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Fantasy Football: What happens the season after a running back gets 400 touches?

Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals during a AFC Divisional playoff football game at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There’s an idea in the fantasy football community that running backs are poised to crumble the season after handling a particularly large workload. Some have pointed to 370 carries as the threshold, but others say 400 touches is the point of no return for the position.


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Recent examples of Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry collapsing due to injuries after particularly high-volume seasons have added fuel to this fire. The lifespan of highly productive running backs is certainly shorter than other positions, so perhaps squeezing multiple years' worth of usage into one single season accelerates the decline of running backs.

We’ll go ahead and roll with the 400-touch number because it truly is out of the ordinary. Workhorse running backs are less common than ever in the year 2021, but even then there’s only been an average of 6.8 running backs clear 300 touches in the regular season since 2010.

Elevating the touch count to 400 will also cover the overwhelming majority of 370 rush attempt cases — differentiating carries from receptions seems rather arbitrary. We’ll also include the playoffs in each year’s total considering, you know, hits hurt the same — if not more — in January as they do in September.

PFF data stretches back to 2006, so we will, too. Going back further threatens to take us into a different time medically. It’s tough to put much stock into how a running back bounced back from a large workload in the 1980s after Cam Akers just returned from a freaking Achilles injury in half a year.

The following table denotes all 21 backs with 400 touches since 2006 along with their PPR fantasy rank, as well as their following season’s games, touches and PPR rank.

Year Name Team Touches PPR Rank Next-Year's Games Next-Year's Touches Next-Year's PPR Rank
2020 Derrick Henry Titans 418 3 9 257 23
2019 Derrick Henry Titans 409 5 17 418 3
2019 Christian McCaffrey Panthers 403 1 3 76 54
2018 Ezekiel Elliott Cowboys 433 5 16 355 3
2017 Le'Veon Bell Steelers 431 2 0 (holdout) 0 N/A
2016 Le'Veon Bell Steelers 405 3 16 431 2
2014 DeMarco Murray Cowboys 497 2 15 237 15
2013 Marshawn Lynch Seahawks 403 5 19 385 4
2012 Arian Foster Texans 460 3 8 143 46
2012 Adrian Peterson Vikings 411 1 14 308 10
2012 Ray Rice Ravens 410 4 15 272 22
2011 Ray Rice Ravens 414 1 20 410 4
2010 Rashard Mendenhall Steelers 412 11 15 246 22
2010 Ray Rice Ravens 411 5 18 414 1
2009 Chris Johnson Titans 407 1 16 360 7
2008 Michael Turner Falcons 401 4 11 183 34
2007 LaDainian Tomlinson Chargers 410 2 17 349 5
2006 Larry Johnson Chiefs 475 3 8 188 36
2006 Steven Jackson Rams 435 2 12 274 15
2006 LaDainian Tomlinson Chargers 428 1 19 410 2
2006 Tiki Barber Giants 413 6 0 (retired) 0 N/A

Some Key Takeaways

Just five of the 19 applicable running backs failed to play at least 14 games

This doesn’t mean each and every player was as productive the following year, but this 26% rate of anything resembling a major injury, alone, seems like enough to fade the idea of a single-season workload cliff at the position.

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