Which running backs are due to break down?
Once upon a time there was a running back who took the NFL by storm named LaDainian Tomlinson . From the first moment he stepped on an NFL field as a rookie, he made defenses look silly and went on several end-zone trips (he even scored twice in his first game against the Redskins in September of 2001). Tomlinson became not just an all-time great with his team, the Chargers, but a rock-solid cornerstone in the Fantasy Football universe.
But then something happened to L.T. on his way through the NFL: he got older. And as he got older, his production tailed off a little bit at a time. It took a while with Tomlinson thanks to his tremendous skills and ability to stay healthy, but even the team that drafted him and gave him a home for nine seasons saw his diminished talent and cut him.
This year, in his second season with the Jets, Tomlinson will follow in the footsteps of noble running backs before him -- such as Walter Payton and Marshall Faulk -- and take a backseat. He'll work passing downs while Shonn Greene works in the starter's role. Tomlinson will probably get a couple of token touchdowns, but he won't be a sensational Fantasy superhero.
But Tomlinson is not in that secondary role just because of his age (33). It's because of the amount of work he's taken on over his career. That's what has really slowed him down, and it's one of two things that we believe takes great athletic talent away from running backs. The other impact issue? Injuries, of course, and the two go hand-in-hand.
We specifically subscribe to these three factors when evaluating when a running back will decline:
• Significant lower-body injury
• Near or over 2,400 career carries, including the postseason
• The equivalent of eight full seasons registering a high amount of carries, especially when those seasons are consecutive
At-risk rushers for '11
When studying these factors and not the age of a running back, we can figure out when it's time to let an unsuspecting owner draft a veteran. The following running backs are considered "at-risk" running backs, and any one of them with two or more red flags should be avoided for Fantasy purposes for the upcoming season.
Age as of
|Ronnie Brown||1,140||29 (30 in Dec.)|
|Willis McGahee||1,616||29 (30 in Oct.)|
Judging by our criteria, veteran rushers like Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee aren't at risk of losing their productivity based on physical factors. But they could always see their numbers dip due to not being utilized as much in their offenses.
That's an important factor to bring up. Nowadays most teams use two or even three rushers to handle their run game while leaning on the pass a little more than before. While that tends to water down the stats of running backs impacted, it does extend careers. That makes it even more dangerous to discount running backs just because they're 30! Fred Jackson is a perfect example: A late start to his pro career combined with his reps being limited off and on through five seasons makes Jackson a reasonably safe rusher to trust in Fantasy, not a guy to avoid because he's of a certain age.
In addition, because running backs are sharing the work, the days of one guy taking on the "full workload" that makes up part of our evaluation are dwindling. That also means that these guys aren't accumulating carries as quickly as before. A good example of how this trend is taking shape is on display when checking out the players that are a year away from turning 30.
Date of 30th
|Cedric Benson||1,315||Dec. 12, 2012|
|Ryan Grant||841||Dec. 9, 2012|
|Brandon Jacobs||1,009||July 6, 2012|
|Mewelde Moore||484||July 24, 2012|
|Michael Turner||1,190||Feb. 13, 2012|
|Cadillac Williams||986||April 21, 2012|
Point is, measuring running backs based on eight years of full work and 2,400 career carries could become obsolete. We might have to punt on those categories in a year or two, though there are some running backs that might touch that 2,400 carry total within the next three or four seasons.
|Player||Career carries||Player||Career carries|
|Joseph Addai||1,135||Steven Jackson||1,897|
|Marion Barber||1,083||Maurice Jones-Drew||1,155|
|Frank Gore||1,371||Adrian Peterson||1,269|
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