When analyzing running back age, a standard must be established to compare performance in various seasons. Some use rushing yards; others use touchdowns. But what other variables can be effective? Most importantly, which running back statistic has the highest correlation to what is important – namely, fantasy points. 

This article focuses on the top 24 PPR running backs from each of the last two seasons. This focus ensures currency, relevancy, and includes the most desirable running backs.

The table below measures the correlation of each major running back statistic with fantasy points:

Correlation with Fantasy PointsPercent
Yards From Scrimmage0.929
Total Touchdowns0.773
Total Touches0.753
Rushing Yards0.682
Receiving Yards0.600
Rushing Attempts0.594
Receptions0.532

The table confirms that yards from scrimmage has the highest correlation to fantasy points at 92.9%, followed by total touchdowns at 77.3%.

Since yards from scrimmage is arguably the most important indicator of fantasy success, we need to apply this to age.

To begin, we need to establish a benchmark number of yards from scrimmage by these runners.

How many yards from scrimmage?

Since most fantasy football leagues have 12 teams that each start two running backs, we will focus on the top 24 running backs. The following represents the top 24 running backs from 2013-2014:

 RushesRush YdsRush TDsRecsRec YdsRec TDsYFSTotal TDsFPs
Average222.25965.47.0644.88367.21.851332.68.92231.64

This data evidences that the top 24 running backs from 2013-2014 averaged 1,332.6 total yards from scrimmage. Now we can evaluate the impact of the running backs’ age.

Running Back Peak Age

Since the NFL is constantly changing, the contextual question of ‘when’ is important. I have included all running backs that topped 1,333 yards from scrimmage from 2005 to 2014. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, 129 seasons fit the criteria.

Below is a list of those seasons, sorted by total yards from scrimmage:

