Welcome to Learning from History, where I dig into every fantasy season since 1985 to find historical comparisons for modern players.
Today, we're going to look at the player who inspired this series, Saquon Barkley. About a month ago I wondered if, knowing only what we knew at the time, there had ever been a player who was as valuable in dynasty leagues as Saquon Barkley is right now.
Again, the key here is "knowing what we knew at the time". Knowing what we know now, Jerry Rice as a rookie would have been worth way, way more than Barkley is today. But when Rice was a rookie we had no idea that he would one day unironically be getting "GOAT" tattoos. By the time LaDainian Tomlinson set the single-season touchdown record he was 27 and had just two more top-12 seasons left ahead of him.
This is the underlying tension. When a player is young and has his entire career ahead of him, he's typically risky and unproven. When a player is proven, half of his career value might already be behind him. Could anyone match the combination of youth and production that Barkley has already demonstrated?
Comparison #1: Age 21 Breakouts
On first glance, the two most relevant traits of Saquon Barkley are that he was extraordinarily young as a rookie and also was extraordinarily productive as a rookie. Based on those two traits, here's a list of every running back since 1985 to accumulate at least 80 points of fantasy value (roughly equivalent to an RB1 season) at age 21. I've also included their average per-year (APY) value from ages 22-24 and (for players who have retired already) how much total value they accumulated after their age-21 season.
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