz in 2004.

The “370 Curse” has reared its head in the Falcons locker room before.

Running backs who rush for more than 370 carries in a season will either have a significant decline or get hurt the following season. Only one running back, Eric Dickerson, has been able to beat the curse.

After Jamal Anderson powered the Falcons to the Super Bowl with 410 carries in 1998, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in 1999 and was never the same.

Gerald Riggs ran for 1,719 yards on 397 carries in 1985. He followed up that season with 1,327 yards on 343 carries but although he played five more seasons, he never eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark again.

Some of the latest players to succumb the curse include Seattle’s Shaun Alexander, Kansas City’s Larry Johnson, Tennessee’s Eddie George and Miami’s Ricky Williams.

For their part, the Falcons don’t believe Turner was overused, and when they need to run the ball, they’re going to call Turner’s number.

I like Turner this year, but I don’t think he’s going to rack up 370+ carries again this season. Assuming he doesn’t get injured, I expect him to carry the ball 320-350 times. He’s not a big part of the Falcons’ passing game, so that hurts his fantasy stock in PPR leagues.

It’s going to be interesting to see if Turner can avoid the “curse” this season.

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