To go on and on about how running backs nearing and over 30 years of age start to lose a step would be beating a dead horse. So I'll leave that poor horse alone. Taking a look at the backs in the NFL who are at that age would be something new, well ... not as common at least. There are 4 runningbacks out there who have had pretty decent careers and are at the dreaded line of declining effectiveness. There are actually a few more like Fred Jackson, Michael Bush, and Ronnie Brown who are still playing but these 4 have avoided the injuries and showed consistency to a greater degree.
Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, Darren Sproles and Deangelo Williams are all exactly 30 years old to start the 2013 NFL season. Quick of those four guys who is the oldest and who is the youngest? Answers at the bottom. Anyways, if history is any indicator one of these guys is looking to lose a step or maybe even two this upcoming season. I just pulled up the career stats off ESPN for each one of these guys and given that, the situation they currently find themselves in, and their style of game I think a strong argument can be made for each one of them to become more of a liability than an asset. However, just as good an argument can be made of while they will keep trucking along. Taking as much of that into account I'd have to say it will be Sproles who sees the greatest drop, but I wouldn't bet on that. So the question is:
Frank Gore: Frank is the most balanced of the group. He is that perfect mix of speed, that Jackson lacked, and power that Williams and more so Sproles didn't bring to the table. Frank also probably has the best vision of the group, I've seen him slip through what seemed like 6 inch gaps countless time.We all know Gore's game pretty well so I won't go on and on about how great he is.
Why it might happen to Frank: Just think about Tomlinson and the drop off he experienced at 30. LT was better than Gore ever was in almost every aspect. Maybe he relied a bit more on speed than Gore ever did but his vision was special, and his power was about equal to that of Gore's. If it can happen to LT then sadly it can happen to Gore.
Why claiming it might happen to Frank is blasphemy: First, he is a 49er and I am a 49er fan. Second, he plays behind a great o-line, Kap with his cannon will force safeties back a bit and the read option makes holes just a little bit bigger. Finally, his one crazy preseason run proves that he has the speed still.
Steven Jackson: I've always really liked Jackson. The way he runs is beautiful to watch. Mowing over middle linebackers, dragging defensive tackles down the field, throwing a wicked stiff arm and planting a DB on their back. How could you not love watching this guy. The consistency is crazy too, every year for 8 years he has a 1000 yard season. Even if he misses games to injury he manages to break the quadruple digit mark. Also he was always a better receiver than Gore. Frank had a few big years but that was due to Alex Smith more than anything great about Frank. Jackson has only missed the 30 catch mark once and that was his rookie year. I'm not betting against those number.
Why Jackson's best days are behind him: His YPC was never that high and if that drops even just a bit he falls below the 4 YPC mark. He also has a ton of millage on his legs with about 400 more career caries than Gore. Moving to Atlanta might relieve some of the above, but the Falcons are a passing team and the o-line is designed to protect not to maul.
Why Jackson is immune to age: Speed was never Jackson's game so losing a step won't matter. Also despite not a great o-line to run behind in Atlanta he won't have to deal with 8 man boxes anymore. Jones and White are guy who require safety attention, and Jackson will finally have a bit of room in the middle to run. Jackson, like Gore, has always been the center piece of his team's offenses, in Atlanta he will just have to be the cheery on top.
DeAngelo Williams: I was a little surprised to find Williams in this group, but he is all the way across the country and his name doesn't come up a ton. Even more surprising was that Williams leads the group in YPC at 5.2. On the downside he has split time with various backs for a good part of his career and lost a good portion of two seasons in the middle of his prime years. That held his overall career numbers down. However, I do remember Williams 2008 season a bit as he was on my fantasy team, and he was a beast that year.
Why Williams is lucky to have made it this far: DW saw a pretty significant drop in his YPC last season and that will happen again this year. His role of flash running back means that he needs that speed more than Gore or Jackson will and once its gone so is he.
Why Williams will continue on: I haven't seen this guy enough to have too much of an opinion on his running style. He was usually the Flash of thunder and flash so that tells you enough. His low millage, the fact that he will split time, and getting to play in the NFC South all work in his favor. Atlanta and New Orleans have pretty terrible run defenses so that is 4 games to expect something big right there.Also Cam can run the read option and that helps open up holes and slows defenders down a half second.
Darren Sproles: Sproles is a back of a different breed than the other three. He has more career receiving yardage than running, for one. Also he has never been a feature back and always more of a movable piece in the offenses. As long as he got space he could be dangerous and both SD and NO did a great job of getting this guy open in space. Sproles is fun to watch and might have had more ESPN highlights than any of the guys above.
It was fun watching you Sproles: The thing that scares me about Sproles is that his game is based so much more on raw speed than any of the guys above. He has great vision, and even some surprising power, but speed and quickness is what he made his name on. If he loses too much speed his value goes way down and he becomes a sitting target real quick. The other guys can survive a small drop in speed and remain effective. But Sproles must be able to separate and be faster and quicker than everyone else; if he loses that his game is over.
Why Sproles will remain an ESPN Top Ten mainstay: He plays in New Orleans with a crazy offense that puts up yards every year. Also last year showed no indication of declining speed. Sproles did what he always does, make defenders look slow.
DeAngelo Williams is the oldest and Steven Jackson is the youngest.