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Going Deep: Is 300 the magic number for RBs?

  • By Marcas Grant NFL.com
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I love 300. I don't pretend that it's a great movie. If it ever sniffs the AFI Top 100 list, I'll check for snowflakes in the Sahara. But someone thought it was good enough to warrant a sequel.

Granted the bar for reboots and remakes isn't set that high in Hollywood nowadays, but I was curious as to how you follow that up. And when the movie eventually lands on Netflix, I'll probably find out.

Yet it did make me wonder how to follow up 300 in a fantasy sense. Namely, can you expect equivalent production from a running back the season after he posts 300 carries? The short answer is ... no.

However, if we were in the business of giving you short answers, this column would probably be called Quick Outs. So in the spirit of Going Deep, let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

Let's go back ... way back ... back into time. Namely, 10 years ago. In 2003, fantasy drafts were like those special episodes of Oprah: You get a 300-carry back! You get a 300-carry back! You all get 300-carry backs! That's not really an exaggeration. By the time the 2003 season wrapped up, 13 players had logged more than 300 attempts; Ricky Williams (392) nearly cracked 400!

Plus, you could expect a rusher to consistently rack up consecutive seasons of 300-plus attempts. LaDainian Tomlinson -- arguably the king of fantasy running backs -- opened his career with seven straight seasons of 300-plus carries.

2006 turned out to be a turning point. Ten different players posted more than 300 carries. Tomlinson scored an NFL-record 28 rushing touchdowns and Larry Johnson led the league with 416 attempts. It's been all downhill from there for featured backs. Since '06, there have never been more than seven players hit the 300-carry ceiling while no individual player has come within shouting distance of Johnson's carries and Tomlinson's TDs.

Not surprisingly, as the number of players to surpass the 300-carry mark has diminished, so too has the number of players reaching that plateau in back-to-back seasons. It's likely we may never again see a player post a L.T.-like string of heavy workload seasons.

The reasons for this are numerous and have been discussed to the point of exhaustion. Besides, ours is not to reason why ... ours is to but to figure out who you should draft.

Back-to-back 300-carry seasons 2008-12
Category
Pct. Change
Attempts
-8
Yards
-22
Yds/att.
-15
Rush TD
36
Explosive rush*
-19
*Rush of 11 yards or more

In the interest of making our sample size a little more manageable, I've pared things down to running backs over the past five seasons. In that time, three players have gone back-to-back with 300-plus attempts -- Steven Jackson ('08-09), Adrian Peterson ('08-09) and Chris Johnson ('09-10).

Like most sequels, the second installment didn't match up to the first. Even though those three backs topped 300 attempts for a second straight year, they suffered a drop-off in just about every category. The rushing TD numbers increased thanks almost exclusively to Peterson's jump from 10 to 18 touchdowns between the two seasons.

Perhaps the most startling difference for that triumvirate came in their rushing yards. On average, there was a dropoff of nearly 400 yards from one season to the next. Plenty of fantasy owners could bemoan Chris Johnson's slide from 2,006 yards in 2009 to "just" 1,364 the following season.

Of course, Johnson's fantasy downfall was just beginning. It carried over into the following season when he logged just 262 carries. Then again, nine different backs have bested 300 in the past five seasons and CJ's results were pretty indicative of that group did as a whole.

Seasons following 300-carries 2008-12
Category
Pct. Change
Attempts
-22
Yards
-20
Yds/att.
2
Rush TD
-27
Explosive rush*
-19
*Rush of 11 yards or more

In a word: yikes!

Whether it's a desire to be more balanced on offense, an effort to lessen the pounding on a team's lead back or just a dip in productivity, the difference is stark. The big exception to the rule was Ray Rice. The Ravens rusher had 291 carries in 2011 (307 in 2010) but saw his stats increase rather significantly in every other category.

That certainly isn't the norm. Nor is Maurice Jones-Drew's 2012 encore. A holdout and a foot injury conspired to limit MJD to just six games and 86 carries. Then again, the dangers of holdout RBs is a topic for another day.

Probably a better example would be the difference in Arian Foster's performance between 2010 and 2011. The Texans star finished with 49 fewer carries, 392 fewer yards and six fewer touchdowns.

If past is prologue, none of the men who carried the ball 300 times in 2012 are likely to turn the trick again in 2013. That's not to say it won't be done this year. Chip Kelly could call LeSean McCoy's number pretty often this season. Andy Reid is installing elements of the Pistol, which could increase Jamaal Charles' fantasy Q rating.

But expecting a do-over from some of last year's top running backs? Well, that movie doesn't always have a happy ending.

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