Peak Age for NFL Running Back

By Mike Braude - @BraudeM
leveon-bell
May
13
2016

When evaluating possible fantasy selections, age is a very important variable. It can tell us when players are likely to improve or regress. We’ve looked at the Peak Age for NFL Wide Receivers, now we’ll look at the Peak Age for an NFL Running Back.

Defining A Peak Season

The first question is: What is a peak season for an NFL running back? We’ll start by setting the baseline at 1,700 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns. This threshold gives us a sample size of 93. The list includes all running backs to meet the requirements since 1990 and was generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com:

RkPlayerYearAgeTmGTDTouchYScm
1Chris Johnson200924TEN16164082509
2Marshall Faulk199926STL16123402429
3Tiki Barber200530NYG16114112390
4LaDainian Tomlinson200324SDG16174132370
5Barry Sanders199729DET16143682358
6Steven Jackson200623STL16164362334
7LaDainian Tomlinson200627SDG16314042323
8Adrian Peterson201227MIN16133882314
9Edgerrin James200022IND16184502303
10Priest Holmes200229KAN14243832287
11Jamal Lewis200324BAL16144132271
12DeMarco Murray201426DAL16134492261
13Ahman Green200326GNB16204052250
14Marshall Faulk199825IND16104102227
15Terrell Davis199826DEN16234172225
16Arian Foster201024HOU16183932220
17Ricky Williams200225MIA16174302216
18Le'Veon Bell201422PIT16113732215
19Larry Johnson200627KAN16194572199
20Marshall Faulk200027STL14263352189
21LaDainian Tomlinson200223SDG16154512172
22Priest Holmes200128KAN16103892169
23Jamal Anderson199826ATL16164372165
24Emmitt Smith199526DAL16254392148
25Marshall Faulk200128STL14213432147
26LeSean McCoy201325PHI16113662146
27Edgerrin James199921IND16174312139
28Thurman Thomas199226BUF16123702113
29Priest Holmes200330KAN16273942110
30Brian Westbrook200728PHI15123722104
31Tiki Barber200429NYG16153742096
32Larry Johnson200526KAN16213692093
33Ray Rice201124BAL16153672068
34Emmitt Smith199223DAL16194322048
35Thurman Thomas199125BUF15123502038
36Terrell Davis199725DEN15154112037
37Barry Foster199224PIT16114262034
38Tiki Barber200227NYG16113741984
39Ahman Green200124GNB16113661981
40Jamaal Charles201327KAN15193291980
41Maurice Jones-Drew201126JAX16113861980
42Eddie George200027TEN16164531962
43Shaun Alexander200528SEA16283851958
44LaDainian Tomlinson200728SDG16183751949
45Curtis Martin200431NYJ16144121942
46Matt Forte201328CHI16123631933
47Doug Martin201223TAM16123681926
48Brian Westbrook200627PHI15113221916
49Clinton Portis200322DEN13143281905
50Charlie Garner200230OAK16112731903
51Emmitt Smith199324DAL14103401900
52Barry Sanders199527DET16123621898
53Adrian Peterson200823MIN16103851885
54Clinton Portis200221DEN16173061872
55Robert Smith200028MIN16103311869
56Chris Warren199426SEA16113741868
57Shaun Alexander200427SEA16203761866
58Barry Sanders199123DET15173831855
59Ricky Watters199627PHI16134041855
60Terrell Davis199624DEN16153811848
61Matt Forte201429CHI16103681846
62Edgerrin James200527IND15144041843
63Arian Foster201125HOU13123311841
64Curtis Martin200128NYJ16103861833
65LaDainian Tomlinson200526SDG16203901832
66Thurman Thomas199024BUF16133201829
67Emmitt Smith199425DAL15224181825
68Emmitt Smith199122DAL16134141821
69Adrian Peterson200924MIN16183571819
70Dorsey Levens199727GNB16123821805
71Marshall Faulk199421IND16123661804
72Charlie Garner200028SFO16103261789
73Marshawn Lynch201226SEA16123381786
74Barry Sanders199022DET16162911784
75LaDainian Tomlinson200425SDG15183921776
76Domanick Williams200424HOU15143701776
77Maurice Jones-Drew200924JAX16163711765
78Eddie George199926TEN16133671762
79Curtis Martin199522NWE16153981748
80Travis Henry200224BUF16143681747
81Deuce McAllister200224NOR15163721740
82Michael Turner200826ATL16173821740
83Corey Dillon200430NWE15133601738
84Ahman Green200023GNB16133361734
85Clinton Portis200524WAS16113821732
86Shaun Alexander200326SEA16163681730
87Ricky Williams200326MIA16104421723
88Willie Parker200626PIT16163681716
89Matt Forte200823CHI16123791715
90Curtis Martin200027NYJ16113861712
91Adrian Peterson201530MIN16113571707
92Ricky Watters199526PHI16123991707
93Barry Sanders199628DET16113311700

