Does Age Correlate with Running Back Production? (Fantasy Football)

Understanding trends and historical data is extremely crucial to fantasy football success and that elusive #FootClanTitle. It’s why I wrote an article highlighting how to address the tight end position in TE premium leagues. This season, there appear to be veteran running backs who will have big-time roles on their offense, and potentially, on our fantasy football rosters. Guys like Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, Mark Ingram, and Le’Veon Bell should all have featured roles, but there’s one common theme. All of these players are 27 years or older. Does it matter for fantasy production?

The data set selected for this research topic is from 2015-2019. I’ll identify the names of the top 12 fantasy running backs in half PPR formats (Weeks 1-16), their age at the end of the season in which they finished as an RB1, and their fantasy points. At the end of the article, I’ll draw some conclusions and discuss draft strategy based on the findings. Let’s dive in!

2015
RB Fantasy Finish Running Back Age Fantasy Points
1 Devonta Freeman 23 265.5
2 Adrian Peterson 30 232.4
3 DeAngelo Williams 32 210.3
4 Lamar Miller 24 201.6
5 Doug Martin 26 201.5
6 Todd Gurley 21 198.1
7 Danny Woodhead 30 193.4
8 David Johnson 24 184.4
9 Chris Ivory 27 179.6
10 Mark Ingram 26 178.4
11 Latavius Murray 25 174.7
12 Matt Forte 30 174.2

Avg Age of RB1: 26.5
Age of oldest RB1:
32
# of RBs 27+ years old:
4

2016
RB Fantasy Finish Running Back Age Fantasy Points
1 David Johnson 25 361.9
2 Ezekiel Elliott 21 309.4
3 Le'Veon Bell 24 279.9
4 LeSean McCoy 28 271.7
5 DeMarco Murray 28 264.9
6 Devonta Freeman 24 230.9
7 Melvin Gordon 23 230.1
8 LeGarrette Blount 30 218.3
9 Jordan Howard 22 202.1
10 Mark Ingram 27 197.0
11 Jay Ajayi 23 192.4
12 Latavius Murray 26 188.7

Avg Age of RB1: 25.1
Age of oldest RB1:
30
# of RBs 27+ years old:
4

2017
RB Fantasy Finish Running Back Age Fantasy Points
1 Todd Gurley 23 351.3
2 Le'Veon Bell 25 299.1
3 Kareem Hunt 22 259.2
4 Alvin Kamara 22 252.6
5 Melvin Gordon 24 243.7
6 Mark Ingram 28 241.6
7 LeSean McCoy 29 229.9
8 Leonard Fournette 22 196.6
9 Jordan Howard 23 186.1
10 Carlos Hyde 27 183.5
11 Christian McCaffrey 21 180.7
12 Ezekiel Elliott 22 174.6

Avg Age of RB1: 24.0
Age of oldest RB1:
29
# of RBs 27+ years old:
3

2018
RB Fantasy Finish Running Back Age Fantasy Points
1 Todd Gurley 24 342.6
2 Christian McCaffrey 22 327.5
3 Saquon Barkley 21 318.1
4 Alvin Kamara 23 313.7
5 Ezekiel Elliott 23 290.7
6 Melvin Gordon 25 242.4
7 James Conner 23 241.6
8 James White 26 218.2
9 Kareem Hunt 23 217.2
10 David Johnson 27 211.4
11 Joe Mixon 22 210.7
12 Phillip Lindsay 24 205.3

Avg Age of RB1: 23.6
Age of oldest RB1:
27
# of RBs 27+ years old:
1

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2019
RB Fantasy Finish Running Back Age Fantasy Points
1 Christian McCaffrey 23 393.9
2 Aaron Jones 25 275.0
3 Dalvin Cook 24 265.9
4 Ezekiel Elliott 23 258.8
5 Austin Ekeler 23 249.6
6 Derrick Henry 25 246.5
7 Nick Chubb 23 232.5
8 Mark Ingram 30 229.5
9 Leonard Fournette 24 221.4
10 Chris Carson 25 214.1
11 Saquon Barkley 22 198.9
12 Todd Gurley 24 194.0

Avg Age of RB1: 23.9
Age of oldest RB1:
30
# of RBs 27+ years old:
1

Data Summary:
  • In 2015-2017, there were a handful of top 12 RBs who were over the age of 27. In 2018-2019, there were just two total RBs who finished inside the top 12.
  • The age of the oldest RB1 appears to remain relatively constant over the years. In 4/5 years studied, the age of the oldest RB was at least 29 years old. 2018’s data set is likely an outlier, where the oldest RB was just 27 years old.
  • The number of RBs who finish as top 12 options that are at least 27 years old is declining. Starting in 2015 here is the number of RBs 27+ years of age who finished inside the top 12: 4 > 4 > 3 > 1 > 1.
  • In this sample set, RBs 27+ years of age averaged 217.5 fantasy points from Weeks 1-16. This amount of fantasy points would have produced on average enough points to finish as the RB8 in any given year.
Conclusions & Takeaways:

1. In general, older running backs produce less fantasy points than younger running backs.
This makes perfect sense and is probably not a surprise. There’s a reason Andy, Mike, and Jason don’t have a single RB ranked inside their top 12 for 2020 who is older than 27 years old. While possible for a veteran RB to return RB1 value, recent data suggests this an aging (pun intended) trend. Younger RBs are likely going to provide elite fantasy production.

2. Running backs age 27 or older are unlikely to finish inside the top 7 in total fantasy points.
Even if an older running back breaks into the top 12 at the position in 2020, he is unlikely to finish as an elite option at the RB position. The top half of the fantasy RB1’s are likely going to be players who are younger than 27 years old.

3. Over the last two years, running backs older than age 27 did not produce as RB1’s.
As mentioned previously, the trend in recent years is for younger RBs to produce. Only two players over the past two seasons have finished as an RB1 that were older than 27 years old. Veterans like Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, and Le’Veon Bell could be top 12 options at the end of 2020, but based off recent data, it is likely that only one of these players will crack the top 12, and if he does, he probably won’t be a top 7 option (see conclusion #2 above).

4. The average age of a RB1 in fantasy is getting younger.
First and second-year RBs are producing more and more in recent years, bringing down the average age of a top 12 RB in fantasy. Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and Ezekiel Elliott were all RB1’s in their rookie seasons. Could Jonathan Taylor and Clyde Edwards-Helaire continue the trend?

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