Over the Hill Running Backs

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last year I turned 30 years old and while the age of 30 isn’t as bad as most would think, for an NFL running back 30 is considered "old." Recent history tends to make an argument about that concept as some of the 30+ year old backs have had success. But for fantasy owners it can be concerning on drafting a running back who's been around for a while. If you do, handcuffing is a must. Below you’ll read about some backs who are 30 years or older and what I think they will do for fantasy owners this season.

Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers - age: 31

For the past two seasons many analyst and fantasy writers, including myself, have thought "maybe this is the year we see Frank Gore’s number start declining." And each year he proves us wrong. Let’s be honest it’s hard to doubt a running back that has been very consistent the last three seasons on the ground. Gore is averaging 1,184 rushing yards, 8.3 rushing touchdowns, 20.3 receptions and 163 receiving yards in his last three seasons. He was involved in 62% of the Niners red zone running plays in 2013. He only carried the ball over 20 times in five games during the regular season as his workload was monitored. This could finally be the season that Gore takes a small step back. The Niners drafted Marcus Lattimore in 2013 and Carlos Hyde in this year’s NFL draft. Lattimore is expected to be healthy this season. Gore will still be effective when he’s on the field, but may not get as many touches as he got the last couple of seasons. Look for Niners to keep his legs fresh for the post season and get one of their younger running backs on the field more often. Fantasy owners should be looking at Gore as a low-end No. 2/ high-end No. 3 running back this season.

Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills – age: 33

One of last year’s biggest surprises, Fred Jackson, is expected to play a smaller role in the Bills offense this season. The Bills acquired Bryce Brown via trade this offseason and are expecting a healthy C.J. Spiller back. Jackson finished amongst the top 10 fantasy running back (in standard league formats) last season. Spiller got injured early in the season and struggled when he returned into the lineup, which opened the door for Jackson. He did the most with his opportunity as Jackson totaled 1,283 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He played roughly about 57 percent of the offensive snaps last season. He will still play a role in the Bills offense, but I’m fully expecting the Bills to give Spiller the majority of the workload. Jackson also has a history of injuries, which becomes more of a concern at this stage of his career. Look for Jackson and Brown to share the workload behind Spiller. Fantasy owners can consider taking Jackson as a low-end No. 3 fantasy running back in 2014.

Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons – age: 30

Last season Steven Jackson took his talents to Atlanta. It appeared like this was a perfect landing spot for Jackson to be productive and just like that suffers an injury in week two and missed the next four games. After he returned from his injury, Jackson was not as efficient. He averaged 3.5 yards per carry and did not rush for more the 84 yards in a single game. His yards per carry have decreased each year in the last two seasons. He’s also had less 20+ yard runs each year since 2009. It was only a matter of time before Jackson’s production on the field began to decline. We can’t ignore the fact that he’s carried the football 2,553 times in his NFL carrier. Jackson will be 31 by the time the NFL season starts. The Falcons drafted rookie running back Devonta Freeman and also have Jacquizz Rodgers on their roster. Both will be competing as Jackson’s main back up, but I like Freeman’s upside more. Freeman could take over the starting job by 2015. Expect Jackson to remain the featured back in Atlanta, but temper expectations. There are a lot of yards on those legs and it’s very possible the Falcons take a similar approach to what the Niners do with Gore. Fantasy owners can thing of drafting Jackson in the middle rounds and consider him a flex option heading into the season.

Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles – age: 30

Just like Steven Jackson, Sproles will start out the season at 31 years old. The Eagles traded for Sproles this offseason. In the last two seasons Sproles has seen his rushing attempts and yards take a dip. The good news is he’s still getting it done on the receiving side. Sproles is averaging 77 catches and 660 receiving yards over the last three seasons. Keep in mind he’s seen a minor drop each year in each category. What hurt Sproles the most last season was the lack of touchdowns. The Eagles up tempo offense appears to be a good system for Sproles. It’s likely he’ll be involved in their passing offense, but there are two things to keep in mind. First, that backfield belongs to LeSean McCoy and second Sproles’ rushing numbers have dipped in the last couple of years. Therefore, unless you’re in a PPR, Sproles isn’t more than a reserve back. In PPR fantasy owners can take him as a No. 3 RB. He’s really a boom or bust guy at this point. There are many mouths to feed on this offense and only one football. Fantasy owners can take Sproles in a mid-late round and consider him a low-risk/high-reward player.

Other notable running backs 30+ yrs of age:

DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers (31) – Can still be considered a late round reserve back, but numbers will likely begin to decline in his tenth season.

Ronnie Brown, San Diego Chargers (32)

Jackie Battle, Tennessee Titans (30)

Jason Snelling, FA (30)

Brandon Jacobs, FA (30)

Leon Washington, TEN (31)