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Offseason Dynasty Refocus: RB

By Matt Schauf 4:02pm EST 2/21/19

If the top of our dynasty RB rankings walked into a bar, it should certainly expect to be carded.

Check out the list, and you’ll probably notice the youth quickly. That’s not just a DS overreaction to a couple of nice RB draft classes. It looks more like a league trend.

I checked back through the NFL leaders in scrimmage yards every year since 1990, and that group appears to be getting younger.

Here’s the annual average age for the league’s top 32 in scrimmage yards:

That 29-year span has included just 4 seasons with an average age under 26.0. Three of those have come within the past 5 seasons, and last year gave us the lowest average age from the entire span -- by a decent margin (0.4 of a year).

The NFL has gotten tough on RBs beyond their 1st contracts. Just ask Le’Veon Bell.

Actually, Bell could rank among the position’s elite right now if he chose to.

At the moment, just 2 RBs league wide -- Todd Gurley and David Johnson -- are locked in for more than $8.25 million in average salary for 2019. Only 12 total RBs crack $5 million in that category.

By comparison, TE finds just 1 player averaging $10 million plus on his current contract -- but 17 guys sit at $5 million or more. The projected franchise-tag values (according to OverTheCap.com) for 2019 find RB 3rd lowest, ahead of only TEs and specialists (kickers and punters).

Why should you care what RBs are getting paid?

Well, it points to the direction we’ve all seen the position go in recent years. NFL teams are generally realizing that you can replenish the backfield more easily than most other spots and that the talent level often doesn’t matter as much.

So we’ll keep seeing committee backfields. And it just might get tougher to find workhorses -- especially those who can sustain such workloads.

Where’s the Work Going?

The NFL doesn’t run the ball as much as it used to. That probably doesn’t surprise you, but it’s worthwhile to look at the facts.

This chart shows the total carries for the top 50 PPR RBs over the past 18 years.

We should probably expect some 2019 rebound from last year’s low for the entire span. Total carries among that group actually grew in 2016 and 2017 vs. the previous seasons. But the overall trend shows that we also shouldn’t expect a sudden reversal in rushing volume.

As you might expect, it also appears to be getting harder to be a perennial workhorse. The table below shows the number of players with 200+ carries in each of the past 9 seasons, and then the number players who repeated in that category each year. The “3 straight” column counts how many players notched (at least) their 3rd straight 200+ carry campaign in that season.

But as we addressed earlier, it’s getting tougher for such players to gain big 2nd contracts and, thus, sustain their momentum.The stellar RB draft class of 2008 (led by Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall) accounted for a lot of the repeat performances. Perhaps we’ll see the strong classes of the past couple of years bring the numbers back up a bit.

Want another data point to support that? The chart below plots the average ages of the annual top 32 in total yards from scrimmage from 1990-2018 …

RBs traditionally dominate this category, for obvious reason. They rack up both rushing and receiving yardage while dominating touch counts. That hasn’t changed much in the span I reviewed, but -- as the trend line shows -- the group is getting younger.

Last season gave us the youngest average of the entire span, and 3 of the 4 youngest have come among the past 5 seasons.

Perhaps we’re just seeing a reboot at the position, and the RBs of the past 2-3 drafts are ready to push that age back up a bit. But I don’t think the overall trend suggests a significant upturn.

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