Without the help of a flux capacitor or Dr. Emmett Brown, this series will attempt to take a look back in time to help us predict the future dynasty results of some of our current fantasy stars. Through the first nine articles of this series I've tried to predominantly focus on younger players, or at least those still in the prime of their career. Today however, I want to talk about one that should very be near the end of his career, but you wouldn't know it from the way people are talking about him.
Steven Jackson, who spent a career as a borderline RB1 in St. Louis, has taken his talents to Atlanta, and fantasy experts couldn't be happier about it. Outside of his incredible third season, Jackson's main fault in the fantasy football is that he's played on some anemic offenses and not produced the touchdowns that you need from a true RB1. Now that he's moved to one of the best offenses in the league, we all expect that to change. But can we expect a 30 year-old running back entering his 10th season in the league to carry the load? Let's take a look at the chart.
Like I did with Larry Fitzgerald's arc, we start the comparison in year five, because finding four ninth-year players with similar arcs is near impossible. For the purpose of clarity, the three best comps for Jackson were Curtis Martin, Franco Harris, and Thurman Thomas. All three of these backs were extremely successful running backs in their day, and outside of Thomas, year ten was pretty successful. Since he sheds the most favorable light on 2013 for Jackson, we'll start with Martin.
Martin's 2004 campaign is incredible for many reasons, most notably that he held up to 371 carries at the age of 31 years old. What's more incredible was that it was the third time in his career he topped 400 touches, and the seventh time he topped 350. He posted a career best 4.6 yards per carry (YPC), and scored 14 touchdowns after totaling 2 scores on 365 touches the season before. That season was Martin's 6th straight playing all 16 games and he topped the 3000 carry mark during the season. To put that in perspective, only eight players all-time have topped 3,000 carries. I think it also brings up a good point in reference to usage and this arc. Below are the career usage numbers for all four backs heading into their tenth season, as well as their production in their tenth season.
If you can't find the correlation there it's because there isn't one, at least not in this group. What we can see from this is that Martin had a lot more wear and tear before his monster tenth season than Jackson has to this point. So what happened to Thurman Thomas?
Thomas was actually more efficient in his dreadful tenth season than he'd been in any of the seasons leading up to it. After three years below 4 YPC, Thomas' average jumped to 4.2, but despite starting all 16 games he only received 154 carries. Why? Antowain Smith. Smith received more than half the carries and virtually all of the goal line work. Smith was a 25 year-old rookie drafted to take Thomas' place and he did it quickly. The Falcons have Jacquizz Rodgers, but the team just brought in Jackson so that isn't their plan. That being said, Jackson won't be the workhorse Martin was either, I'd expect his share of the carries to be more like that of Franco Harris.
Harris may now be known best for his role in the Immaculate Reception, but he was a fine running back long after that. Harris' premature decline in year nine was a product of injuries that limited him to 13 games, and he bounced back very strong in year ten. Despite receiving only 67% of the team's carries, he accumulated 1200 total yards and 9 touchdowns. After more injuries in his 11th season, Harris bounced back for one more 1000 yard season in year 12. Harris is one of only four backs since 1960 to score 170+ fantasy points in two different seasons after turning 31.
That last sentence brings up an important points. Steven Jackson just turned 30, but all of the backs in the arc were already 31. Age in running backs can be just as big of a factor at the end of their career as experience. Jackson's still past what should be his prime, but 30 isn't quite as prohibitive as 31, especially for dynasty owners. The fact that Jackson is a year younger than Curtis Martin and has 500 less touches doesn't mean he'll be better in year ten, but does it mean he'll last longer?
OBSERVATIONS AND PROJECTIONS
There's no way that Jackson puts up nearly 2000 total yards and 14 touchdowns like Martin did, mostly because there's no way he gets 400 touches this season. It's also highly unlikely that Jackson is forced into a timeshare the way Thurman Thomas was in his tenth season. The most likely scenario involves Jackson getting about 70% of the touches in the Falcons backfield, and that should result in a very solid RB2 season. Unfortunately, Jackson's being drafted as a borderline RB1, and that price is just too steep.
In dynasty leagues, Jackson is probably a hold right now. He has enough potential in 2013, especially early in the year, to make him a very nice trade piece midseason. He could have one more solid season left after 2013, but it's far from guaranteed. You don't bet your dynasty future on 31 year-old running backs, so if you get an offer that you feel is worth even a high-level RB2, I'd take it. Between these three backs they had three seasons of startable production left in them. You can do the math on what that averages out to, and it's not worth much in dynasty.