Earlier in the week we were kicking around the idea of whether the plug can safely be pulled on a running back if he doesn’t do much early in his career. Can we reasonably give up on a back (specifically Kenneth Dixon) if he hasn’t had a good season in his first three years?
It’s an interesting question, so I ran a few numbers. Combined a few different charts. I can find 20 running backs that in this century (since 2000) have finished a season with top-20 PPR numbers (in a season) after playing their first three seasons reaching 1,000 combined yards rushing and receiving.
So it doesn’t happen a ton, but it does happen occasionally. In this century, there have been 380 top-20 backs; 20 of them (about 5 percent) have been achieved by guys who didn’t do much of anything in their first three years.
Two active players have done it – Darren Sproles and Dion Lewis (pictured).
Priest Holmes is the king of this category. He had fewer than 700 total yards in his first three seasons, and later was best or 2nd-best running back in three different seasons.
|SLOW-STARTING RUNNING BACKS|
|2000||Lamar Smith, Mia.||31||201||1,139||1,340||16||261.0||13|
|2001||Priest Holmes, K.C.||62||614||1,555||2,169||10||338.9||2|
|2001||Lamar Smith, Mia.||30||234||968||1,202||8||198.2||18|
|2002||Priest Holmes, K.C.||70||672||1,615||2,287||24||442.7||1|
|2003||Moe Williams, Minn.||65||644||745||1,389||8||251.9||12|
|2003||Priest Holmes, K.C.||74||690||1,420||2,110||27||447.0||1|
|2004||Reuben Droughns, Den.||32||241||1,240||1,481||8||228.1||15|
|2004||Nick Goings, Car.||45||394||821||1,215||7||208.5||20|
|2004||Priest Holmes, K.C.||19||187||892||1,079||15||216.9||18|
|2005||Reuben Droughns, Clev.||39||369||1,232||1,601||2||211.1||14|
|2007||Earnest Graham, T.B.||49||324||898||1,222||10||231.2||10|
|2008||Derrick Ward, NYG||41||384||1,025||1,409||2||193.9||20|
|2008||Michael Turner, Atl.||6||41||1,699||1,740||17||282.0||4|
|2010||Michael Turner, Atl.||12||85||1,371||1,456||12||229.6||14|
|2011||• Darren Sproles, N.O.||86||710||603||1,313||10||277.3||5|
|2011||Michael Turner, Atl.||17||168||1,340||1,508||11||233.8||8|
|2012||• Darren Sproles, N.O.||75||667||244||911||8||216.1||13|
|2013||Joique Bell, Det.||53||547||650||1,197||8||222.7||14|
|2014||Joique Bell, Det.||34||322||860||1,182||8||200.2||13|
|2017||• Dion Lewis, N.E.||32||214||896||1,110||10||203.0||13|
I'm not, by the way, suggesting Kenneth Dixon should be selected in your fantasy league on the off chance he's the next rare running back who turns his career around after a slow start. But he's worth a look in August. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year (while playing less than half the year) and ran for 117 yards in their Week 17 win over the Browns.