Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
a historical and statistical look at what we should reasonably expect from a 27 year old running back
Over the past decade in the NFL there have been 46 running backs who have run for 1100 yards or more in a season. Melvin Gordon is one of them. Melvin Gordon did that in his best season which was 2017. He accounted for 1581 yards from scrimmage that season and that figure was 26 percent of the Chargers team total. Oddly enough he did not make the Pro-Bowl that season, but he did in the year before and the year after. Gordon ran for 1105 yards that season, which is why I chose 1100 yards as the benchmark for this study.
Those 46 RB’s have 84 seasons where they have run for more than 1100 yards. Twenty one RB’s have done it multiple times over the past decade with LeSean McCoy leading the pack with five seasons where he ran for 1100 yards or more.
Notice that Derrick Henry and David Johnson, like Melvin Gordon, have only topped 1100 yards rushing once. Melvin Gordon’s contract makes him the 6th highest paid RB in the NFL. Henry and Johnson are above him on the list as is Kenyan Drake, who has never had even a 1000 yard rushing season. Drake’s best year was 2019, where he accounted for 1162 yards from scrimmage.
So let’s shift the focus now to the “older” running backs who have run for 1100 or more yards in a season over the past decade. Gordon will be 27 next season. There have been 25 instances of an “old” RB (27 or older) running for 1100 or more yards, but those seasons have been compiled by only 16 RB’s with six guys doing it multiple times as “old” players.
- Frank Gore – 4x
- Adrian Peterson – 3x
- LeSean McCoy – 2x
- Marshawn Lynch – 2x
- Michael Turner – 2x
- Steven Jackson – 2x
- Arian Foster
- Cedric Benson
- Chris Johnson
- DeMarco Murray
- Jamaal Charles
- Justin Forsett
- LeGarrette Blount
- Mark Ingram
- Matt Forte
- Willis McGahee
You should note that no “old” RB was able to run for 1100 or more yards in either of the last two seasons.
So let’s look at what those individual players were able to do before they were 27 and how it compared to their performance at the age of 27. Most of these 16 were on the downside of their careers at 27, but not all. I’ll break these down into three groups
- guys who had the best year before the age of 27
- guys who had their best year at the age of 27
- guys who had their best year after the age of 27
So below is the chart comparing how these 16 running backs did in terms of averages before in their “before 27” seasons and then what they did in their season where they were 27.
There are eight guys in group one, three guys in group two and five guys in group three.
|Player||Rushing Attempts||Rushing Yards||Rushing TD||Targets||Catches||Rec. Yards||Receiving TD||Age during best season|
|Arian Foster||before 27||252.5||1130.2||11||55.8||41.8||382.8||6||24|
|Arian Foster||at 27||121||542||1||35||22||183||1|
|Chris Johnson||before 27||296.8||1411.2||9.5||67.3||48.5||356.5||1||24|
|Chris Johnson||at 27||276||1243||6||49||36||232||0|
|DeMarco Murray||before 27||233.5||1131.5||7||51.8||42.8||300||0.3||26|
|DeMarco Murray||at 27||193||702||6||55||44||322||1|
|LeSean McCoy||before 27||243.5||1132||7.3||63.8||50||380.3||1.7||25|
|LeSean McCoy||at 27||203||895||3||50||32||292||2|
|Marshawn Lynch||before 27||207.4||876||6.6||32.4||23.7||173.7||0.4||26|
|Marshawn Lynch||at 27||301||1257||12||44||36||316||2|
|Steven Jackson||before 27||258||1117.8||6.8||63||46.8||381.2||1.2||23|
|Steven Jackson||at 27||330||1241||6||62||46||383||0|
|Willis McGahee||before 27||290.5||11143||7.8||37.5||27.8||183.5||0.3||26|
|Willis McGahee||at 27||170||671||7||32||24||173||0|
|Adrian Peterson||before 27||281.2||1350.4||12.8||39.6||27.4||261.8||0.6||27|
|Adrian Peterson||at 27||348||2097||12||51||40||217||1|
|Cedric Benson||before 27||158.5||585||3||16||11.5||91.3||0||27|
|Cedric Benson||at 27||301||1251||6||24||17||111||0|
|Jamaal Charles||before 27||156.8||907.2||3.4||42.6||30.4||256.4||1.4||27|
|Jamaal Charles||at 27||259||1287||12||104||70||693||7|
|Frank Gore||before 27||233.6||1112.2||6.4||63.6||44.8||366.2||1.4||23|
|Frank Gore||at 27||203||853||3||72||46||452||2|