The average age of this group is 25.66. Here’s a distribution graph of their ages:

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


The youngest players to accomplish a peak season were 21. Only Curtis Martin attained the feat after the age of 30. The peak is from age 24 to 28 – 71% of the seasons fall within this range. The decline appears to start at age 29, with the wheels falling off at age 31.

Re-Defining A Peak Season

We’re re-defining the peak season to see if it changes the distribution of ages. To do this, we’ll drop the requirements to 1,550 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns. This criterion broadens our sample size to 154 seasons. The players are listed in the table below. This list was generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com:

RkPlayerYearAgeTmGTDTouchYScm
1Chris Johnson200924TEN16164082509
2Marshall Faulk199926STL16123402429
3Tiki Barber200530NYG16114112390
4LaDainian Tomlinson200324SDG16174132370
5Barry Sanders199729DET16143682358
6Steven Jackson200623STL16164362334
7LaDainian Tomlinson200627SDG16314042323
8Adrian Peterson201227MIN16133882314
9Edgerrin James200022IND16184502303
10Priest Holmes200229KAN14243832287
11Jamal Lewis200324BAL16144132271
12DeMarco Murray201426DAL16134492261
13Ahman Green200326GNB16204052250
14Marshall Faulk199825IND16104102227
15Terrell Davis199826DEN16234172225
16Arian Foster201024HOU16183932220
17Ricky Williams200225MIA16174302216
18Le'Veon Bell201422PIT16113732215
19Larry Johnson200627KAN16194572199
20Marshall Faulk200027STL14263352189
21Frank Gore200623SFO1693732180
22LaDainian Tomlinson200223SDG16154512172
23Priest Holmes200128KAN16103892169
24Barry Sanders199426DET1683752166
25Jamal Anderson199826ATL16164372165
26Deuce McAllister200325NOR1684202157
27Emmitt Smith199526DAL16254392148
28Marshall Faulk200128STL14213432147
29LeSean McCoy201325PHI16113662146
30Edgerrin James199921IND16174312139
31Thurman Thomas199226BUF16123702113
32Priest Holmes200330KAN16273942110
33Garrison Hearst199827SFO1693492105
34Brian Westbrook200728PHI15123722104
35Tiki Barber200429NYG16153742096
36Larry Johnson200526KAN16213692093
37Ray Rice201124BAL16153672068
38Emmitt Smith199223DAL16194322048
39Ray Rice200922BAL1683322041
40Thurman Thomas199125BUF15123502038
41Terrell Davis199725DEN15154112037
42Barry Foster199224PIT16114262034
43Edgerrin James200426IND1693852031
44Tiki Barber200227NYG16113741984
45Ahman Green200124GNB16113661981
46Jamaal Charles201327KAN15193291980
47Maurice Jones-Drew201126JAX16113861980
48Eddie George200027TEN16164531962
49Shaun Alexander200528SEA16283851958
50LaDainian Tomlinson200728SDG16183751949
51Curtis Martin200431NYJ16144121942
52Jamaal Charles201024KAN1682751935
53Matt Forte201328CHI16123631933
54Doug Martin201223TAM16123681926
55Brian Westbrook200627PHI15113221916
56Clinton Portis200322DEN13143281905
57Charlie Garner200230OAK16112731903
58Emmitt Smith199324DAL14103401900
59Barry Sanders199527DET16123621898
60Adrian Peterson200823MIN16103851885
61Clinton Portis200221DEN16173061872
62Robert Smith200028MIN16103311869
63Chris Warren199426SEA16113741868
64Lorenzo White199226HOU1683221867
65Shaun Alexander200427SEA16203761866
66Barry Sanders199123DET15173831855
67Ricky Watters199627PHI16134041855
68Ricky Watters200031SEA1693411855
69Terrell Davis199624DEN16153811848
70Matt Forte201429CHI16103681846
71Edgerrin James200527IND15144041843
72Arian Foster201125HOU13123311841
73Curtis Martin200128NYJ16103861833
74LaDainian Tomlinson200526SDG16203901832
75Thurman Thomas199024BUF16133201829
76Emmitt Smith199425DAL15224181825
77Emmitt Smith199122DAL16134141821
78Adrian Peterson200924MIN16183571819
79Dorsey Levens199727GNB16123821805
80Marshall Faulk199421IND16123661804
81Charlie Garner200028SFO16103261789
82Marshawn Lynch201226SEA16123381786
83Barry Sanders199022DET16162911784
84LaDainian Tomlinson200425SDG15183921776
