For years, the fantasy football rule of thumb has been that a running
back will experience a serious decline in his production after turning
30 years old. In the following, we look at this belief and also
check other factors that may be used to predict when the end of
a running back's career may be near. In addition to age, we will
look at the number of f/carries, high workload seasons, total seasons,
and career games. F/carries, or formulated carries, is defined as
the number of rushing attempts plus half the number of receptions.
First, we need to set a benchmark to determine when running backs
are still useful in fantasy football. We will use a scoring system
of 1 FP per 10 yards rushing or receiving and 6 FP per touchdown.
Over the last four seasons, the 24th ranked running back has scored
an average of 148.75 FP. Therefore, we will use a 150 FP season
as the cut-off.
Historical RB Production
The following table shows the data for eight running backs that
have retired in recent years. The totals are up to and including
the last season that the running back scored at least 150 FP.
The one exception to this is Eddie George's 149 FP 2003 season,
which is also included.
In addition to recent retirees, let's look at the all-time leaders
in f/carries so we can get a feel for the absolute limits in addition
to the typical limits. Again, these totals are up to and including
the last season when a runner scored 150 FP.
| All-Time Leaders
||Age at Year
W/ 150 FP
|Years w/ 370+
|Years w/ 300 to
clearly stands out as the longevity king. His totals for carries
and f/carries are by far the highest. More importantly, he was productive
to the very end of his fifteen-year career. Marcus Allen's career
also lasted significantly longer than normal. We should be careful
not to let a few exceptions throw off our outlook for more typical
The number of seasons played varies from 7 to 15. If we exclude
Smith and Allen, then it still ranges from 7 to 12. Six of the
16 players listed were productive through 10 seasons and 14 of
the 16 lasted no more than 10 seasons. It appears that 10 seasons
is the most that we can reasonably expect from a running back,
although some will no longer be effective even before this.
Exception to the rule: Smith was a fantasy
relevant through age 35.
The number of career f/carries ranges from 1568 to 3921.5 (excluding
Smith's mind-blowing 4666.5.) Again, this range is to great to
be an effective prediction tool. The best we can say is that we
should be careful when forecasting a running back to be effective
after 3,000 f/carries since only six backs have accomplished this
feat in the past.
The range of ages falls into a much tighter grouping, with 11
of the 18 players having their final productive season at the
age of 30 or 31. If the range is expanded to 29 to 32, then it
includes everyone except Smith and Allen.
There is quite a range in the number of career games played,
from 102 for Priest Holmes to 226 for Emmitt Smith. Even if we
remove a few outliers, the range looks to be too great to make
any reasonable forecasts. Similarly, the number of heavy workload
years ranges from zero for Charlie Garner to 10 for Walter Payton.
Thus, no clear trends are apparent for the number of games played
or the number of heavy workload years.
As we have seen, heavy workload years may be a good indicator
of a drop in fantasy production for the next year, but it there
is not a correlation between heavy
workload and the end of a fantasy running back's career. With
four exceptions (Smith, Allen, Walter Payton, and Jerome Bettis),
the best indicators for the end of a successful fantasy career
appear to be age, the number of seasons played, and the total
number of f/carries. Of these three factors, age (30 to 31) looks
to be the best prognosticator with upper limits provided by seasons
(10) and f/carries (3,000).
Predictions for 2008
Now that we have looked at the past, let's make some predictions
for the future. As of opening day, there will be eight running
backs that are 30 or older and have or have had fantasy relevance.
Of these eight, three will probably not get drafted in most leagues.
They are Ahman
Droughns, and Shaun
Alexander. Green is in a crowded backfield already bothered
by a groin inury, Droughns is buried on the depth chart, and Alexander
doesn't even have a team at this time. The other five running
backs are Edgerrin James, Thomas Jones, Fred Taylor, Ricky Williams,
and Warrick Dunn.
|Years w/ 370+
|Years w/ 300 to
Edgerrin James - James has been solid but not spectacular since
moving to the desert. FFtoday currently predicts he will have
184 FP in 2008, placing him 15th for running backs. Unfortunately
for him, he is 30 years old, entering his tenth season, and has
3,058 career f/carries. That puts him at twelfth all time for
most f/carries. Two (age and number of seasons) of our tools say
this will be his last productive year. One (career f/carries)
says the end has already come. Expect this to be Edge's last year
of fantasy relevance.
Thomas Jones - Despite a slow start to his career, Jones has
turned into a productive back. Current predictions call for him
scoring 161 FP, good for 22nd place on the running back list and
making him a decent #2 fantasy RB. He is 30 and entering his ninth
season, so he might have two more years left in him.
Fred Taylor - Although known in fantasy circles as “Fragile
Freddy”, Taylor has started 14 or more games in five of
the last six seasons. He is also 32 and entering his eleventh
season. Taylor may be the exception to the “31 or 10 seasons”
rule, but history says you should not count on it.
- Unless there is an injury to Ronnie Brown, Williams will not
be starting in 2008. He still has value as a handcuff, but his
days of fantasy glory look to be over. Due to his time out of
football for partaking of various recreational herbs, his number
of seasons played and career f/carries are low, but his age (31)
can not be denied.
Warrick Dunn - Like Williams, Dunn still has fantasy value as
a handcuff or bye week fill-in, but his starting days are over.
His age (33) and number of seasons played (11) show that 2006
was his last hurrah in fantasy circles.
Keeper and Dynasty Leagues
There are seven significant running backs that will be 29 by the
end of the season. They are LaDainian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis,
Rudi Johnson, Brian Westbrook, Larry Johnson, Deuce McAllister,
and Ladell Betts. I don't mean to suggest that these players should
be traded for pennies on the dollar, but Shaun Alexander has shown
us just how quickly fantasy fortunes can change for a player.
Given their situations, I would probably look to trade high at
the first reasonable opportunity with Larry Johnson, McAllister,
and Betts. I would be more tempted to keep the others for another
year or two. Just remember that these players will probably be
leading teams to fantasy glory for at most three more years.