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RB Production After Seasons With 400+ Touches
(Including Regular & Postseason)

There has been a lot of discussion about RB performance after seasons with an intensive workload. Most of that debate has been fueled with an arbitrary number of 350 carries in a season, and those discussions have typically involved regular season numbers only. Several people have entered the fray clamoring to include numbers from the postseason as well, as piling on carries closer to opening day for the next year, in theory, should not be helpful to a player's chances to succeed in the following season. I decided to look into this to see if there was merit to these claims, and there certainly does seem to be a trend to support a decrease in performance. I used 400 touches as the line in the sand, and here's what I found.

For starters, let's review who qualified: players with 400 or more touches including regular season rushes, regular season receptions, postseason rushes, and postseason receptions. To date, there have been 69 such occurrences over the years compiled by 37 running backs. Of particular interest would be the forthcoming seasons for Shaun Alexander (448), Tiki Barber (427), Edgerrin James (422), and Clinton Portis (408), all of whom were on the north side of the 400-touch line in 2005.

What the RB did in the year with 400+ touches

  • Averaged 352.4 regular season carries and 47.6 regular season receptions for 400 regular season touches
  • Averaged 42.8 touches in the postseason for a total average of 442.8 touches overall
  • Averaged a fantasy ranking of RB 3.68
  • 68 of the 69 ranked in the Top 10 (the exception being Jamal Lewis in his rookie season)
  • 57 of the 69 RB appeared in the postseason and 12 did not
  • 36 of the 69 had 400 regular season touches
  • 66 of the 69 had 350 regular season touches
  • All 69 had 300 regular season touches
  • Played in an average of 15.7 games that year
  • Averaged a ranking of 5.67 overall in yearend positional value rankings (comparing players at all positions among themselves and then ranking the players across all positions)

What the RB did the year after having 400+ touches

  • Averaged 275.8 regular season carries and 39.6 regular season receptions for 315.4 regular season touches
  • Averaged 25.8 touches in the postseason for a total average of 341.2 touches overall.
  • Averaged a fantasy ranking of RB 17.8
  • 36 of 64 ranked in the Top 10, 40 ranked in the Top 12, 54 ranked in the Top 24, and 7 ranked out of the Top 30 RB
  • 6 ranked higher, 10 ranked the same, and 48 ranked lower in the yearend fantasy RB rankings
  • 34 of 64 appeared in the postseason and 30 did not
  • 14 of 64 had 400 regular season touches
  • 27 of 64 had 350 regular season touches
  • 44 of 64 had 300 regular season touches
  • 57 of 64 had 200 regular season touches
  • 60 of 64 had 100 regular season touches
  • Played in an average of 13.4 games that year

Other Interesting Tidbits

  • Emmitt Smith gets the Iron Man award for having six straight seasons with 400+ touches
  • Terrell Davis had 1,031 touches combined in 1997 and 1998, the highest for a 2-year span.
  • RB with three or more 400+ touch seasons: Emmitt Smith (6), Curtis Martin (5), Edgerrin James (5), Eric Dickerson (3), LaDainian Tomlinson (3), Terrell Davis (3), Thurman Thomas (3), and Walter Payton (3)

