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The Running Back 26 Rule?

In my time here at FantasySharks, I’ve read many posts about the “30 year rule” with regard to Running Backs. I’ve always been curious about whether this was accurate or not but I’d never had the time or ability to research it too much. So, I started digging.

What I found was surprising. Based on my findings – you should be leery of any Running Back over the age of 26!!! That’s right, when a Running Back hits 27, on average his numbers will begin to decline. Yes, there are exceptions (John Riggins ran for 1200 yds and 14 TDs at age 35) but that’s always the case when you make general statements.

Here is some background on the analysis:

I only looked at Running Backs that had three or more 1000-yard rushing seasons. My assumption is that this would represent the best Running Backs of all time and eliminate the one-year wonders (Olandis Gary anyone?)

The Running Backs played from 1957 through 2004 – so the sample size includes pre-expansion and smaller regular seasons.

For simplicities sake, I only looked at rushing yards and rushing TDs. Therefore, Running Backs that also catch a lot of passes out of the backfield are under valued.

I used a simple scoring system for fantasy points: 1 pt for every 10 rushing yards and 6 pts for every TD.

What I found was that Running Backs tend to reach their peak performance at age 26. See the graph below. You’ll notice that a 26 year old RB has the most rushing yards and touchdowns compared to any other age (except for the only 37 year-old in the analysis – Marcus Allen in 1997).

You’ll notice that the drop-off starts much earlier than age 30. In fact, by 28 the average star Running Back is no longer even reaching 1000 yards rushing and his average TD total has dropped to 6.

Because I was looking at such a large range of years for the initial analysis, I decided to re-do the research based only on Running Backs that had 3 or more 1000 yard seasons since 1990. My findings were similar – but not as pronounced.

This means that 27 year olds will typically be over valued on draft day. They had their best season the year before and their trend line has been positive. They haven’t reached the magical “30” yet – so most fantasy football players won’t be worried about them yet. These are the players you should knock down a peg or two. They’ll still have quality years – they will just be disappointments based on their expectations.

Who should you watch out for in 2005? Here’s the list: Edgerrin James, Deuce McAllister, Michael Bennett, Thomas Jones, Lamont Jordan, Reuben Droughns, and Ricky Williams. Obviously, not all of these are first round guys – but be weary of the trend.

Who are the 26 year olds about to hit their peak? Here’s the list: Larry Johnson, Brian Westbrook, LaDanian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis, Kevan Barlow, Rudi Johnson, Chester Taylor, Najeh Davenport, Derrick Blaylock, Jonathan Wells, Dominic Rhodes, and Maurice Morris. Not all of these guys are starters, but keep an eye on them if they get the opportunity. Perhaps they too will be a “26” statistic in 2005.

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FantasySharks.com began in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is, or has been, home to some of the most talented and best known fantasy writers on the planet. Owned and operated by Tony Holm (5 time Fantasy Sports Writer Association Hall-of-Fame nominee,) Tony started writing fantasy content in 1993 for the only three fantasy football web sites in existence at the time.