Cockcroft: 30-something RBs

Originally Published: June 22, 2005
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN Fantasy Games
Curtis Martin deserves much more credit than he received for his efforts in 2004; what he accomplished was truly historic. The Jets running back, who turned 32 last month, became the oldest player in NFL history to lead the league in rushing yards, logging 1,697. He also eclipsed Walter Payton's record for yards in a season after a player's 30th birthday; Payton ran for 1,684 yards as a 30-year-old in 1984.

Whatever happened to conventional wisdom dictating that running backs wear down once they celebrate their 30th birthday?

If Martin wanted to put that long-tested theory to the test, he picked the right year to do it. Besides Martin, three other running backs who finished in the top 15 in rushing yards last season -- Tiki Barber, Corey Dillon and Warrick Dunn -- will enter 2005 on the wrong side of 30. So which is it: Was Martin the first to prove modern running backs hold up deeper into their careers, or was he merely the exception to the rule?

Deciding that, as fantasy owners, none of us should be taking blanket statements like "all running backs break down at age 30" as gospel, I took a closer look at the historical data.

That included gathering all seasons produced by the top 100 all-time in rushing yards and breaking them down by the player's age as of Sept. 1 of that year. Listed below are the results; the statistics listed next to each age are the total numbers -- rushing attempts, rushing yards, average yards per carry and rushing touchdowns -- by all members of that top 100 list, scaled down to 16 games played. (For example, the top 100 all-time rushers combined for 22,302 carries, 95,948 rushing yards and 702 rushing touchdowns in 1,320 games as 25-year-olds; in 16 games those numbers become 270-1,163-8.5.)