Considering we were able to find definitive conclusions by researching the Peak Age for Wide Receivers, it’s certainly worth checking if the same is true for running backs. Running backs are known to have a shorter lifespan but does that mean we can trust the best guys for three years or five years or somewhere in between? This research will help us determine the Peak Age for Running Backs.

Defining A Peak Season

Since we took the average of the WR1s of the 2013 season for the first Peak Age article, there’s no reason to deviate from that strategy here. The RB1s or top 12 running backs from 2013 are listed below:

 NameRush YardsRush TDsRecsRec YardsRec TDs
1Jamaal Charles128812706937
2Matt Forte13419755923
3LeSean McCoy16079525392
4Knowshon Moreno103910605483
5Marshawn Lynch125712363162
6DeMarco Murray11249533481
7Eddie Lacy117811352570
8Reggie Bush10064545063
9Chris Johnson10776423454
10Adrian Peterson126610291711
11Fred Jackson8969463751
12Danny Woodhead4252766056

The average numbers from a RB1 in PPR leagues this past season are posted above. To increase the number of our sample size, we’re going to add the yards and touchdowns together and include any running back that had 1,566 total yards, 52 receptions, and 11 total touchdowns.

Examining Historical Seasons

Since 1990, 43 seasons qualify as peak seasons under this criterion. They are listed below, sorted by rushing yards. This list was generated by

1Tiki Barber2005301635718605.219545309.812
2LaDainian Tomlinson2006271634818155.2228565089.073
3Emmitt Smith1995261637717734.725623756.050
4Emmitt Smith1992231637317134.5918593355.681
5Edgerrin James2000221638717094.4213635949.435
6LaDainian Tomlinson2002231637216834.5214794896.191
7LaDainian Tomlinson2003241631316455.26131007257.254
8Arian Foster2010241632716164.9416666049.152
9Priest Holmes2002291431316155.1621706729.63
10LeSean McCoy2013251631416075.1295253910.372
11Edgerrin James1999211636915534.2113625869.454
12Steven Jackson2006231634615284.4213908068.963
13Tiki Barber2004291632215184.71135257811.122
14Thurman Thomas1992261631214874.7795862610.793
15LaDainian Tomlinson2007281631514744.6815604757.923
16Dorsey Levens1997271632914354.367533706.985
17Priest Holmes2003301632014204.4427746909.320
18Thurman Thomas1991251528814074.8976263110.185
19Maurice Jones-Drew2009241631213914.4615533747.061
20Tiki Barber2002271630413874.5611695978.650
21Ahman Green2001241630413874.569625949.582
22Marshall Faulk2001281426013825.3212837659.229
23Marshall Faulk1999261625313815.46787104812.055
24Ray Rice2011241629113644.6912767049.263
25Marshall Faulk2000271425313595.37188183010.258
26Matt Forte2013281628913394.639745948.033
27LaDainian Tomlinson2004251533913353.9417534418.321
28Brian Westbrook2007281527813334.797907718.575
29Jamaal Charles2013271525912874.9712706939.97
30Marshall Faulk1994211631412824.08115252210.041
31Ricky Watters1995261633712733.78116243471
32Matt Forte2008231631612383.928634777.574
33Arian Foster2011251327812244.4105361711.642
34Brian Westbrook2006271524012175.077776999.084
35Curtis Martin2000271631612043.819705087.262
36Domanick Williams2004241530211883.9313685888.651
37Peyton Hillis2010241627011774.3611614777.822
38Shaun Alexander2002251629511753.9816594607.82
39Ahman Green2000231626311754.4710735597.663
40Knowshon Moreno2013261624110384.3110605489.133
41LaMont Jordan2005271427210253.779705638.042
42Charlie Garner200230161829625.2979194110.344
43Ricky Watters199425162398773.6766671910.895

The average age for this grouping is 25.65. About two years younger than the average of WR1s. The youngest player on this list is 21, with the oldest being 30. Here’s a look at the distribution:

While the peak isn’t as crystal clear as wide receivers, it looks like the running backs peak lasts from age 23-27. In fact, 72.1% of these historical seasons fall within that range. Let’s see what happens if we increase our sample size.

Re-Defining a Peak Season

Since the NFL has become extremely pass-heavy over recent years, the reception numbers for all positions are inflated. To increase our sample size, we’ll include all running backs that have 1,750 total yards and 12 touchdowns since 1990.

