I’m taking a break from my 2020 dynasty rankings to bring you an article about large sweaty men pounding on other equally sweaty men. If you found this page by Googling, “pounding sweaty men,” then welcome, you’re in the right place!
Running back is the fantasy position which takes the greatest wear on the body. But is the total number of carries a running back receives in any given season predictive of their production in the following season?
This is the question I set out to answer, specifically in regards to The Predator, Derrick Henry. In 2019 the big man rumbled for 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns on 303 rushing attempts plus 18 catches for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns—posting the 2nd most running back fantasy points in standard scoring and 5th most fantasy points in PPR scoring. Henry also tacked on 83 playoff carries for 446 yards and 2 more touchdowns. This adds up to 386 carries on the season, the 3rd most of any running back in the past 10 seasons. Let’s take a look at the follow-up performances of all other high-volume backs over the past 10 years:
|300+ Rush Att in Regular Season Since 2010||Following Season|
|Rk||Player||Year||Age||G||Att||Yds||Playoff Att||Total Att||G||Att||Yds|
|11||Ezekiel Elliott *||2016||21||15||322||1631||22||344||10||242||983|
|13||Le’Veon Bell **||2017||25||15||321||1291||16||337||15||245||789|
|Minus 2016 Zeke Outlier||15.87||324||1455||13.38||232||974|
* missed 6 games in following season due to suspension
**held out in 2018, following season column numbers are from 2019
So what’s it all mean?
I’ll qualify the results by saying this a relatively small sample, but the numbers are interesting nonetheless. Excluding Zeke’s suspension shortened 2017 outlier season, nine of the 21 running backs (43%) who handled 300+ carries over the past 10 seasons failed to tally 250 carries in the following season; and those same nine player were also unable to total 1,000 rushing yards in those seasons. Five of the 21 backs (24%) didn’t reach 200 carries in the next season, six of 21 (29%) fell shy of 800 rushing yards and four (19%) came up short of 600 yards.
On the flip side, nine of our 21 RBs (43%) reached 1,200 rushing yards in their encore, 10 of them (48%) reached 270 carries and four (19%) even reached 300 carries again the next year. None of those 21 running backs saw an increase in attempts—although Zeke was only three carries shy in 2019 and McCoy only two carries shy in 2014. Interestingly enough, two of the 21 RBs actually saw an increase in yardage in the following season—Lynch in 2014 (+49 yards) and Rice in 2011 (+144 yards).
But on average, the 300+ carry workhorses saw a 16% decrease in games played, 28% decrease in carries and 33% decrease in rushing yards in the next season. None of these numbers are shocking; for a running back to reach 300 carries, a near full season is required and it’s not easy to string multiple healthy season’s together at such a physically demanding position.
Looking to Derrick Henry’s specific case, including the playoffs, only four other backs in the past 10 seasons have handled 370+ carries. Of those four players, only one (2013 Adrian Peterson) reached 230 carries and 1,000 rushing yards and two of the other three fell short of 200 carries. On average those four RBs played 13 games with 205 rushes for 855 yards in the next year.
Now before you going jump out the window because 1) your 401K is now worth less than your used 2013 Prius and 2) you own Derrick Henry in your keeper league, just remember these are very small samples and not all bodies were created equal (see: Ezekiel Elliott). Henry is a mountain of a man who surely is capable of bulldozing defenses 300 times in back-to-back seasons. And remember, there’s no such thing as a risk free running back. Still, there’s some reason for caution here based on history. Depending on how you read these tea leaves, zagging from Henry in the first round of this year’s fantasy drafts might be worth consideration.
In the next edition we’ll take a look at how Zeke’s incredible three-year workload (893 carries) stacks up against some of the other names on this list. Until then, wash your hands, steer clear of crowds and share your toilet paper—not the used stuff.
All statistics sourced from ProFootballReference.com