Players from the Past 5 Years

  • Corey Dillon (2004) - Dropped from 360 to 231 regular season touches and from RB7 to RB16.
  • Curtis Martin (2004) - Dropped from 413 to 244 regular season touches and from RB4 to RB29.
  • Edgerrin James (2004) - Increased from 385 to 404 regular season touches and from RB6 to RB5.
  • LaDainian Tomlinson (2004) - Dropped from 392 to 390 regular season touches and ranked as RB3 each year.
  • Ahman Green (2003) - Dropped from 405 to 299 regular season touches and from RB2 to RB13.
  • Deuce McAllister (2003) - Dropped from 420 to 303 regular season touches and from RB7 to RB17.
  • Edgerrin James (2003) - Increased from 361 to 385 regular season carries and from RB10 to RB6.
  • LaDainian Tomlinson (2003) - Dropped from 413 to 392 regular season touches and ranked as RB3 each year.
  • Priest Holmes (2003) - Dropped from 394 to 215 regular season touches and from RB1 to RB12.
  • Jamal Lewis (2003) - Dropped from 413 to 245 regular season touches and from RB4 to RB25.
  • Ricky Williams (2003) - Did not play in 2004 (and no data was included for 2004 in this study).
  • LaDainian Tomlinson (2002) - Dropped from 451 to 413 touches and ranked as RB3 each year.
  • Ricky Williams (2002) - Increased from 430 to 442 regular season touches but dropped from RB2 to RB9.
  • Tiki Barber (2002) - Dropped from 372 to 347 regular season touches and from RB7 to RB15.
  • Ahman Green (2001) - Dropped from 366 to 343 regular season touches and from RB3 to RB13.
  • Curtis Martin (2001) - Dropped from 386 to 310 regular season touches and from RB5 to RB18.
  • Marshall Faulk (2001) - Dropped from 343 to 292 regular season touches and from RB1 to RB14.
  • Eddie George (2000) - Dropped from 453 to 352 regular season touches and from RB3 to RB19.
  • Edgerrin James (2000) - Dropped from 450 to 175 regular season touches and from RB2 to RB32.
  • Jamal Lewis (2000) - Dropped from 336 to 0 regular season touches and from RB16 to RB147.

That's 20 times in the past 5 years, with only Edgerrin James ranking higher from one season to the next (although LaDainian Tomlinson did rank the same three times). Those 19 RBs (remember, Williams didn't count in 2004) combined to miss 55 games the year after, so it's not like there were major injury issues to deal with (other than knee problems with Edge and Lewis).

Complaints & Possible Explanations

  • Regression to the mean. A decrease in workload and production would statistically be expected after such extreme levels. This may be just another example of players returning to more common production levels (both personally and by position).
  • RB would be expected to get banged up some anyway. The average missed time from Year X to Year X + 1 was slightly more than 2 games. The average time missed for starting RB in any given year is right around that number. The player had a healthy year followed by a less healthy one.
  • Injuries to other offensive players. If offensive lineman, key WR, or the starting QB were hurt, there's a decent chance that a stud RB would suffer.
  • Small sample size. Given that there are not a lot of examples to consider, the numbers could be skewed.
  • 400 touches is arbitrary and the wrong number to use. Why not 390 . . . or 375 . . . or 350? I picked 400 as that is a pretty hefty number and one that not many players have reached. I suspect that the lower the number, the less the production levels would have dropped.
  • The schedule was easier in Year X than Year X + 1. Given that the workloads and production both dropped, I'm not sure that the schedule had a major impact on the numbers.
  • Game conditions changed. It's not inconceivable that teams had more running situations in Year X than Year X +1. But probably not to the point that there would be a huge drop off in opportunities from one year to the next.
  • On a PPG basis, it's not like these RB did terribly the following year even if they did get hurt, thus distorting the final yearend rankings. While that may be true, there is no denying that overall this group of RB were normally not as productive as the previous year, even on a PPG basis.

Final Thoughts

Since fantasy football is built on the foundation of "what have you done for me lately," the RB listed here more than likely went at a premium on draft day in Year X +1, and most likely people overpaid for previous results. The data suggests that these players likely produced as first round picks and often as Top 5 picks, but that they produced as late second round picks (or later) in several instances. Investing a Top 5 pick overall for second or third round production could be a fatal blow to fantasy teams.

While it's hard to sit there on draft day and contemplate NOT drafting what appears to be an uber stud RB in the first round, reflecting on the past has shown that some of these guys did not pan out the next year after seasons with major, major workloads. Look what happened to Faulk, Holmes, Green, Martin, Davis, Anderson, Dillon, et al. True, some players like Edge and LT appear to have shown no ill effects, but Edge did get hurt in one of those years and LT has seen his workload fall each year (although maintaining his ranking).

To be clear, I am not suggesting avoiding these RB, only to stop and consider what history has shown to expect for results. They may not be the best draft day investments, as there is a decent chance that they could be less productive or get hurt in the next season.

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