Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Aug 2013

ESPN: No Carries for Old Men

Today's feature column for ESPN Insider looks at Adrian Peterson's chances of breaking the all-time rushing yardage record. We also have some additional content here that did not fit into the ESPN piece.

It may sound hard to believe with Adrian Peterson signed through 2017, but there is no guarantee the reigning MVP is still on the Vikings in a couple of years. He may be lucky to be on any NFL roster given the league-wide desertion of older backs. Last season, just 5.3 percent of the league’s running plays were carries by a running back in his 30s. That is the lowest in the 32-team era and part of a recent downward trend:

NFL Rushing Attempts by 30-Plus Running Backs (2002-12)
Year 30-Plus
Running Backs
Entire
League
30+ Pct. Runs 30+ Pct. Yards
  Runs Yards YPC Runs Yards YPC    
2002 1,946 7,935 4.08 14,102 59,459 4.22 13.8% 13.3%
2003 2,675 10,184 3.81 14,508 60,341 4.16 18.4% 16.9%
2004 2,452 10,107 4.12 14,428 59,709 4.14 17.0% 16.9%
2005 2,359 9,634 4.08 14,375 57,583 4.01 16.4% 16.7%
2006 1,417 6,322 4.46 14,447 60,061 4.16 9.8% 10.5%
2007 1,224 4,767 3.89 13,986 56,790 4.06 8.8% 8.4%
2008 1,664 7,122 4.28 14,119 59,370 4.20 11.8% 12.0%
2009 2,001 8,031 4.01 14,088 59,739 4.24 14.2% 13.4%
2010 1,232 4,659 3.78 13,920 58,607 4.21 8.9% 7.9%
2011 1,060 4,525 4.27 13,971 59,978 4.29 7.6% 7.5%
2012 734 2,798 3.81 13,925 59,349 4.26 5.3% 4.7%

After 2005 when Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin, and Marshall Faulk retired, we have seen a shift towards youth and the running back by committee approach. Just 13 running backs, all either 30 or 31 years old, combined for the 734 carries and 2,798 yards in 2012. Of the 13, only Fred Jackson (Buffalo), Ronnie Brown (San Diego), John Kuhn (Green Bay) and Vonta Leach (Baltimore) are returning to the same team in 2013. None have a significant role in carrying the ball for their team.

Two more changed teams (Leon Washington to New England and Greg Jones to Houston) and seven are currently free agents, including Michael Turner and Willis McGahee. Those two led the Falcons and Broncos, also known as the two No. 1 seeds, in rushing last season. However, McGahee struggled with fumbles and Denver drafted Wisconsin’s Montee Ball while Turner (ranked 40th in DYAR) could cite his lack of speed and receiving ability for doing him in with Atlanta.

With running backs like Frank Gore, Steven Jackson (now in Atlanta) and DeAngelo Williams all playing at age 30 this season and the likelihood some of those free agents will get signed soon, we should see a small increase in the rushing numbers for older backs, but clearly things are not what they used to be.

Even if they can get it, one can only wonder if the Vikings (or any team) would still want 250-plus carries from Peterson when he’s 31 or 32. (Insert a Tommy Lee Jones monologue about Peterson fixing to make a fire out there in the dark as we fade to bl--)

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 12 Aug 2013

6 comments, Last at 28 Aug 2013, 1:19am by Karen Swift

Comments

1
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Tue, 08/13/2013 - 2:05pm

The 30+ % yards column seems jacked up to me. For example, in 2012, it says 8.1%. 2798/59349 = 4.7%. Same thing all through that column. Is there an error in the table, or am I misunderstanding what it says?

2
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 08/13/2013 - 2:16pm

Yeah there was an error and it's been fixed. I was taking the yards for all runners aged 30+ (QB, WR, etc.) instead of just RB. Good catch.

3
by peterplaysbass :: Tue, 08/13/2013 - 4:00pm

As healthy as he keeps himself and as hard as he works, Peterson may prove to be an anomaly and outlast the typical RB lifespan. After all, he's been an atypical back in many other ways.

Still, I hope he calls it a career while he's still healthy enough to keep a high quality of life for many decades to come. Ideally, he'll have a few more records and a SB ring or two before that happens.

5
by Nevic (not verified) :: Wed, 08/14/2013 - 1:33pm

The Vikings won't trade Peterson and history shows they are incapable of winning a Super Bowl, so I don't see the rings portion of your hope coming true.

4
by Independent George :: Wed, 08/14/2013 - 9:52am

If he hadn't turned into such a massive douchewaffle at the end, this would be moment where Giants fans start extolling the greatness of late-career Tiki Barber.

Except, of course, he had, and therefore, I won't.

6
by Karen Swift (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 1:19am

It could also limit coverage disguises and post-snap rotations, thus simplifying the looks even more for Kaepernick. Great post! Really grateful to you for sharing