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Old running backs

Posted by Doug on March 29, 2006

This is my first week doing this, so I'm still trying to figure out how this here blog is going to operate. A few posts back I promised you a more mathematically elaborate version of The Favorite Toy, and that's still coming. But along the way I keep stumbling across interesting bits of trivia that seem worth mentioning. Plus, all this talk about Emmitt reminded me that I need to deliver my "Emmitt Smith was not some slightly above average running back who happened to win the supporting cast lottery" rant.

So I'm going to go ahead and mention the trivia bits, deliver the rants as needed, and get back to The Toy whenever I get back to it.

My most recent trivial observation is that old running backs are getting more productive. Good seasons from running backs in their 30s used to be rare, but they are becoming much more common. Below is a chart showing the percentage of the league's rushing yards and TDs (by running backs only --- QBs and WRs have been eliminated from the data) accounted for by backs aged 30 or more. As you can see, those percentages are higher now than they ever have been. The Teams column shows the number of teams whose leading rusher was 30 or older.

Year    PctYD   PctTD  Teams    Top 30+ rushers
1978     5.5     5.6     2    Otis (664)  Bleier (633)
1979     6.3     8.2     2    Riggins (1153)  Csonka (837)
1980     5.1     5.6     1    Harris (789)  Armstrong (470)
1981     6.2     7.2     1    Harris (987)  Riggins (714)
1982     7.3     3.0     2    Harris (604)  Riggins (553)
1983     9.8    12.3     3    Riggins (1347)  Harris (1007)
1984    12.6    15.1     4    Payton (1684)  Riggins (1239)
1985    13.4     9.3     2    Payton (1551)  Dorsett (1307)
1986     9.0     6.5     3    Payton (1333)  Dorsett (748)
1987     5.9     6.0     0    Pollard (536)  Payton (533)
1988     9.5    13.6     2    Brooks (931)  Ferrell (924)
1989    11.3    11.7     3    Brooks (1239)  Anderson (1023)
1990    14.1    17.3     3    Brooks (1004)  Anderson (784)
1991    13.7    13.9     3    Okoye (1031)  Craig (590)
1992    14.0    16.5     4    Walker (1070)  Byner (998)
1993     6.4    11.8     2    Allen (764)  Walker (746)
1994     6.1     7.1     2    Allen (709)  Walker (528)
1995     4.6     3.4     1    Allen (890)  Byner (432)
1996     7.8     9.5     2    Thomas (1033)  Allen (830)
1997     6.7     7.3     0    Thomas (643)  Allen (505)
1998    11.0    10.2     2    Sanders (1491)  Allen (700)
1999    13.6    15.3     3    Smith (1397)  Watters (1210)
2000    12.7    13.7     3    Watters (1242)  Smith (1203)
2001    12.6     9.7     5    Hearst (1206)  Smith (1021)
2002    15.8    17.9     6    Stewart (1021)  Smith (982)
2003    19.1    24.2     7    Holmes (1420)  Martin (1308)
2004    19.0    23.7     6    Martin (1697)  Dillon (1635)
2005    18.6    21.4     6    Barber (1860)  Dunn (1416)

This might be a fluke. It is a lock that these percentages will decrease next year, probably by a lot. Barber, Dunn, and Mike Anderson will almost certainly see declines, Curtis Martin and Corey Dillon won't be able to pick up much --- if any --- of the slack, and the only runner of any consequence who turns 30 this year is Fred Taylor.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 29th, 2006 at 5:11 am and is filed under History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.