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What is the fantasy shelf life of the top current running backs?

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 12: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on prior to a a presason game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

DeMarco Murray just turned 30 years old. In the world of football, particularly as a running back, he’s practically ancient, and as such he’s still unsigned. Frank Gore, a month shy of his 35th birthday, got a contract with the Dolphins and it was a crazy, man-bites-dog-ish headline that a running back that old still could be an NFL player.

Unlike quarterbacks, where Aaron Rodgers is in his prime at 34 and even almost-41-year-old Tom Brady could have a year or two left at the top of the quarterback charts, running backs burn hot and fast, going from draft pick to fantasy powerhouse to old and forgotten in the time it takes a quarterback to just establish himself.

So how long will the current notable running backs remain fantasy starters? To answer that question, I’ve created a little game. I gathered three PFF Fantasy writers (Dan Clasgens, Michael Moore, Dan Schneier), and they and I will be attempting to figure out how long the current fantasy starters will remain as such.

The premise: You can keep Player X for as long as you want, but you have to decide on that duration right now.

The cost: You can keep the player indefinitely at the cost of the last starter at the position. So a quarterback will cost you the draft slot of the 10th quarterback off the board, while a wide receiver will cost you the 20th receiver. In short, the question at hand is: How long will Player X be a fantasy starter?

Below is the chart of their answers, followed by individual bios with some comments on each player. We did quarterbacks a week ago, and wide receivers and tight ends will follow over the next couple weeks.

How long will the top running backs be fantasy starters?
Number of years
Team Age Clasgens Moore Schneier
Jay Ajayi PHI 24 1 1 4
Saquon Barkley TBD 21 5 5 8
Le'Veon Bell PIT 26 3 2 3
Dalvin Cook MIN 22 4 3 5
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 22 5 5 7
Leonard Fournette JAX 23 3 1 3
Devonta Freeman ATL 26 2 2 4
Melvin Gordon LAC 24 2 1 3
Todd Gurley LAR 23 4 5 7
Derrick Henry TEN 24 2 0 3
Jordan Howard CHI 23 1 0 4
Kareem Hunt KC 22 4 3 7
Carlos Hyde CLV 27 1 0 1
Mark Ingram NO 28 1 1 2
David Johnson ARZ 26 3 1 6
Alvin Kamara NO 22 4 5 6
Christian McCaffrey CAR 21 3 3 6
LeSean McCoy BUF 29 1 1 2
Jerick McKinnon SF 25 2 4 5
Joe Mixon CIN 21 3 3 2

Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles

Age G Rushing Yds Rush TDs Receptions Receiving Yds Receiving TDs Fantasy rank
24 14 873 1 24 158 1 RB32

1 year: I like his upside as the clear-cut, early-down running back in 2018 for the high-powered Eagles’ offense, but long-term the knee issue he has since college scares me. — Dan Clasgens

4 years: Ajayi proved in 2017 he doesn't many touches to be an effective fantasy back and his role should only increase going forward in Philadelphia before he hits the open market and could potentially join an even better situation. Ajayi is one of the most elusive running backs in the NFL — year after year his forced missed tackles and yards after contact prove it. We tend to believe in those players. — Dan Schneier

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