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Young running backs

More elite numbers coming for Barkley, McCaffrey?

When a young running back is coming off a great year – like Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey – do we assume that he’s still ascending? Or is he more likely to run into trouble the following year?

The player, after all, is still young and fresh. Presumably he’ll have a slightly better feel for the team’s offense and what the game’s all about. The team may cook up new ways to use him.

On the other hand, is a player performs really well (as Barkley and McCaffrey did last year) he becomes more of a target for opposing defenses. Stopping him becomes more of a priority. And with defenses making those kind of adjustments, offenses counter by always working in plays where said player is more of a decoy.

Perhaps most importantly, running back is a tremendously punishing position. It’s hard for any player to handle that kind of workload and come back and do it again.

When you look at the overall trends, it becomes apparent that it’s smarter to bet the under on said players. While they may be young and great, it’s really hard putting up great numbers.

The below list shows the youngest members of the top 100 running backs of the last 20 years. These are the 12 players who were 22 or younger at the end of great seasons. Then I’m looking at how they fared the next season.

Of the 12, only three came back the next season and put up even better numbers. I’ve got them flagged with black dots – Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara and Edgerrin James. Only two of these backs (Kamara and James) finished with both more yards and more touchdowns.

On the list, I’ve got the guys in order of their rookie production. That is, 2001 Edgerrin James put up the best overall numbers of these young backs. He ended up tearing his ACL less than halfway through the season.

Only three young running backs put up better numbers than what Barkley did last year. Only five of these backs finished with better numbers than McCaffrey.

YearPlayerRunRecTotal TDPointsDiff
2001Edgerrin James, Ind.6621938553105.5-69%
2000• Edgerrin James, Ind.1709594230318340.38%
2017Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.98326912529179.2-39%
2019Saquon Barkley, NYG??????
2003Clinton Portis, Den.1591314190514276.5-4%
2015LeVeon Bell, Pitt.556136692387.2-70%
2019Christian McCaffrey, Car.??????
2004Clinton Portis, Den.131523515507201.0-27%
1999Fred Taylor, Jac.732838156117.5-56%
2003Travis Henry, Buff.1356158151411217.4-16%
2010Ray Rice, Balt.122055617766213.6-15%
2018Kareem Hunt, K.C.824378120214204.2-16%
2009Matt Forte, Chi.92947114004166.0-32%
2018• Alvin Kamara, N.O.883709159218273.213%

—Ian Allan

Fantasy Index