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:

RkPlayerYearAgeTmGTouchYScm
1Larry Johnson200627KAN164572199
2Eddie George200027TEN164531962
3LaDainian Tomlinson200223SDG164512172
4Edgerrin James200022IND164502303
5DeMarco Murray201426DAL164492261
6Ricky Williams200326MIA164421723
7Steven Jackson200623STL164362334
8Ricky Williams200225MIA164302216
9Deuce McAllister200325NOR164202157
10Jamal Lewis200324BAL164132271
11LaDainian Tomlinson200324SDG164132370
12Curtis Martin200431NYJ164121942
13Tiki Barber200530NYG164112390
14Chris Johnson200924TEN164082509
15Ahman Green200326GNB164052250
16Edgerrin James200527IND154041843
17LaDainian Tomlinson200627SDG164042323

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:

RkPlayerYearAgeTmGTouchYScm
1Larry Johnson200728KAN8188745
2Eddie George200128TEN163521218
3LaDainian Tomlinson200324SDG164132370
4Edgerrin James200123IND6175855
5Steven Jackson200724STL122751273
6Ricky Williams200326MIA164421723
7Deuce McAllister200426NOR143031302
8Jamal Lewis200425BAL122451122
9LaDainian Tomlinson200425SDG153921776
10Curtis Martin200532NYJ12244853
11Tiki Barber200631NYG163852127
12Chris Johnson201025TEN163601609
13Ahman Green200427GNB152991438
14Edgerrin James200628ARI163751376
15LaDainian Tomlinson200728SDG163751949

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.

 GTouchYScmYPGTPGYPT
404+ Touch Season15.94426.942189.71137.3126.785.14
Following Season13.73321.531449.07105.7923.534.48
Difference2.21105.41740.6431.523.250.67

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.

Conclusions

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.