Football by the Numbers: Running backs and mileage

Michael Salfino
Yahoo! Sports


Key issues when projecting running backs are at what point are they simply too old to bet on and how do you account for the team environment when assessing their true skill level?


For a back like Arian Foster, assessing true skill is merely a mental exercise. He is in an elite running environment in Houston and that’s not changing for him (or us) in 2013. But it’s more important for a back who is changing teams, like Steven Jackson, who also happens to now be 30 years old and someone who has had the 11th most carries before turning 30 in league history.
So it’s with Jackson where our models converge. But the idea is to use them more broadly, of course. And to be very clear regarding the use of these models (and this applies to last week’s column on quarterbacks and YPA, too ), the model isn’t the final word. It just tells us what the baseline is. It sets the bar at what is most bettable. You can bet against the model, but you have to know that you are expecting the unlikely to happen, to whatever degree, and then have some appropriately strong basis for betting the other way. You can end up right after doing this, of course. But you should be paid to gamble, meaning the player in question should be attainable at a price that’s lower than your projection. If you draft a player like Jackson around where your projection is -- a projection, remember, that violates our historical models -- then you are actually PAYING to gamble. And that’s stupid because there is, thus far, more risk than upside.
First, let’s look at the age-30-plus performance of all the 2,000-plus carry backs in this era, which we’ll set as beginning in 1993.
How did they perform in their age 30-plus seasons compared to through their Age 29 seasons. Furthermore, was relative rushing average at age 29 an indicator of future performance?
There are 23 backs in our sample who played 1,097 age 30-plus games, averaging 4.03 yard per carry as a group versus 4.26 YPC through their age 29 season, about a quarter of a yard decline. If that happens to Jackson, he’ll be just south of 4.0 this year. Seven of the 23 were better after age 30 than before, led by Tiki Barber at plus-0.44 yards per carry. Barber was better at age 29 in YPC. So, too were two other outliers -- Curtis Martin and Thomas Jones. Ricky Williams did not have an age 29 season. Fred Taylor and Ricky Watters and Warrick Dunn also defied father time -- and all performed relatively poorly at age 29.
But other great all-time rushers cratered terribly at age 30 and older. In order of biggest decline: Shaun Alexander, Eric Dickerson, Jamal Lewis, Ahman Geen, Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson, Edgerrin James, Jerome Bettis and Eddie George. All dropped at least a third of a yard is per-carry average.
Yards rushing per game, our bread and butter with running backs, dipped even more precipitously, down 29.9% after age 30. Worse, two of our outliers on the plus side in age 30-plus yards per rush, Williams and Taylor, were down 42 and 27 rushing yards per game, respectively. So it’s fair to say that only Barber really got better when it comes to annualized fantasy football value. And 16 of our 22 backs lost more than 20 yards per game, led by James’s minus-58.7.
Furthermore, if we extend our sample to the top 50 backs of all-time, they gained 1,000-plus rushing yards in their age 30 season 33% of the time versus 54% in the age 29 season (peak was about 75% in ages 26-27).
The 2,000-plus career carry backs did average 648 carries after their age 29 season. The median was 616.
Jackson owners care about volume. But at some point, rushing performance impacts rushing opportunity. It’s fair to complain that I’ve lumped all seasons after age 30 together rather than just looking at the age 30 season. Jackson owners aren’t betting on him in 2014 and 2015, after all.
Jackson, though, was much worse last year than his 4.1 yards per carry indicate. Teammate Daryl Richardson averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 98 totes. So Jackson averaged 0.8 yards LESS per carry than his backup (after accounting for rounding), which was third worst among the 22 starting backs who had a teammate with at least 75 carries. The only two starting backs worse than him last year, relative to a running back teammate, Mikel LeShoure (1.34 yards per carry worse) and Rashad Jennings (minus-2.01) are hardly great company (and Jennings was only starting due to Maurice Jones Drew’s injury). In other words, he’s likely already begun his decline.
Jackson also has been FAR worse in carries per rushing touchdown than any of the other backs in the sample and most starting backs period -- a touchdown every 42.8 carries versus the pre-age-30 average of the group of one rushing TD every 32.4 carries. Post-30, the group’s average increased about 12% to a TD every 36.3 carries. That sets the expectation for Jackson this year at about a TD every 48.1 carries.
But, the thinking goes, the rushing environment in Atlanta is so much better than what it was in St. Louis. The touchdown environment sure seems to be (whether that translates into a like number of additional goal-line runs is another matter). But the rushing environment aside from that does not appear to be. After all, the Falcons were 29th in yards per rushing attempt last year. Blame that all on Michael Turner if you want, but Turner had 38 broken tackles in less attempts than Jackson, who had just 22. He also had slightly more breakaway runs per carry (nine in 222 versus 10 in 258 for Jackson).
So our MODEL PROJECTION for Jackson in 2013: 218 carries, 869 yards, five rushing TDs. Adjust those numbers upward for how much better you think Jackson is than the runners in the group and for the environment in Atlanta, but be careful.
Also remember that a case can be made that Turner was at least as good as Jackson as a runner last year and Turner’s backup Jacquizz Rodgers, out-performed Turner in yards per rush.
BONUS COVERAGE: Let’s look at the worst starting running backs relative to the performance of backups with at least 75 carries last year and the best backups relative to the starter (i.e., they averaged more yards per rush than their team’s starting back).
Best starters: C.J. Spiller (plus-2.21 YPR), Adrian Peterson (plus-2.17), Jamaal Charles (plus-1.65), Matt Forte (plus-0.8), Reggie Bush (plus-0.77), DeAngelo Williams (plus-0.65), Marshawn Lynch (plus-0.62), Ryan Mathews (plus-0.57).
Worst returning starters: Jackson (minus-0.8 vs. backup Richardson), LeSean McCoy (minus-0.7, Bryce Brown), Mark Ingram (minus-0.64, Pierre Thomas), Ray Rice (minus-0.48, Bernard Pierce).
BONUS BONUS COVERAGE: Foster did not have a single backup at 75-plus carries. But his two top backups combined to average 5.1, which would make Foster (4.1) even worse, relatively speaking, than Jackson was in 2012 for the Rams.

