Myths and Realities of Aging and
Wearing Running Backs - Summary
Be extremely careful with running backs over 32 years old or who
have over 3,000 career touches. The ones with over 2,250 career
touches require more studying but can be good picks.
Over the past few seasons there have been a number of articles
written about aging and wearing running backs. We used to hear that
the age where a running back would drop was 31 but more recently we
have also heard 30 and sometimes even 28. Many are also suggesting
that Clinton Portis will decline this season because he has reached
2,000 carries in his career. I decided to test out all these
theories to find out once and for all, when do running backs really
The first step was to look at the chances of running backs suffering
injuries or not seeing the ball as much as they get older. Based on
our analysis we determined that running backs are slightly more at
risk when they reach the age of 28 and become a huge risk when they
reach the age of 33. As for a decrease in performance, the only
significant drop comes at age 32, not 30 as many would lead you to
We often hear that running backs start struggling after a certain
number of touches in their career and are more at risk because they
have more wear. Based on our data, running backs that have more
career touches are as likely to continue receiving 200 touches in a
season as those with less wear.
The most interesting data however is when we look at the performance
for running backs based on their number of career touches. As
expected, there is a large drop when running backs reach 3,000
career touches (the exception was Curtis Martin) but there is also a
drop when running backs reach 2,250 touches.
Here is a chart which shows the percentage change in fantasy points
by number of career touches:
Career touches before start of season
Percentage change in fantasy points
3000 and over
As you can see, running backs that start a season with more than
2,250 career touches generally see a performance drop. The
difference with running backs that had between 1,500 and 2,249
touches is about 10% which is quite interesting but we need to be
able to understand why this drop happened.
When we look at more specific statistics, we notice that running
backs with more career touches drop for two main reasons: fewer
touchdowns and fewer receptions. This means that when you analyze a
running back with more than 2,250 career touches, you need to ask
yourself whether or not his team might be looking to take receptions
or goal line carries away from him in the upcoming season.
Three running backs had over 200 touches last year and are now over
2,250 career touches:
Ricky Williams – 2,468, Thomas Jones – 2,570 and LaDainian Tomlinson
– 3,410. You should also be aware that Clinton Portis has over 3,250
career touches as well but he did not get 200 last year.
You can possibly expect a small drop in yards per rush and yards per
reception for Risky Williams and Thomas Jones but you need to judge
for yourself if you believe they will see fewer receptions and goal
line carries this season. We can probably all agree that Thomas
Jones will see a drop in performance with the Chiefs but Ricky
Williams is an interesting one. He had 11 TDs and 35 receptions last
year and will continue to split with Ronnie Brown, both of those
numbers should drop. The interesting part is that if Williams has
fewer TDs and receptions, Ronnie Brown will have more and could be
worth moving up on your draft board.
As for LaDainian Tomlinson, we said last year that he had about a
50% chance of not even getting 200 touches and if he did, his
fantasy points were expected to drop by about 15% on average.
Because of that we recommended to stay away from him and as it turns
out, he did get 200+ touches but his fantasy points per 16 games
dropped by 26%.
In conclusion, the only two marks where running backs start
declining drastically are 32 years old and 3,000 career touches. The
risk is also slightly higher for running backs who are 28 years of
age or older and those who have reached 2,250 career touches but it
is not significant enough to stay away from them.
See the complete analysis