|Justin Forsett||before 27||55.6||257.4||1.4||28.4||19.4||146||0.2||29|
|Justin Forsett||at 27||63||374||1||5||3||38||0|
|LeGarrette Blount||before 27||142||646.3||4.3||11.3||7||54.7||0||30|
|LeGarrette Blount||at 27||153||772||7||5||2||38||0|
|Mark Ingram||before 27||149.6||639||5.2||26||20.6||138.6||0||28|
|Mark Ingram||at 27||205||1043||6||58||46||319||4|
|Matt Forte||before 27||253.5||1058.2||5.3||73.5||55.8||496.3||2||28|
|Matt Forte||at 27||248||1094||5||59||44||340||1|
|Michael Turner||before 27||120.8||591.2||4.6||5||3.4||22.4||0||26|
|Michael Turner||at 27||178||871||10||7||5||35||0|
Focus on the far right column which shows the age when each RB had their best season.
Group 1 – peaked before 27
Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, Demarco Murray, LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, Steven Jackson, Willis McGahee and Michael Turner all had their best season before the age of 27. Murray, Lynch, Turner and McGahee’s best seasons all came at the age of 26. Foster (2220 yards from scrimmage) and Johnson (2509) had one huge season at the age of 24 and never came close to matching it afterwards. Similarly Murray (2260) had one great season that he never came close to matching after.
Some of these guys had good years after the age of 26. Murray had his second best season with Titans at the age of 28 in 2016 when he accounted for 1664 yards from scrimmage. McGahee had one of his best seasons in 2011 with Denver when he accounted for 1250 yards from scrimmage (1199 rushing). LeSean McCoy had two really good seasons with Buffalo at the age of 28 and 29 when he accounted for 1623 and 1586 yards from scrimmage.
So if 2017 is to be Gordon’s career season (1581 yards from scrimmage), that does not mean that he can’t have a very good season for the Broncos at the age of 27 or after like Murray, McCoy and McGahee did.
Group 2 – peaked at the age of 27
Adrian Peterson, Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles all had their best seasons at the age of 27.
Peterson had been elite since entering the league at the age of 22, making the pro-bowl four times and first team AllPro twice before the age of 27, but at the age of 27 he had one of the best seasons for a running back in NFL history. He ran for 2097 yards and added another 217 yards receiving to generate 2314 yards from scrimmage. That is tied for 9th best in the history of the league. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry in 2012 at the age of 27. That is astounding considering that he averaged a league best 4.80 yards per carry in the five seasons before that and then he increased that by 25%. Now, I’m not trying to say that Melvin Gordon is Adrian Peterson. AP is a generational talent at running back who will be in the Hall of Fame after his career is over. I am fairly confident that Melvin Gordon will not, but he could still be a very good running back for us in 2020 and 2021.
Cedric Benson is an interesting case. After being taken 4th overall in the draft he was a bust for the Bears generating 797 yards from scrimmage or less in all three seasons in Chicago. He was traded to the Bengals where he would spend another year looking like a bust (3.5 ypc, 932 yards from scrimmage), before he became the feature back in Cincy and flourished for three seasons cranking out 1362, 1289 and 1149 yards from in 2009, 2010 and 2011 at the ages of 27, 28 and 29. He would finish his career with one terrible season with the Packers in 2012 before retiring.
Jamaal Charles had a really good season at the age of 24 with Chiefs (1935 yards from scrimmage), but he would not have his best season until he was 27. In 2013 at the age of 27, Charles accounted for 1980 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns. He alone accounted for 36.7% of the Chiefs yards on offense that year. He would go on to have another good season in 2014 at the age of 28 – generating 1324 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs, but the heavy usage took it’s toll on his rather small frame and he never came close to that again in his career. In fact, he generated less than 1324 yards from scrimmage during his final four NFL seasons combined.