  • Nick Diaz Reportedly Jumped by 4 Men, Involved in Las Vegas Nightclub Incident

    UFC star Nick Diaz was reportedly attacked by four assailants outside a Las Vegas nightclub in the early hours of Wednesday morning. "I didn't start it," Diaz told TMZ. "They didn't know who I was." Per ESPN's Brett Okamoto, Diaz's role in the altercation has been cleared up by the club: Diaz said he would not be pursuing prosecution for his attackers and told TMZ that the assailants "got the worst of it." According to TMZ, Diaz did attempt to defend himself, although he was struck in the head. The altercation is said to have turned into a melee that spilled into the Bellagio casino and culminated in the attackers "swinging chairs and brawling with club and casino staffers" before being escorted

    Bleacher Report
  • Aly Raisman on How the Final Five Reacted to Gabby Douglas Getting Bullied

    During the Olympic games, Final Five member Gabby Douglas watched herself be torn apart by internet trolls who dubbed her “Crabby Gabby” for not appearing supportive enough of her teammates during the all-around team competition (Douglas reportedly wasn’t as smiley as her other teammates in the stands) or patriotic enough during the medal ceremony (Douglas did not have her hand on her heart). Now, with the games behind them, Final Five team captain Aly Raisman opened up to E! News about what she, Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, and Madison Kocian were doing behind the scenes to help their teammate.

    Elle
  • Lane Johnson says he'll sue supplement company over suspension

    Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson first complained about the NFLPA’s lack of supplement testing after his positive test triggered a 10-game suspension. Now he says he’ll sue the supplement company that he says sold him the amino acids that led to the positive test. Johnson had $25 million in guaranteed money remaining on his deal, but the positive test meant none of that money is guaranteed anymore due to a clause in his contract.

    Shutdown Corner
  • Billy Bush on Ryan Lochte's Robbery Lie: 'Did He Besmirch America's Character? Yes'

    Billy Bush is opening up about his now-infamous interview with swimmer Ryan Lochte about his fabricated robbery in Rio. Yes, it was an unfortunate thing for us, because it was such a sideshow for the second week of the Olympics," Bush said during a SiriusXM Today Show sit-down. Bush was the first to track down Lochte for an interview after the swimmer's mother, Ileana Lochte, told USA Today that her son and some of his teammates had been held up during a night out in Rio.

    People
  • The Top 10 Instagram Posts From Rio 2016

    From Usain Bolt’s signature pose to Simone Biles’ smooch from Zac Efron, here are the most-liked photos on Instagram from Olympic athletes.From Town & Country

    Town & Country
  • David Ortiz Skeptical Of Ted Williams’ ‘Unhuman’ Red Seat Home Run

    Have you ever looked at the red seat located in the right field bleachers at Fenway Park and thought, “How the heck could someone hit a baseball that far?” If so, you’re not alone. The red seat — in Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21 — is stationed 502 feet from home plate and marks the longest home run in Fenway history, struck by Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams on June 9, 1946. The problem is the feat seems so unbelievable that some, including Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, can’t help but question the story’s validity. “You see how strong ballplayers are today” Ortiz said Monday, according to the Boston Herald. “And I’m not saying Mr. Ted Williams wasn’t. But you see how far guys are hitting balls

    New England Sports Network
  • Review: 'Madden NFL 17' runs hard, plays it safe

    Despite its incredible complexity and depth, Madden 17 is surprisingly kind to new players, as well as those who haven’t memorized every NFL team’s gameplay strategy. The upgraded run mechanics and countless small improvements certainly keep it a step ahead of Madden 16.

