Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Runningback’s Decline Not Just Due to Turning 30

In the world of fantasy football, there are many theories and clichés to predict a player’s rise and fall. The “third year receiver”, “handcuff” your runningback, and “avoid kickers and defenses” theories are common, and I have even written about the “30 year old RB wall” one previously. Further research goes beyond just the age of RB’s, but at carries and performance to predict their decline as well.

When looking runningback stats from the past 13 seasons, there are some interesting trends about the decline of a RB’s performance from year to year.  There are certain benchmarks signifying a good season that RB’s strive to meet year to year.
  1. Since 2000, there have been 123 10 rushing touchdown seasons, but only 49 (40%) of those RB’s got at least 10 TD’s the next year.
  2. Of the RB’s who were in the top #10 in scoring that year, only 47 (39%) were in the top #10 the following season.
  3. 63 RB’s scored 150 fantasy points or more in a season, with only 21 (33%) reaching that mark the next year.
  4. The 1,500 yard rushing mark has been eclipsed 51 times, but only repeated 13 times or 25%.

What does this mean for last year’s RB’s? Four RB’s had seasons last year that fit each of the criteria above, Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, and Frank Gore.  Following the percentages above, only one or two of those RB’s will reach those benchmarks again.  Frank Gore has played seven full seasons and is already 30, and Lynch had never been over 1500 yards or 150 points before in his six year career, so they are good bets from that group to regress.

There is another factor to look at besides players peaking, which is the amount of carries. Runningbacks take a pounding carrying the ball throughout the season, and thus have shorter careers as compared to quarterbacks or wide receivers.  This wear and tear leads to decreasing point production the following year.
  1. Since 2000, there have been 21 RB’s that carried the ball 370+ times in a season, and 19 (90%) of them had a decrease in points the next season for an average of 40% less points.
  2. 34 RB’s with 350+ carries, with 28 (82%) decreasing an average of 36%.
  3. 49 340+ carries, with 41 (84%) decreasing an average of 50%.
  4. 104 300+ carries, with 73 (70%) decreasing an average of 48%.

As far as last year’s RB’s go, Foster and Peterson had 370+ carries, while Lynch had 340+ and Gore had 300+. Ray Rice had 340+ carries and met some of the earlier criteria as well. Two other RB’s got 300+ carries but were rookies or second year players, Doug Martin and Stevan Ridley.  Following the percentages, you would expect all of these RB’s, except the two young ones, to see a decrease in point totals next year.  

Therefore, when it comes to draft day, I would avoid some of these workhorses who are not likely to repeat their performances and opt for younger RB’s who are coming into their primes. 


  1. Gore did not receive 300+ Carries he had 258 last year. At least get your facts straight!

    1. The numbers include playoffs since that contributes to a player's wear and tear as well.