With DeMarco Murray’s historically high workload last season, I became intrigued with studying the effects a high touch season has on a running back. There has been discussion in the past about how over 400 touches can destroy a running back in the following season but I’ve rarely seen it researched.
High Volume Benchmark
To start we need to set a benchmark – considering DeMarco Murray touched the ball 449 times in 2014, I decided to include all rushers since 2000 that were within ten percent of his total workload, or 404 touches.
Note: I didn’t include Murray’s playoff touches, which would have brought him to an absurd 498 touches.
Here is the list of all the rushers who touched the ball at least 404 times. It was created on Pro-Football-Reference.com:
This is a truly impressive list of high volume performers. This group averaged 426.9 touches for 2,189.7 yards from scrimmage. That amounts to 26.8 touches for 137.3 yards per game, at a clip of 5.1 yards per touch.
We know that these players were spectacular during their high volume seasons – or else they wouldn’t have received such high volume. The real question is how did they perform in the following season? Did the high volume affect them?
The Following Season
Since there are only 17 players to begin with, it’s obvious that our sample size is going to be small. DeMarco Murray obviously hasn’t played his following season and Ricky Williams retired following his 442-touch season in 2003. That brings our list down to 15 players:
Only four of the 17 rushers failed to top 2,000 total yards during their high volume seasons. In the following year, only two of the 15 rushers topped 2,000 total yards.
|404+ Touch Season||15.94||426.94||2189.71||137.31||26.78||5.14|
In terms of group averages, this group played 2.2 fewer games the following year. Seeing 105.4 fewer touches for 740.6 fewer yards.
On a per game basis, this group averaged 3.25 fewer touches for 31.5 fewer yards. In the following year, these players averaged 0.67 fewer yards per touch.
A Closer Look
When looking at each season closely, they can be broken down into two categories: workload and efficiency.
In terms of workload, only three out of the 15 running backs received more touches per game in the following season (Edgerrin James 01’, LaDainian Tomlinson 04’, and Ricky Williams 04’).
Efficiency is measured by a player’s yards per touch. Since we know that most players received fewer touches per game, did their efficiency go up?
In terms of yards per touch, only one out of 15 rushers improved. In 2003, LaDainian Tomlinson improved on his yards per touch by an impressive 0.92 yards. Despite seeing 2.4 fewer touches per game, Tomlinson actually gained 12.4 more yards per game. LT was truly one of a kind. He is the only player to improve his yards per touch and/or yards per game following a 404+ touch season.
As a whole, 80% of the following seasons saw fewer touches per game. 93.3% had fewer yards per game AND fewer yards per touch.
The only player who improved was Tomlinson, who was just 24. Perhaps the perfect scenario as one of the best running backs ever was at a young enough age to recover from the rigors of an NFL season.
It’s clear that a 404+ touch season is difficult to recover from and should be taken into account when projecting DeMarco Murray this season. Two other factors to consider are his injury history and how his new team will use him.
While this study was a fun exercise, it’s hard to imagine that his past touches will lead to future injuries – especially considering the six-month rest gives players an excellent chance to get healthy. These are all interesting things to think about while projecting Murray in 2015.