By lowering the threshold, we broadened our sample size to 59. The players are listed in a table below. This list was generated by

1Adrian Peterson2012271634820976.0312402175.431
2Jamal Lewis2003241638720665.3414262057.880
3Barry Sanders1997291633520536.1311333059.243
4Terrell Davis1998261639220085.1221252178.682
5Chris Johnson2009241635820065.6145050310.062
6Ahman Green2003261635518835.315503677.345
7Shaun Alexander2005281637018805.082715785.21
8Ricky Williams2002251638318534.8416473637.721
9Jamal Anderson1998261641018464.5142731911.812
10LaDainian Tomlinson2006271634818155.2228565089.073
11Larry Johnson2006271641617894.31741410102
12Emmitt Smith1995261637717734.725623756.050
13Terrell Davis1997251536917504.7415422876.830
14Larry Johnson2005261633617505.21203334310.391
15Emmitt Smith1992231637317134.5918593355.681
16Edgerrin James2000221638717094.4213635949.435
17Curtis Martin2004311637116974.5712412455.982
18Shaun Alexander2004271635316964.816231707.394
19LaDainian Tomlinson2002231637216834.5214794896.191
20LaDainian Tomlinson2003241631316455.26131007257.254
21Arian Foster2010241632716164.9416666049.152
22Priest Holmes2002291431316155.1621706729.63
23Clinton Portis2003221329015915.4914383148.260
24Marshawn Lynch2012261631515905.0511231968.521
25Emmitt Smith1991221636515634.2812492585.271
26Edgerrin James1999211636915534.2113625869.454
27Barry Sanders1991231534215484.5316413077.491
28Terrell Davis1996241634515384.4613363108.612
29Steven Jackson2006231634615284.4213908068.963
30Tiki Barber2004291632215184.71135257811.122
31Eddie George2000271640315093.7414504539.062
32Clinton Portis2002211627315085.52153336411.032
33Edgerrin James2005271536015064.1813443377.661
34Barry Sanders1995271631415004.7811483988.291
35Thurman Thomas1992261631214874.7795862610.793
36Emmitt Smith1994251536814844.0321503416.821
37LaDainian Tomlinson2007281631514744.6815604757.923
38LaDainian Tomlinson2005261633914624.3118513707.252
39Doug Martin2012231631914544.5611494729.631
40Dorsey Levens1997271632914354.367533706.985
41Priest Holmes2003301632014204.4427746909.320
42Ricky Watters199627163531411413514448.710
43Thurman Thomas1991251528814074.8976263110.185
44Maurice Jones-Drew2009241631213914.4615533747.061
45Adrian Peterson2009241631413834.4184343610.140
46Marshall Faulk2001281426013825.3212837659.229
47Marshall Faulk1999261625313815.46787104812.055
48Ray Rice2011241629113644.6912767049.263
49Marshall Faulk2000271425313595.37188183010.258
50Matt Forte2013281628913394.639745948.033
51LaDainian Tomlinson2004251533913353.9417534418.321
52Brian Westbrook2007281527813334.797907718.575
53Eddie George1999261632013044.089474589.744
54Barry Sanders1990221625513045.11133648013.333
55Thurman Thomas1990241627112974.79114953210.862
56Jamaal Charles2013271525912874.9712706939.97
57Marshall Faulk1994211631412824.08115252210.041
58Arian Foster2011251327812244.4105361711.642
59Domanick Williams2004241530211883.9313685888.651

The average from this group is 25.44 years old, 0.21 years younger than our previous grouping. Here’s a look at the distribution:

The peak on this distribution appears to be from 24-27. While 71.2% fall within the 23-27 range that we examined with the last grouping, 62.7% fall within 24-27. It’s also fair to assume that taking a risk on 30-year-old running backs is ill advised.

What does that mean for 2014?

Remember that touches are the biggest correlation for fantasy success for running backs and that players shouldn’t purely be drafted off of age. What this does teach us for is once we have a solidified star (Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, etc.); he is mostly likely to peak from 24-27. When is he likely to fall off? Could be as early as 28 or as late as 30.

This season we have Frank Gore, DeAngelo Williams, and Steven Jackson turning 31. Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Reggie Bush and Chris Johnson turning 29. While we can’t make strong conclusions, this is something to keep an eye on. Especially for guys like Reggie Bush and Chris Johnson who rely on their speed to make plays.

Another fair question to ask: does this have an impact on who you select 1st overall? LeSean McCoy’s 26 looks better than Jamaal Charles’ 28. Sadly the Darren Sproles trade has may have spoiled this.