RkPlayerYearAgeTmGTouchYScm
1Chris Johnson200924TEN164082509
2Tiki Barber200530NYG164112390
3Steven Jackson200623STL164362334
4LaDainian Tomlinson200627SDG164042323
5Adrian Peterson201227MIN163882314
6DeMarco Murray201426DAL164492261
7Arian Foster201024HOU163932220
8Le'Veon Bell201422PIT163732215
9Larry Johnson200627KAN164572199
10Frank Gore200623SFO163732180
11LeSean McCoy201325PHI163662146
12Brian Westbrook200728PHI153722104
13Larry Johnson200526KAN163692093
14Ray Rice201124BAL163672068
15Ray Rice200922BAL163322041
16Jamaal Charles201327KAN153291980
17Maurice Jones-Drew201126JAX163861980
18Shaun Alexander200528SEA163851958
19LaDainian Tomlinson200728SDG163751949
20Matt Forte201328CHI163631933
21Doug Martin201223TAM163681926
22Brian Westbrook200627PHI153221916
23Adrian Peterson200823MIN163851885
24Matt Forte201429CHI163681846
25Edgerrin James200527IND154041843
26Arian Foster201125HOU133311841
27LaDainian Tomlinson200526SDG163901832
28Adrian Peterson200924MIN163571819
29Marshawn Lynch201226SEA163381786
30Ray Rice201023BAL163701776
31Maurice Jones-Drew200924JAX163711765
32Jamaal Charles201226KAN163201745
33Michael Turner200826ATL163821740
34Steven Jackson200926STL153751738
35Clinton Portis200524WAS163821732
36Willie Parker200626PIT163681716
37Matt Forte200823CHI163791715
38Clinton Portis200827WAS163701705
39C.J. Spiller201225BUF162501703
40Alfred Morris201224WAS163461690
41Marshawn Lynch201428SEA163171673
42LeSean McCoy201022PHI152851672
43Darren McFadden201023OAK132701664
44Steve Slaton200822HOU163181659
45Peyton Hillis201024CLE163311654
46Clinton Portis200726WAS163721651
47Arian Foster201226HOU163911641
48Maurice Jones-Drew201025JAX143331641
49Adrian Peterson201025MIN153191639
50Warrick Dunn200530ATL163091636
51DeAngelo Williams200825CAR162951636
52Steven Jackson201027STL163761624
53LeSean McCoy201123PHI153211624
54Ray Rice201225BAL163181621
55Matt Forte201025CHI162881616
56Chris Johnson201025TEN163601609
57Adrian Peterson200722MIN142731609
58Reuben Droughns200527CLE163531601
59Ladell Betts200627WAS163001599
60LaMont Jordan200527OAK143421588
61Knowshon Moreno201326DEN163011586
62Arian Foster201428HOU132981573
63Marshawn Lynch201327SEA163371573
64Eddie Lacy201423GNB162881566
65Jamal Lewis200728CLE153281552
66Ahmad Bradshaw201024NYG163231549
67Rudi Johnson200526CIN163601548
68Ryan Mathews201124SDG142721546
69Frank Gore200724SFO153131538
70LaDainian Tomlinson200829SDG163441536
71Justin Forsett201429BAL162791529
72Frank Gore200926SFO142811526
73Thomas Jones200830NYJ163261519
74Reggie Bush201328DET142771512
75Michael Turner201129ATL163181508
76Chester Taylor200627MIN153451504
77Chris Johnson200823TEN152951488
78Matt Forte201126CHI122551487
79Willie Parker200727PIT153441480
80Steven Jackson201128STL153021478
81Thomas Jones200527CHI153401478
82Chris Johnson201227TEN163121475
83LeSean McCoy201426PHI163401474
84DeMarco Murray201325DAL142701471
85Chris Johnson201126TEN163191465
86Thomas Jones200931NYJ163411460
87Michael Turner201028ATL163461456
88Ryan Grant200927GNB163071450
89Frank Gore201229SFO162861448
90Ryan Mathews201326SDG163111444
91Rashard Mendenhall201023PIT163471440
92Willis McGahee200726BAL153371438
93Adrian Peterson201328MIN143081437
94Joseph Addai200724IND153021436
95Eddie Lacy201322GNB153191435
96Matt Forte201227CHI152921434
97Rudi Johnson200627CIN163641433
98Ahman Green200629GNB143121432
99Edgerrin James200729ARI163481426
100Willis McGahee200524BUF163531425
101Chris Johnson201328TEN163211422
102Steven Jackson200825STL122931421
103Willie Parker200525PIT152731420
104Jamaal Charles200923KAN152661417
105Marshawn Lynch201125SEA153131416
106Frank Gore200825SFO142831409
107Derrick Ward200828NYG162241409
108Joseph Addai200623IND162661406
109Matt Forte200924CHI163151400
110Michael Bush201127OAK162931395
111Maurice Jones-Drew200823JAX162791389
112Fred Taylor200630JAX152541388
113Ricky Williams200932MIA162761385
114Reggie Bush201126MIA152651382
115Maurice Jones-Drew200621JAX162441377
116Fred Jackson201130BUF102091376
117Edgerrin James200628ARI163751376
118Lamar Miller201423MIA162541374
119Rashard Mendenhall200922PIT162681369
120DeAngelo Williams200926CAR132451369
121Steven Jackson201229STL162961366
122Steven Jackson200522STL152971366
123Thomas Jones200628CHI163321364
124Cedric Benson200927CIN133181362
125Alfred Morris201325WAS162851353
126Jeremy Hill201422CIN162491339
127Brian Westbrook200829PHI142871338
128Thomas Jones200729NYJ163381336
129Marshawn Lynch200822BUF152971336

The average age of these running backs is 25.8. The youngest player to achieve this feat is 21 (Maurice Jones-Drew). The oldest player to qualify is 32 (Ricky Williams). The following is a distribution graph of the ages of the running backs:

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


94.6% of the players to reach 1,333 yards from scrimmage are under the age of 30. Only two of the 129 seasons to qualify are over the age of 30. 78.3% of the seasons fall within the age range of 23 to 28.

What does that mean for this season?

The age 29 season appears to mark a significant decline. That’s pertinent for Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, and Arian Foster, who are all entering their age 29 seasons.

Just seven of the 129 players to reach 1,333 were over the age of 29. 30-year-old running backs come with plenty concern. Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson will both be 30 years old this season. The amount of work each has received in the NFL must be a cause for concern. Justin Forsett and Rashad Jennings will also be turning 30 but have seen significantly fewer touches in the NFL.

Frank Gore turns 32 this season. This age-related study would assume that the Colts are foolish if they expect to rely on him for heavy workloads.

Fred Jackson, entering his age 34 season, is another elder statesman. Owners should expect rapid decline.