    Ben Silverman
  • League of Legends esports is in chaos over low pay, untimely patches, and more (UPDATED)

    The League of Legends esports scene is a mess right now. In the past few months, tensions between Riot Games and team owners within the LCS have been rising. There is a rift (sorry) between the owners and Riot due to disagreements about how the LCS and the rest of League esports should be run.

    Taylor Cocke
  • Yoenis Cespedes says he won't opt out of Mets contract

    The New York Mets somehow finding a way to bring back outfielder Yoenis Cespedes this past winter was one of the biggest stories of the offseason. After singlehandedly taking the Mets to the playoffs with a spectacular second half, it was assumed Cespedes’ price range on the market would exceed what the Mets were willing to pay. In order to bring back Cespedes, the Mets needed to get creative with their deal.

    Big League Stew
  • John Wall and Bradley Beal are trying to learn to like each other

    John Wall and Bradley Beal feel the love. The Washington Wizards have been an excellent example of that difficulty. General manager Ernie Grunfeld opened this decade by selecting two very promising guards in John Wall (the first-overall pick in 2010) and Bradley Beal (third in 2012), and both have impressed enough to earn max-level contracts as the future leaders of the franchise.

    Ball Don't Lie
  • Aly Raisman Courted on Twitter by NFL Star

    Forget Olympic Village dating apps. Gold medalist Aly Raisman managed to score a date with an NFL star over Twitter. After a proposition by Oakland Raiders tight end Colton Underwood, Raisman agreed to a double date with fellow Olympian Shawn Johnson and her husband Andrew East, who also plays for the Raiders. It all began with a video on Yahoo! Sports, during which Underwood tells Raisman that if she's "ever in San Jose and wants to go on a double-date with me and Andrew and Shawn, let me know." Raisman, 22, said later in the video that Underwood, 24, is "very cute" and that she would go on a date with him. The conversation then continued on Twitter. "@Colt3FIVE thanks for the sweet video....

    ABC News
  • The Patriots traded center Bryan Stork to the Redskins, but he could retire

    First, it was reported that the New England Patriots were planning on releasing their third-year center, who started in their Super Bowl XLIX win as a rookie in the 2014 season. Then word arose that the Washington Redskins, seeking an upgrade, had sent a conditional draft pick to the Patriots for Stork. Then came another odd turn: Was the concussion-plagued Stork, 25, considering retiring instead of joining his new team?

    Shutdown Corner
  • Not Even Speedo Will Root for Ryan Lochte Anymore

    After more than 10 years sponsoring Ryan Lochte, Speedo USA announced today that it will drop the Olympic swimmer from its roster. This follows a series of events that revealed Lochte lied about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio along with three teammates. The swimwear brand posted an official statement on Twitter.

    Elle
  • Gentleman Bryce Harper assists Katie Ledecky with Olympic medals

    Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky proved she’s more than a one-sport star on Wednesday night at Nationals Park. Ledecky, who won four gold medals and one silver at the Rio Olympics, fired a perfect strike for the ceremonial first pitch before Washington’s game against the rival Baltimore Orioles. Removes all her medals 1st and hands them 1 at a time to Bryce Harper.

    Big League Stew
  • How baseball's quarter-billion-dollar underdog keeps winning

    LOS ANGELES – If you’d arrived at Dodger Stadium early enough Tuesday, you’d have been treated to Rich Hill and Brett Anderson, 60 or 70 paces apart, playing catch in left field. Hill was already on the disabled list. Anderson would be in a few hours.

