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Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey moving beyond prime years for running backs

Christian McCaffrey will be the first running back chosen in the vast majority of leagues, and that’s fair. With his ability to produce as both a runner and a receiver, he’s tough to beat. Eleven of his 31 touchdowns as a 49er have come not on runs but on passing plays (he saw more targets around the goal line than any of the many talented pass catchers on his team).

But at the same time, can we acknowledge that McCaffrey, who turns 28 next month, has moved out of the prime window of his career?

Not that he’s washed up or even slowing down all that much. He averaged a career-high 5.4 yards per attempt last year while finishing with the most rushing yards or his career. He also scored a career-high 21 touchdowns. But running backs tend to put up their best numbers before they turn 28.

Consider the chart below. It shows the 60 best seasons by running backs in the 32-team era. Only 10 of these running backs (in bold) were 28 or over. On this list, you’ll see nine running backs who were 25 and nine who were 27, but only four who were 28 years old. (The 26-year-old group has seven entries). There are three who were 29 and another three who were 30, but nobody who was older than 30.

Austin Ekeler last year provided an example of how quickly a 28-year-old running back can decline. Dalvin Cook also declined significantly last year as a 28-year-old (though his came in part because he didn’t play all that much).

At the top of the draft, the safe route might be to avoid McCaffrey by instead selecting a wide receiver. In a PPR draft, I’d be thinking hard about taking CeeDee Lamb No. 1 overall.

But McCaffrey is pretty darn good. He’s on the below list four times.

2006LaDainian Tomlinson, S.D.27161815508232331483.3
2019• Christian McCaffrey, Car.231613871005239219471.2
2003Priest Holmes, K.C.30161420690211027447.0
2003LaDainian Tomlinson, S.D.24161645725237017444.1
2002Priest Holmes, K.C.29141615672228724442.7
2006Steven Jackson, St.L.23161528806233416419.4
2016David Johnson, Ari.25161239879211820413.8
2009Chris Johnson, Ten.24162006503250916398.9
2010Arian Foster, Hou.24161616604222018396.0
2023• Christian McCaffrey, S.F.27161459564202321395.3
2003Ahman Green, G.B.26161883367225020395.0
2018• Christian McCaffrey, Car.22161098867196513388.0
2017Todd Gurley, LAR23151305788209319387.3
2002LaDainian Tomlinson, S.D.23161683489217215386.2
2018Saquon Barkley, NYG21161307721202815385.8
2013Jamaal Charles, K.C.27151287693198019382.0
2005Shaun Alexander, Sea.2816188078195828378.8
2022Austin Ekeler, LAC2717915722163718378.7
2020Alvin Kamara, N.O.2515932756168821377.8
2021Jonathan Taylor, Ind.22171811360217120377.1
2011Ray Rice, Balt.24161364704206815376.9
2006Larry Johnson, K.C.27161789410219919374.9
2018Todd Gurley, LAR24141251580183121374.1
2007Brian Westbrook, Phil.28151333771210412372.4
2002Ricky Williams, Mia.25161853363221617370.6
2014LeVeon Bell, Pitt.22161361854221511370.5
2005LaDainian Tomlinson, S.D.26161462370183220368.6
2005Larry Johnson, K.C.26161750343209321368.3
2007LaDainian Tomlinson, S.D.28161474475194918367.8
2014DeMarco Murray, Dall.26161845416226113361.1
2005Tiki Barber, NYG30161860530239011361.0
2022• Christian McCaffrey, 2TM26171139741188013356.7
2018Alvin Kamara, N.O.2315883709159218354.2
2004Tiki Barber, NYG29161518578209615351.6
2012Adrian Peterson, Min.27162097217231413351.4
2014Matt Forte, Chi.29161038808184610350.6
2021Austin Ekeler, LAC2616911647155820349.8
2002Charlie Garner, Oak.3016962941190311347.3
2017LeVeon Bell, Pitt.25151291655194611345.6
2020Dalvin Cook, Min.25141557361191817343.8
2013Matt Forte, Chi.28161339594193312341.3
2004LaDainian Tomlinson, S.D.25151335441177618340.5
2020Derrick Henry, Ten.26162027114214117337.1
2003Jamal Lewis, Balt.24162066205227114337.1
2006Brian Westbrook, Phil.27151217699191611334.6
2002Tiki Barber, NYG27161387597198411333.4
2006Frank Gore, S.F.2316169548521809333.0
2009Adrian Peterson, Min.24161383436181918332.9
2003Deuce McAllister, N.O.2516164151621578332.7
2013LeSean McCoy, Phil.25161607539214611332.6
2018Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.2315143456720019331.1
2002Shaun Alexander, Sea.25161175460163518330.5
2011LeSean McCoy, Phil.23151309315162420330.4
2022Josh Jacobs, L.V.24171653400205312330.3
2009Ray Rice, Balt.2216133970220418330.1
2004Shaun Alexander, Sea.27161696170186620329.6
2004Domanick Williams, Hou.24151188588177614329.6
2016Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.21151631363199416327.4
2009Maurice Jones-Drew, Jac.24161391374176516325.5
2017Alvin Kamara, N.O.2216728826155414322.4

—Ian Allan

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