We had this discussion earlier this week. At that point, opinion was fairly evenly divided between "yes, Michael Turner is declining" and "shut your filthy mouth." As it should be.
To add a little expert opinion to the mix, I wanted to call your attention to this ESPN piece from Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. Williamson is a bright dude who does his research, which I say so you won't immediately call for him to be dunked upside down into a shark tank.
Basically, Williamson is arguing that Turner's best days might already have come and gone. He acknowledges that Turner is a bruiser and a nice fit for the Falcons' offense, but there's a but. Of course there is.
But on the other hand, I see a back whose best days might already be behind him and someone who will never be an asset in the passing game. And Atlanta is sure to feature its passing attack more and more as Matt Ryan continues to rapidly develop. Turner needs a lot of carries to flourish. He ran for over 100 yards six times last season, but also failed to reach the 50-yard barrier on five other occasions. So, in the end, I now see Turner as an above-average starting NFL running back, but not a guy who is as valuable as he once was. And the arrow is probably going down.
I basically agree with this. Turner is good enough in his current role to be the starting running back for the Falcons for at least another couple of seasons, but the Falcons need to be smart about this. Turner doesn't catch passes and isn't shifty, so they're going to have to mix in guys like Jason Snelling (if he returns) and Jacquizz Rodgers to keep him fresh. A healthy, energetic Turner blasting into the opposing defense is a powerful weapon, but if he's getting 300+ carries in the regular season, it may be too many.
To be clear, I think the Falcons have recognized this reality. The passing game should be bolstered with the addition of Julio Jones, and Rodgers gives them an intriguing back with the skill set necessary to take on passing game duties and 75-100 carries. That would take a load off Turner, who needs as much juice as he can possibly have for big games and what I hope is an inevitable playoff run. He remains a battering ram, and there isn't anyone else on this Falcons team that can take that role on.
While I think it's too early to sound the death knell on Turner's career, I do think it's time to start treating him like something a few feet south of an elite back. The Falcons will be better for it.