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Offseason Extra: The year after 400-plus touches

Senior Fantasy Writer
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As Fantasy owners, we all want our running backs to get touches. Work, work and more work is our mantra, and we hate when our running back comes off the field -- especially when they lose touchdowns to a vulture.

But sometimes too much work can be a problem, and Marshawn Lynch is coming dangerously close to a number no running back wants to hit. Barring an injury early in Super Bowl XLVIII -- or a complete shocker of a game plan by the Seahawks against the Broncos -- Lynch is going to reach 400 total touches for the season, and that's a bad thing.

He comes into this game with 388 touches through 16 games in the regular season and two in the playoffs (351 carries and 37 catches), so Lynch has seen his share of work this year, which was great. But next season, based on our research, he could be headed for a significant downturn in production.

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We went back and looked at the past 10 years for running backs who had 400 touches in a season, including the playoffs, and found 27 occasions where it happened for 17 different running backs. Of those 27 times, only five -- Edgerrin James (2004), LaDainian Tomlinson (2005), James again (2005), Adrian Peterson (2009) and Ray Rice (2011) -- produced an increase in Fantasy points the following season, and you can see all the data in our chart below.

The 22 other examples where a running back hit 400 touches over that span showed varying results -- all negative. Two running backs -- Tiki Barber and Ricky Williams -- retired following consecutive seasons with 400 touches. And nine times a running back suffered an injury -- Arian Foster (2013), Peterson (2013), Michael Turner (2009), Steven Jackson (2007), Larry Johnson (2007), Shaun Alexander (2006), Clinton Portis (2006), Curtis Martin (2005) and Jamal Lewis (2004) -- that caused him to miss games following a 400-touch campaign. Some of those injuries could be attributed to the heavy workload the year before.

Statistically, the Fantasy point decline was staggering. Of the 20 times a running back played the year after getting 400 touches and saw a decline in production, 15 had their Fantasy points drop by at least 30 percent and 10 by at least 40 percent. The worst was Johnson, who went from 329 Fantasy points in 2006 over 17 games on a staggering 475 touches -- the highest total during the past 10 years -- to 95 Fantasy points in 2007 on 188 touches in just eight games due to a foot injury.

If you want recent history, there were three running backs from the past two years who had 400 touches in Foster, Peterson and Rice, who all hit that mark in 2012 and faltered in 2013. Foster had 460 touches over 18 games in 2012 for 247 Fantasy points and then finished with 86 points this past season on 143 touches in just eight games due to a back injury. Peterson went from 293 Fantasy points on 411 touches over 17 games to 203 points on 308 touches over 14 games, missing two because of a groin injury.

And Rice, despite playing 15 games this season -- including dealing with a hip problem -- had just 120 Fantasy points on 272 touches after scoring 206 points the year before on 410 touches through 20 games, as he helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl. Rice actually had three seasons in a row with 400 touches (414 in 2011 over 18 games for 284 Fantasy points and 411 in 2010 over 18 games for 197 points). He went up in production after his first 400-touch campaign but declined the following season, and all the work from that three-year stretch is likely catching up with him now.

Foster and Peterson are fair comparisons to make with Lynch based on their age. Foster was 26 during his 400-touch season, and Peterson was 27 when he did it in 2012. Lynch is 27 now, and he likely will finish close to the 411 touches Peterson had last season if the Super Bowl goes as planned. On the positive side for Peterson, despite his 90-point decline in Fantasy points in 2013, he still finished as the No. 8 running back, which isn't horrible -- it's just not exceptional. You just hope Lynch has that kind of season and not like Foster or Rice. Both fell off dramatically in their production and didn't finish in the Top 25 at running back in 2013.

On the other hand, Lynch could end up like James, who was 27 in 2003 when he had 431 touches over 16 games and finished with 214 Fantasy points. He then came back at 28 in 2004 and had 426 touches over 18 games for 254 points. One thing of note for the running backs who improved after 400 touches: they all had standout quarterback play during that season with James and Peyton Manning, Peterson and Brett Favre and Tomlinson and Philip Rivers. Maybe that could happen with Lynch if Russell Wilson continues to progress, but Wilson likely isn't of that caliber of the previous three just yet.

