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David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell and Running Back Aging Curves

If you’ve checked out any of my #Dynasty250 rankings for fantasy football, you’ve probably noticed my rather extreme propensity to avoid paying a premium for workhorse running backs. (Please burn your eyes out when you get to number 18.)

If you’ve played fantasy football this year, you’ve probably noticed that David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell have both been one man wrecking crews.

If I’m honest, Johnson, Bell and rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliot have caused me to reconsider my bearish take on running backs. That’s a conversation for another day, one which needs to be weighed against the disappointing seasons of similarly highly regarded RB’s such as Todd Gurley and Lamar Miller. Instead, I’ll make the case that the time is now to sell Bell and Johnson in your dynasty leagues based on historical running back aging curves.

Whether your methodology is fantasy points or Pro Football Reference’s approximate value, the research I’ve seen concludes that running backs peak around age 23-24 with the first very signs of decline beginning around the age 25-26 season. This is compared to wide receivers who do not peak until their age 26-27 season on average and enjoy relatively stable production in the years before and after their peak season.

Surprise! Johnson and Bell will both turn 25 this winter and will therefore play most of the 2017 season as (relatively) old 25 year olds. Add to that the fact that Bell has already had a serious knee injury and it seems likely that both players have peaked.

I’m not suggesting either player will not be worthy picks inside the first round of dynasty leagues and atop redraft leagues, but rather they represent textbook sell high opportunities that owners may be able to flip for a profit. A distressed, high upside asset (e.g. DeAndre Hopkins) plus a 2017 1st round pick would do the trick for me and seems like a plausible ask considering many owners are susceptible to recency bias.

The Author

Tom Trudeau

Tom Trudeau


  1. Alex
    December 18, 2016 at 8:13 am

    You keep running with this “bell will slow down very soon, trade him ASAP because past injuries!”. There’s a difference between “hey you should trade rbs before they get old and specifically going after certain players because you’re SURE they are done. If you’re Stephanie bell in male form maybe I’d believe it but I think you’re rushing to judgment and trying to be ahead of the curve way too much. Other than that I enjoy your articles.

    • December 18, 2016 at 9:08 am

      I’m not recommending anyone trade Bell asap or necessarily predicting an injury. I’m simply noting that he’s at peak value based on running back aging curves, Bell’s amazing season that is at the top of everyone’s mind and latent injury risk (both specific to his own health history, but also as a running back). There’s opportunity to profit by being ahead of the (Bell) curve.

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