85Domanick Williams200424HOU15143701776
86Jerome Bettis199725PIT1593901775
87Maurice Jones-Drew200924JAX16163711765
88Eddie George199926TEN16133671762
89Curtis Martin199522NWE16153981748
90Travis Henry200224BUF16143681747
91Deuce McAllister200224NOR15163721740
92Michael Turner200826ATL16173821740
93Corey Dillon200430NWE15133601738
94Ahman Green200023GNB16133361734
95Clinton Portis200524WAS16113821732
96Shaun Alexander200326SEA16163681730
97Tiki Barber200025NYG1693231725
98Ricky Williams200326MIA16104421723
99Fred Taylor200226JAX1683361722
100Willie Parker200626PIT16163681716
101Matt Forte200823CHI16123791715
102Curtis Martin200027NYJ16113861712
103Adrian Peterson201530MIN16113571707
104Ricky Watters199526PHI16123991707
105Clinton Portis200827WAS1693701705
106C.J. Spiller201225BUF1682501703
107Barry Sanders199628DET16113311700
108Napoleon Kaufman199724OAK1683121697
109Alfred Morris201224WAS16133461690
110Terry Allen199224MIN16153151679
111Marshawn Lynch201428SEA16173171673
112LeSean McCoy201022PHI1592851672
113Darren McFadden201023OAK13102701664
114Shaun Alexander200124SEA16163531661
115Steve Slaton200822HOU16103181659
116Mike Anderson200027DEN16153201656
117Peyton Hillis201024CLE16133311654
118Curtis Martin199825NYJ1594121652
119Clinton Portis200726WAS16113721651
120Fred Taylor199822JAX15173081644
121Arian Foster201226HOU16173911641
122Adrian Peterson201025MIN15133191639
123Fred Taylor200024JAX13143281639
124DeAngelo Williams200825CAR16202951636
125Shaun Alexander200225SEA16183541635
126Devonta Freeman201523ATL15143381634
127Ahman Green200225GNB1493431633
128Stephen Davis200026WAS15113651631
129LeSean McCoy201123PHI15203211624
130Ray Rice201225BAL16103181621
131Matt Forte201025CHI1692881616
132Ricky Watters199829SEA1693711612
133Chris Johnson201025TEN16123601609
134Adrian Peterson200722MIN14132731609
135Dorsey Levens199929GNB14103501607
136Stephen Davis200329CAR1483321603
137LaDainian Tomlinson200122SDG16103981603
138Ricky Watters199425SFO16113051596
139Chris Warren199527SEA16163451593
140LaMont Jordan200527OAK14113421588
141Knowshon Moreno201326DEN16133011586
142Natrone Means199422SDG16123821585
143Barry Sanders199224DET16103411577
144Arian Foster201428HOU13132981573
145Marshawn Lynch201327SEA16143371573
146Duce Staley200227PHI1683201570
147Eddie Lacy201424GNB16132881566
148Neal Anderson199026CHI15133021562
149Warrick Dunn200025TAM1692921555
150Jerome Bettis199624PIT16113421553
151Marshall Faulk199522IND16143451553
152Jamal Lewis200728CLE15113281552
153Edgerrin James200325IND13113611551
154Eddie George199623HOU1683581550

The average age dropped to 25.44. Here’s a distribution graph of their ages:

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


The peak remains intact – however the player pool got younger. The peak is from age 24 to 27 – 63% of the peak seasons fall within this range. 89% of the peak seasons fall within age 22 to age 28. Just 4.5% of the peak seasons happened after the age of 29.

This distribution (in conjunction with our previous study) concludes that wide receivers have a longer shelf life than running backs.

What Does This Mean For 2016?

Obviously this doesn’t bode well for the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, who will be 31 this season. Other significant backs over the age of 30 include: Frank Gore (33), DeAngelo Williams (33), Matt Forte (31), Rashad Jennings (31), and Justin Forsett (31).

It’s also significant to note that Jamaal Charles is entering his age 30 season. Jonathan Stewart will be 29 years old this season.

It’s a smart idea to target young, talented running backs who back up older backs who are likely to struggle due to potential injuries or a regression in physical ability.

At 24 years old, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson will be squarely in their primes.

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