If you’ve followed the pro game, or the virtual one, you know the conversation in NFL circles – running backs hit a cliff at age 30. Its is a known sentiment and a widely held belief, and generally speaking it holds true. There have been examples of backs proving otherwise (Fred Jackson is made of some strange indestructible fiber it seems and Frank Gore staved off ineptitude for at least one season, though he is coming off the worst YPC of his career) but in a general sense, the old adage holds true.
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Worse yet, it may be time to advance when we acknowledge the aging process. 28’s the new 30… while late 20s and older backs may have stock brokers whose movin’ it like white tops, they also have diminishing fantasy football return on investment.
The key to building a fantasy football championship roster lies in finding value. In a general sense, the fantasy community heavily over values last year’s performance without thinking about whether or not it represents a peak – and therefore, whether you are overpaying for past production relative to predictors of future success. For most, if Player X ran for 1500 yards and 10 scores last season, he is an elite running back this year too… but players ebb and flow due to age, skill, and team context from year to year and we need to acknowledge this. Specifically, we need to avoid overpaying for a player coming off peak production.
One method of doing so is incredibly simple: look at their age. If you’ve read any of my work before you’ll know that I don’t subscribe to any theory or strategy as a hard and fast rule (if you haven’t read my work start… please?) but I do like to consider as many facets as possible to help make an evidenced based decision. One factor that should go into your player projections is where they sit on the aging spectrum.
What this shows us is that while a running back may have a year or two of solid fantasy production after his age 27 season in general he peaks at that time. In a game where owners tend to pay for last year’s successes rather than this year’s projections that phenomenon can be hurtful. You’re unlikely to see the bottom fall out entirely at age 28, but you are equally unlikely to get what you paid for.
Of course, there are other ways to look at this as well. If you can catch a player pre-peak, you’re probably finding value on his draft day price. Below, we’ve shared a list of wide receivers who will be 27 at some point this season, and have done the same for ball carriers. Beyond that, with running backs the data shows us (and
take the jump to ESPN above for a detailed analysis take my word for it) that they enter their peak range of production at age 24, so we’re going to list 24, 25 and 26 year old backs as players of interest as well.
Beyond that, you’ll also see a list of 28 and 29 year old backs entering their pre-cliff seasons, who are certainly worth avoiding if you feel like your draft room is valuing them at last year’s production. Use your judgement, your fan bias, and maybe even common sense when making a draft pick (and avoid the oversimplified labels below)… but consider the data, too.
The lists below are simple, and are presented with no analysis but provide some extra information for you to take to your draft… obviously, being 27 doesn’t vault Brian Hartline into the top 20 WRs, but it could be a useful tiebreak in your decision making.A player who will be an age for more than half the season (i.e. birthdays before/after November 1) are included in each category. Finally, those players who didn’t show up as draft worthy by ADP in standard leagues (i.e. outside the top 15 rounds) were left off.
Name / Team / ADP (standard)
27 Year Old Wide Receivers – Draft
Eric Decker / NYJ / 8.09
DeSean Jackson / Was / 5.04
Brian Hartline / Mia / 14.02
Victor Cruz / NYG / 4.03
Riley Cooper / Phi / 9.06
Emmanuel Sanders / Den / 6.06
Michael Crabtree / SF / 4.12
27 Year Old Running Backs – Draft
These age 27 NFL RBs are worth your attention this year, the numbers suggest they are likely to have their peak season.
Jamaal Charles / KC / 1.02
Knowshon Moreno / Mia / 10.03
C.J. Spiller / Buf / 3.11
LeGarrette Blount / Pit / 11.08
Ray Rice / Bal / 5.01
Darren McFadden / Oak / 9.11
Toby Gerhart / Jac / 4.02
Jonathan Stewart / Car / 13.05
Ryan Mathews / SD / 4.07
26 Year Old Running Backs – Consider
LeSean McCoy / Phi / 1.02
DeMarco Murray / Dal / 2.01
Ben Tate / Cle / 5.12
Chris Ivory / NYJ / 13.01
25 Year Old Running Backs – Consider
Alfred Morris / Was / 2.10
Andre Ellington / Ari / 3.04
Stevan Ridley / NE / 6.11
Shane Vereen / NE / 5.04
Doug Martin / TB / 3.02
24 Year Old Running Backs – Consider
Mark Ingram / NO / 10.12
Bernard Pierce / Bal / 7.11
Khiry Robinson / NO / 11.01
Lance Dunbar / Dal / 13.10
28 Year Old Running Backs – Avoid
Matt Forte / Chi / 1.05
Marshawn Lynch / Sea / 1.10
Joique Bell / Det / 5.06
Arian Foster / Hou / 2.10
29 Year Old Running Backs – Avoid
Adrian Peterson / Min / 1.03
Chris Johnson / NYJ / 5.10
Reggie Bush / Det / 3.10
Rashad Jennings / NYG / 3.12
Danny Woodhead / SD / 8.10
Pierre Thomas / NO / 7.03
Maurice Jones-Drew / Oak / 7.05
Shonn Greene / Ten / 13.09