Group 3 – Guys who peaked after the age of 27
I was surprised to see this many guys on this group. All of their stories are quite different though.
Justin Forsett was an afterthought in first six NFL seasons with the Colts, Seahawks, Texans and Jaguars. Then he found his niche with Gary Kubiak’s offense in Baltimore in 2014. At the age of 29, Forsett had his one and only good season in the NFL. He generated 1529 yards from scrimmage and scored eight of his twenty career touchdowns. Similar to Jamaal Charles, he would generate less than 1529 total yards during the final three seasons after this before he retired.
LeGarrette Blount is similar to Forsett in that his career was relatively quiet after rushing for 1007 yards as a rookie with the Bucs. He was in the right place at the right time in 2016 with the Patriots where he would be the feature back in New England at the age of 30. His 299 carries that year are a career high by far, as are almost all of his stats that season. He ran for 18 touchdowns and 1191 yards despite averaging only 3.9 yards per carry. Blount will probably be remembered more for what he did in the playoffs than for what he did in the regular season once his career is done. He has 11 playoffs rushing touchdowns and only 56 career regular season rushing touchdowns. His eleven playoff rushing touchdowns are tied with Marcus Allen for 7th all-time. Emmitt Smith is the career leader with 19. With the exception of Marshawn Lynch, the other folks who have 11 or more playoff rushing touchdowns are all in the Hall of Fame. Blount will not be in the Hall of Fame.
Matt Forte was drafted in the second round by the Bears in 2008 and he was their offense for the eight years he was there. He had his best season in 2013 at the age of 28. He generated 1933 yards from scrimmage that season and twelve touchdowns – both career bests. He was also quite productive the next year as well generating 1846 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns at the age of 29. That was pretty much all the gas he had in the tank as he went to the Jets the next season where he would fade hard in his final two seasons (1076 and 674 yards generated) before retirement.
Mark Ingram, unlike Matt Forte, was lightly used during the first five or six years of his NFL career. He had his best season at the age of 28 in 2017 for the Saints (who drafted him 28th overall) when he generated 1540 yards from scrimmage. Before the age of 27, Ingram averaged 4.27 yards per carry. During his career year at the age of 28, he averaged 4.89. Honestly Ingram could still have his best year ahead of him. He was quite good for the Ravens in 2019 at the age of 30.
Finally, we come to the ageless one, Frank Gore. Gore has generated close to 20000 yards from scrimmage during his career (19243). He has been remarkably consistent as well, accounting for 1200 or more yards from scrimmage every season from 2006 to 2017. It’s debatable whether his career best season was 2009 at age of 26 (1526 yds from scrimmage, 13 TDs) or 2012 at the age of 29 (1448 yds, 9 TDs). You could make the argument either way, but one point is not up for debate – Gore has been the poster child for running back production after the age of 27. He now has more yards generated after the age of 27 (10546) than he had before (7392).
So what? What does this tell us about Melvin Gordon in 2020?
During his first five seasons in the league Gordon averaged 212 carries, 848 rushing yards, 7.2 rushing TDs, 59.6 targets, 44.8 catches, 375 receiving yards and 2.2 receiving TDs. He averaged 1283 yards from scrimmage and 9.4 total TDs. So can we assume that he matches those numbers? Maybe, maybe not. He has a history of missing time with injuries. He missed time holding out in 2019, but he has only appeared in 16 regular season games once in his career (2017). So one thing that might keep his production down is nagging injuries.
The other thing that might keep his production down is the time-share with Phillip Lindsay. Lindsay has run for more than 1000 yards during his first two NFL seasons and Gordon was most effective (5.1 yards per carry) in 2018 when he was sharing the load with Austin Ekeler (106 carries) and Justin Jackson (50 carries). Gordon had 175 carries that year. Lindsay had 192 and 224 carries in his first two seasons. Lindsay and Gordon have almost exactly the same number of average carries per year (208 and 212) over their careers. If both players get their career averages, the Broncos would have something on the order of 460 rushing attempts in 2020. Only six teams had more than that in 2019 and only one team, Baltimore, had more than 500 (they had 596).