The problem is it's just hard for running backs to recover after doing so much heavy lifting, and Lynch actually has 1,079 touches (987 carries and 92 catches) over the past three seasons heading into the Super Bowl. Lynch, known as "Beast Mode" for his physical style of running and absorbing contact, could definitely be in for a letdown in 2014, which is frustrating given his potential.

But the stats tell us that running backs with 400 touches don't fare well the following season, which means you'll want to watch the battle between Christine Michael and Robert Turbin closely this offseason. The No. 2 running back in Seattle could be a sleeper next year.

As for Lynch, he's likely still worth the gamble toward the end of the first round on Draft Day depending on what happens in the Super Bowl. When he's on the field, he should produce at a high level, but there could be some missed time if the workload catches up to him.

Just know that if you draft Lynch, handcuff him to Michael or Turbin -- or hope he surprises us and somehow improves following the dreaded 400-touch season. It's happened before, maybe it will happen again.

The history of RBs after 400-plus touches
Here is a look at the running backs who have reached 400 total touches over the past 10 years. Only four times has a running back seen an increase in Fantasy points the following year, so Marshawn Lynch could be in trouble in 2014. The Fantasy points listed are for regular season only.
Year Age GP Touches Fantasy Pts. Year GP Touches Fantasy Pts. Differential
Arian Foster 2012 26 18* 460 247 2013 8** 143 86 -161
Adrian Peterson 2012 27 17* 411 293 2013 14** 308 203 -90
Ray Rice 2012 25 20* 410 206 2013 15** 272 120 -86
Ray Rice 2011 24 18* 414 284 2012 20* 410 206 -78
Ray Rice 2010 23 18* 411 197 2011 18* 414 284 +87
Rashard Mendenhall 2010 23 19* 412 202 2011 15 246 144 -58
Chris Johnson 2009 24 16* 408 328 2010 16 360 214 -114
Adrian Peterson 2009 24 18* 412 262 2010 15 319 226 -36
Adrian Peterson 2008 23 17* 424 224 2009 18* 412 262 +38
Michael Turner 2008 26 17* 401 261 2009 11** 183 136 -125
LaDainian Tomlinson 2007 28 19* 410 308 2008 17* 349 209 -99
Tiki Barber 2006 31 17* 413 236 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Steven Jackson 2006 23 16 436 324 2007 12** 275 165 -159
Larry Johnson 2006 27 17* 475 329 2007 8** 188 95 -234
LaDainian Tomlinson 2006 27 17* 429 427 2007 19* 410 308 -119
Shaun Alexander 2005 28 19* 448 361 2006 12** 315 129 -232
Tiki Barber 2005 30 17* 427 303 2006 17* 413 236 -67
Edgerrin James 2005 29 16* 422 265 2006 16 365 166 -99
Clinton Portis 2005 24 18* 418 242 2006 8** 145 111 -131
Edgerrin James 2004 28 18* 426 254 2005 16* 422 265 +11
Curtis Martin 2004 31 18* 457 273 2005 12** 244 140 -133
LaDainian Tomlinson 2004 25 16* 444 282 2005 16 390 320 +38
Ahman Green 2003 26 18* 461 334 2004 16* 321 189 -145
Edgerrin James 2003 27 16* 431 214 2004 18* 426 254 +40
Jamal Lewis 2003 24 17* 429 296 2004 12** 245 153 -143
LaDainian Tomlinson*** 2003 24 16* 414 344 2004 16* 444 282 -62
Ricky Williams*** 2003 26 16 442 222 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
* - includes playoff games
** - missed games due to injury
*** - indicates player also had 400 touches in 2002 (Tomlinson had 451 touches for 300 Fantasy points ... Williams had 430 touches for 309 Fantasy points)

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