At What Age Should You Fade A Running Back in Fantasy?

 

The previous intro worked so well for the wide receiver age analysis article we decided to use it again. 

Whether it is dynasty or redraft understanding when the cliff typically comes for a fantasy asset is key to staying ahead of the game. What we did was review the last 10 seasons of running back production by age to see when the drop off comes for the position. A couple key nuggets that you need to know before we get started.

  1. The years sampled were 2011-2020 for the running back position only
  2. The analysis benchmark we will be discussing today is 100 touches. Every running back ages 21-37 had to have at least 100 touches to qualify
  3. The points and points per game (PPG) are in half point (.5) points per reception (PPR)
  4. When conducting the analysis, it was important to have a baseline for touches as many players who don’t make it typically only play 3-4 years in their early 20s. That means if you don’t have a touch baseline in the analysis then you’re including a lot of young running backs who don’t pan out. This would prevent us from getting a better idea of how age becomes a factor since we want to identify the running backs who were able to sustain some level of relevance throughout the years

Like we always promise we will give you the high-level data first and you can take it for what it is worth. The first chart will include the running backs (RB) age, the average total fantasy points those running backs had at that age and the average points per game (PPG) those running backs had at that age.  If you want a deeper dive, we have included more information later.

 

Reviewing Points and Points Per Game (PPG)

RB AGE Avg. Total Fantasy Points Avg. PPG
21 156.2 11.3
22 138 10.4
23 145.4 10.8
24 143.8 11.1
25 149.4 11.5
26 151.9 11.0
27 136.9 10.3
28 147.1 10.5
29 133.1 10.4
30 144.8 10.8
31 106.6 8.6
32 103.4 8.3
33 136.0 9.6
34 124.3 8.0
35 107.8 7.2
36 88.4 5.5
37 94.2 6.3
Grand Total 141.8 10.6

WOW unlike wide receivers the cliff is real for running backs after age 30. The surprising part is that age 30 isn’t the cutoff, but age 31 certainly is for the running back position. After age 30 running backs between ages 31-34 see roughly a 25% drop-off from running backs at their peak PPG and total points. Interestingly the peaks for PPG and total points come at different times for running backs. On a total points basis the running back peak is at the rip old age of 21 with 156.2. However, the PPG peak doesn’t come until four years later at 25 at 11.5. Overall, the running back prime runs smoothly through age 26 as running backs at that age see just over 150 points and 11 PPG on average.

The next age bracket is age 27-30. At first the drop-off looks steep as we see roughly a 10% drop-off from age 26 to 27 in total points and just over 6% dip in PPG. The good news is the drop-off doesn’t continue as the total points and PPG stabilize. On average total points goes from 147 to 140 and PPG drops from 11 to 10.5. These drop-offs for age 27-30 is roughly 5% less than the PPG and total points we see in the 21-26 bracket.

 

Notable “Aging” Running Backs (27-30)

Player Team Age At The Beginning Of 2021 Season 2020 PPG Rank** 2021 RB ADP*** ADP +/-
David Johnson HST 29 15 43 -28
Raheem Mostert SF 29 27 29 -2
Melvin Gordon DEN 28 22 36 -14
Mike Davis CAR 28 20 22 -2
J.D. McKissic WAS 28 33 49 -16
Derrick Henry TEN 27 4 3 1
Kenyan Drake ARZ 27 26 41 -15
Todd Gurley ATL 27 31 70 -39
Chris Carson SEA 27 13 18 -5
Wayne Gallman* NYG 27 36 66 -30

*Wayne Gallman turns 27 in October

** PPG Rank in .5 PPR (Min 3 Games….yes we wanted to include CMC)

***2021 UnderDog ADP  https://www.4for4.com/underdog-adp

 

The Details

  1. Running Back (RB) Age – The age of the running back during the season
  2. Number (#) of Running Backs (RBs)– This is the total number of running backs that played at that age over the past 10 seasons
  3. Number (#) of Games Played – The average number of games a running back played during the season at that age
  4. Total Touches – This column represents the average number of total touches a running back had the year they played at that age
  5. Touches Per Game – This column represents how many touches per game a running back at that age had on average that season
RB AGE # of RBs # of Games Played Total Touches
Touches Per Game
21 19 13.7 199.6 14.6
22 63 13.4 188.3 14.2
23 80 13.3 189.4 14.3
24 84 13.0 185.1 14.4
25 81 12.9 193.2 15.0
26 63 13.7 202.6 14.7
27 59 13.2 185.1 14.1
28 46 13.7 192.5 13.9
29 39 13.2 182.2 14.3
30 23 13.3 201.3 15.2
31 12 11.7 169.4 14.3
32 13 11.9 149.4 12.7
33 6 14.3 199.8 13.8
34 3 15.7 213.0 13.6
35 2 15.0 167.5 11.2
36 1 16.0 179.0 11.2
37 1 15.0 203.0 13.5

Final Notes

The biggest surprise from this analysis is the success of age 33 running backs. Of the 6 running backs in the sample that hit the criteria of 100 touches 4 produced double-digit fantasy points per game. We should chalk this up to being an outlier as only some of the most elite players like Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson are on this list. 

In conclusion this article isn’t saying you should go out of your way to draft older running backs. However, what we are saying is if a running back ages 27-30 earns a starting job or you hear camp reports of him being the lead back then you shouldn’t be drafting him rounds after where he performed in years prior.  

Sources: Razzball.com, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Football Outsiders and FFToday.com

  1. jiggy nits says:
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    definitely something ill be thinking more about on draft day. thanks!

    • Bobby LaMarco

      Bobby LaMarco says:
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      Glad to hear it. I was generally surprised by the stats especially running backs at age 30. Really the analysis should be called The Frank Gore and Fred Jackson analysis as they propped up a lot of stats for 30 +. Thanks for reading!

  2. Coolwhip says:
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    Good stuff my dude,
    Some of the anamolies might have something to do with late career breakouts like Mike Davis etc. Players that have less mileage on the bodies in their younger years before earning a larger role a few years later than average. Could explain a bit of the age 27 drop that bounces up slightly before the big drop at age 30.

  3. Dave says:
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    I think you missed the key data point of how many RBs are qualifying. That falls off quickly at 26+. So yes, 28-33 yr olds who get the touches do well, those that suffer get cut or benched or injured and don’t impact your data here

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