    Tim Brown
  • Red Wings approach training camp with an expensive goalie situation

    This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT… There was a stretch in January when Petr Mrazek wasn’t unbeatable, but it may have felt that way. He allowed only 12 goals during a nine-game stretch. Subsequently, he posted a 7-1-1 record that month. Then, there was a stretch in February and into March when he gave up 24 goals in eight appearances, including a trio of five-spots and that got people talking. His coach, Jeff Blashill, said at the time that such a run in January — citing a .956 save percentage — simply wasn’t sustainable and that Mrazek’s struggles a short time later were part of the ebb and flow of a season. When the playoffs began, Jimmy Howard started the first-round series

    ProHockeyTalk
  • NASCAR announces warnings to Xfinity teams

    In the span of less than a week, the long-term sponsor outlook of JR Motorsports dramatically has shifted from potentially bleak to firmly bright. On the heels of NASCAR phenom William Byron being added to the Xfinity Series team for the 2017 season (as part of a multiyear deal with Hendrick Motorsports), JRM announced Wednesday that sponsor OneMain has reversed course and decided to remain on Elliott Sadler’s No. 1 Chevrolet. “When we found out this was going to happen, my wife and I just cried that whole morning tears of joy knowing there’s so much stability,” Sadler, 41, told NBC Sports. OneMain, which initially had informed JRM nearly two months ago of its plan to leave NASCAR, will sponsor Sadler for 20 races in each of the next two seasons, JRM general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller said.

    NASCAR Talk
  • Syracuse Men's Soccer Team Pulls Off Viral Stunt

    The players successfully headed a soccer ball to all 25 teammates in the locker room without letting it touch the ground. All: Good morning, America. That was Syracuse university men's soccer team. Heads up, people. You won't believe the stupt they're

    ABC News Videos
  • The Lakers and the NBA are taking another chance on Yi Jianlian

    After a few frustrating free agent chase-downs with Kobe Bryant around, and a 2016 offseason without Bryant on board, the Los Angeles Lakers have mostly committed to the idea of a full-on rebuilding project. New, “rookie” head coach Luke Walton is the team’s biggest free agent signing, there won’t be any agent-favoring vet acquisitions like Carlos Boozer and Roy Hibbert to help fill out the roster, and the team seems fully bent on working with the young prospects it has alongside the 2017 NBA draft pick it will hopefully get to keep next spring. Stuck somewhere in the middle of the favors for representatives, the raw prospects to suss out, and the vets to fill out the roster is the curious case of Yi Jianlian.

    Ball Don't Lie
  • Ronda Rousey will not return at UFC 205 in New York

    If Ronda Rousey is going to return to the UFC in the future, it certainly won’t be at the fighting promotions highly anticipated debut in New York City. UFC president Dana White appeared on the “UFC Unfiltered” podcast to state that the former women’s bantamweight champion would not be fighting at UFC 205 on Nov. 12. “She’s definitely not fighting in New York,” White said.

    Cagewriter
  • Why A Freshman QB Gives Texas Best Chance To Beat Notre Dame

    Texas opens the season September 4th against 10th ranked Notre Dame. Campus Insiders' Ray Crawford spoke with Longhorns' Insider Ted Emrich about the QB battle in Austin and what fans should expect on offense with new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert.

    Campus Insiders
  • The Barclays 2016: Tee Times, TV Schedule, Prize Money

    (c) 2016 Time Inc. Stars Kick Off FedEx Cup Playoffs at The Barclays The biggest names in golf head to Bethpage to kick off the FedEx Cup playoffs, including The Barclays defending champ, Jason Day.The PGA Tour's season-ending FedEx Cup playoff series

    Golf
  • Andrew Miller induces worst swing of the season with nasty slider

    With that said, we just can’t think of another way to describe this beautiful slider from Cleveland Indians reliever Andrew Miller. Allow us to set the scene: With the Indians up by one run in the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics, the club turned to Miller to close things out. It was pretty evident Miller had his good stuff during the outing, striking out the first two hitters he faced on just seven pitches.

    Big League Stew
  • What might the U.S. men's basketball roster look like in Tokyo in 2020?

    After Team USA’s dominating 96-66 drubbing of Serbia at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to win a third straight gold medal in men’s basketball, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo called upon the rest of the world to “get their act together and compete” if they want to break the stranglehold the Americans have had on the top of the men’s hoops podium over the past eight years. As the United States’ opponents set about rebuilding, revamping and reloading their national sides with an eye toward the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, though, it’s worth wondering: what might the U.S.’s own roster look like in four years’ time? Given the gulf between the victory in Rio and the opening of play in Japan, there’s precious little we (think we) know about what will unfold for Team USA 2020.

    Fourth-Place Medal
  • Positional rankings: Projecting the NHL's top 25 left wingers in 2016-17

    (Note: These rankings are based on players' projected performances in 2016-17. Players are listed at their official NHL position when the rankings were created.) Here’s the Yahoo Sports ranking of the top 25 left wingers in the NHL for the 2016-17 season

    Yahoo Sports