Offseason Confidential: Tiki's 31? So what?! Feb. 16, 2006 By Dave Richard Senior Fantasy Writer
You've heard it before: Once a rusher turns 30, he loses much of his value. There are plenty of examples:
Eric Dickerson played eight seasons, getting at least 1,000 yards in each of them except for an injury-plagued 1987. Then after he turned 30 in 1990, he had a hard time playing a full season and didn't come close to 1,000 yards.
Marshall Faulk had seven amazing seasons in eight years before slowing down (by his standards) to 1,490 total yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games at age 29. The following three seasons after he turned 30, including 2005, were filled with injuries and limited production.
Jerome Bettis exemplifies the 30-and-over theory. From 1993 to 2001 (nine seasons), Bettis rushed for 1,000 yards or more in every year except '95, which was his last year in St. Louis. Then in 2002, at the age of 30, Bettis rushed for 666 yards, his lowest total in a Pittsburgh uniform. He bounced back slightly in '03 and especially in '04 when the Steelers had to lean on him due to injuries, but it can be argued that except on occasion, he wasn't the same running back once he turned 30.
Eddie George charged hard for eight seasons before slumping, turning 30 during his final successful season. Franco Harris had seven big seasons in eight years before turning the big 3-0, only to have one decent season after that age. Ditto that for Roger Craig (seven seasons), O.J. Simpson (eight seasons) and Thurman Thomas (nine seasons).
But then there's Tony Dorsett, who turned 30 in 1984 before rushing for his seventh 1,000-yard season in eight years. He even did it again, rushing for 1,307 yards in his ninth year. But after that ninth season, at the age of 32, he couldn't get it going and rushed for no more than 748 yards in his final three seasons.
While plenty of football pundits will tell you "watch out for the running back who's 30," my angle is that you should watch out for the running back who has the wear and tear of playing seven-to-nine seasons at a high, full-time level. It just so happens that a player who plays that many years usually enters the league at 21 or 22 years of age, making it so that when they turn 30, they've played a number of years and succumbed to a serious injury or two, thus playing in less-than-optimal shape.
It's not about the year the car was built, it's about how many miles are on the odometer.
There are other exceptions. Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, for example, each had 11 productive seasons before slowing down. Then again, they're the top two in career rushing yards. And after viewing the stats of every great running back in the history of the NFL, I can honestly tell you these guys certainly were the exceptions, not the rule.
Barry Sanders went 10 seasons dominating before retiring ... at the age of 30, just like a guy by the name of Jim Brown. Curtis Martin went that same span -- 10 years -- without rushing under 1,000 yards in any season before finally slowing down in '05.
The only running back I couldn't wedge into a category that suits any argument (much less my own) is John Riggins, who's a one-of-a-kind character to begin with.
So you've read this far. Why am I bringing all these names from the past up along with my own "seven-to-nine" theory?
Because of Tiki Barber. And to tell everyone out there that Barber will still play well in 2006 despite being 31.
Barber played rather sparingly in his first three years as a pro. Not until 2000 did he put up big-time stats, getting 1,006 yards and eight touchdowns. Since that season, he's played at a high level every year. That's been six years. If we consider his first three seasons where he was limited as a year's worth of wear-and-tear, we can say that Barber has seven years on his NFL odometer without a major injury.
That suggests that he's likely to have a pretty good year in 2006, and that owners should start to be wary of Barber's production starting in 2007.
Here are some other aging running backs whose odometers need to be checked:
NameAge as of Sept. 1, 2006Notes Mike Anderson 33 Split reps in '05, has not played at a high level consistently Stephen Davis 32 Owners know he's slowing down already Corey Dillon 31 Had second sub-1,000-yard season in nine years in '05 Warrick Dunn 31 Should start for Falcons, but has played well over nine years Ahman Green 29 Could have two good Fantasy seasons left in the tank Michael Pittman 31 Will only play a lot if Cadillac gets hurt Duce Staley 31 Likely to take over Bettis' role with Steelers Fred Taylor 30 Has had several injuries and could split reps with Jags Ricky Williams 29 Had a high odometer reading, but the year off helps
Curtis Martin went that same span -- 10 years -- without rushing under 1,000 yards in any season before finally slowing down in '05.
not much is said about him but the do hint at the over 30 point.
I would think he would be a great example of RBs over 30 being unpredictable. To go from leading rusher in the NFL to not even reaching 1000 yards is quite a dip in production.
i sort of agree with you that he is an example. the thing is though is he was on a bad team with a bad qb situation and lost his best blocker(not that he was great with him) not to mention the injury. i attribute alot of cmarts problem being more circumstances than over all his fault or age.i mean it wasn't like he had much of a chance to start with. you could maybe blame the injury on his age and be right but injuries happen to alot of backs younger than him. it wasn't like their running game got amazing after he was injured. houston never broke 90 yards and only scored twice in four games started (and had a whopping 14 yards against NE). he had 735 yards rushing on a horrible team and missed 4 games. he may not have reached a 1000 but he would have been pretty close at the end.