As Fantasy owners, we all want our running backs to get touches. Work, work and more work is our mantra, and we hate when our running back comes off the field -- especially when they lose touchdowns to a vulture.
But sometimes too much work can be a problem, and Marshawn Lynch is coming dangerously close to a number no running back wants to hit. Barring an injury early in Super Bowl XLVIII -- or a complete shocker of a game plan by the Seahawks against the Broncos -- Lynch is going to reach 400 total touches for the season, and that's a bad thing.
He comes into this game with 388 touches through 16 games in the regular season and two in the playoffs (351 carries and 37 catches), so Lynch has seen his share of work this year, which was great. But next season, based on our research, he could be headed for a significant downturn in production.
We went back and looked at the past 10 years for running backs who had 400 touches in a season, including the playoffs, and found 27 occasions where it happened for 17 different running backs. Of those 27 times, only five -- Edgerrin James (2004), LaDainian Tomlinson (2005), James again (2005), Adrian Peterson (2009) and Ray Rice (2011) -- produced an increase in Fantasy points the following season, and you can see all the data in our chart below.
The 22 other examples where a running back hit 400 touches over that span showed varying results -- all negative. Two running backs -- Tiki Barber and Ricky Williams -- retired following consecutive seasons with 400 touches. And nine times a running back suffered an injury -- Arian Foster (2013), Peterson (2013), Michael Turner (2009), Steven Jackson (2007), Larry Johnson (2007), Shaun Alexander (2006), Clinton Portis (2006), Curtis Martin (2005) and Jamal Lewis (2004) -- that caused him to miss games following a 400-touch campaign. Some of those injuries could be attributed to the heavy workload the year before.
Statistically, the Fantasy point decline was staggering. Of the 20 times a running back played the year after getting 400 touches and saw a decline in production, 15 had their Fantasy points drop by at least 30 percent and 10 by at least 40 percent. The worst was Johnson, who went from 329 Fantasy points in 2006 over 17 games on a staggering 475 touches -- the highest total during the past 10 years -- to 95 Fantasy points in 2007 on 188 touches in just eight games due to a foot injury.
If you want recent history, there were three running backs from the past two years who had 400 touches in Foster, Peterson and Rice, who all hit that mark in 2012 and faltered in 2013. Foster had 460 touches over 18 games in 2012 for 247 Fantasy points and then finished with 86 points this past season on 143 touches in just eight games due to a back injury. Peterson went from 293 Fantasy points on 411 touches over 17 games to 203 points on 308 touches over 14 games, missing two because of a groin injury.
And Rice, despite playing 15 games this season -- including dealing with a hip problem -- had just 120 Fantasy points on 272 touches after scoring 206 points the year before on 410 touches through 20 games, as he helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl. Rice actually had three seasons in a row with 400 touches (414 in 2011 over 18 games for 284 Fantasy points and 411 in 2010 over 18 games for 197 points). He went up in production after his first 400-touch campaign but declined the following season, and all the work from that three-year stretch is likely catching up with him now.
Foster and Peterson are fair comparisons to make with Lynch based on their age. Foster was 26 during his 400-touch season, and Peterson was 27 when he did it in 2012. Lynch is 27 now, and he likely will finish close to the 411 touches Peterson had last season if the Super Bowl goes as planned. On the positive side for Peterson, despite his 90-point decline in Fantasy points in 2013, he still finished as the No. 8 running back, which isn't horrible -- it's just not exceptional. You just hope Lynch has that kind of season and not like Foster or Rice. Both fell off dramatically in their production and didn't finish in the Top 25 at running back in 2013.
On the other hand, Lynch could end up like James, who was 27 in 2003 when he had 431 touches over 16 games and finished with 214 Fantasy points. He then came back at 28 in 2004 and had 426 touches over 18 games for 254 points. One thing of note for the running backs who improved after 400 touches: they all had standout quarterback play during that season with James and Peyton Manning, Peterson and Brett Favre and Tomlinson and Philip Rivers. Maybe that could happen with Lynch if Russell Wilson continues to progress, but Wilson likely isn't of that caliber of the previous three just yet.
The problem is it's just hard for running backs to recover after doing so much heavy lifting, and Lynch actually has 1,079 touches (987 carries and 92 catches) over the past three seasons heading into the Super Bowl. Lynch, known as "Beast Mode" for his physical style of running and absorbing contact, could definitely be in for a letdown in 2014, which is frustrating given his potential.
But the stats tell us that running backs with 400 touches don't fare well the following season, which means you'll want to watch the battle between Christine Michael and Robert Turbin closely this offseason. The No. 2 running back in Seattle could be a sleeper next year.
As for Lynch, he's likely still worth the gamble toward the end of the first round on Draft Day depending on what happens in the Super Bowl. When he's on the field, he should produce at a high level, but there could be some missed time if the workload catches up to him.
Just know that if you draft Lynch, handcuff him to Michael or Turbin -- or hope he surprises us and somehow improves following the dreaded 400-touch season. It's happened before, maybe it will happen again.
|Year||Age||GP||Touches||Fantasy Pts.||Year||GP||Touches||Fantasy Pts.||Differential|
* - includes playoff games
** - missed games due to injury
*** - indicates player also had 400 touches in 2002 (Tomlinson had 451 touches for 300 Fantasy points ... Williams had 430 touches for 309 Fantasy points)
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