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.

2000Lamar Smith, Mia.312011,1391,34016261.013
2001Priest Holmes, K.C.626141,5552,16910338.92
2001Lamar Smith, Mia.302349681,2028198.218
2002Priest Holmes, K.C.706721,6152,28724442.71
2003Moe Williams, Minn.656447451,3898251.912
2003Priest Holmes, K.C.746901,4202,11027447.01
2004Reuben Droughns, Den.322411,2401,4818228.115
2004Nick Goings, Car.453948211,2157208.520
2004Priest Holmes, K.C.191878921,07915216.918
2005Reuben Droughns, Clev.393691,2321,6012211.114
2007Earnest Graham, T.B.493248981,22210231.210
2008Derrick Ward, NYG413841,0251,4092193.920
2008Michael Turner, Atl.6411,6991,74017282.04
2010Michael Turner, Atl.12851,3711,45612229.614
2011• Darren Sproles, N.O.867106031,31310277.35
2011Michael Turner, Atl.171681,3401,50811233.88
2012• Darren Sproles, N.O.756672449118216.113
2013Joique Bell, Det.535476501,1978222.714
2014Joique Bell, Det.343228601,1828200.213
2017• Dion Lewis, N.E.322148961,11010203.013

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.

—Ian Allan