Dynasty Stock Market: Frank Gore and Steven Jackson
Anecdotal and statistical evidence suggest that there is usually a significant drop off in a running back’s production when he hits this age plateau. My colleague Austin Lee wrote at length on the subject. I am not here to argue that this is not the case. No man can triumph over Father Time, especially at a position that is so physically demanding week in and week out year after year. However, I am here to suggest that the disdain in the fantasy community for 30-year-old backs has gone too far, and as a result there is value to be had for those bold enough to seek it.
I have chosen to focus my analysis on two soon-to-be 30-year-old backs: Frank Gore and Steven Jackson.
These two have been staples in fantasy lineups for the better part of the past decade. I have noticed a trend that they are being traded as if they were toxic assets that couldn’t be dumped quickly enough. I seek to disprove these naysayers and show that these players can still be fantasy contributors.
In the five years since 2008 when we started collecting full data, these two backs have both had an average rank of 12th among running backs in standard fantasy scoring. In fact, they both averaged a rank of 12th in points per reception leagues as well. Gore finished last year ranked 11th and 10th in standard and PPR scoring, respectively. Jackson finished with standard and PPR ranks of 16th and 17th. They both have shown signs of decline statistically, but not significantly enough for me to disregard them as Dynasty assets by any means. In fact, Gore has trended up in terms of fantasy points for two years now, which not-so-coincidentally coincides with Jim Harbuagh’s arrival in San Francisco. Specifically in Jackson’s case, I believe there are also extenuating circumstances that have contributed to less noteworthy fantasy stat lines, which I will get to in a minute.
The following are graphs of Gore and Jackson vs. the average of the top 30 scoring fantasy running backs for the past five seasons in both standard and PPR scoring:
As previously mentioned, it is particularly remarkable that Gore has managed to trend upward in fantasy production for the past couple years. That is relatively unheard of at his age, and it is in large part due to the presence of offensive guru Jim Harbaugh. His blocking schemes are second to none and he uses other backs to keep Gore fresh and subsequently more productive on a per-play basis. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gore slip a little this coming season while Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James see more carries, I still see him having solid RB2 production for the next year or two. Especially after the 49ers gave him a new contract, they will want to get the most out of their investment.
The charts show that Jackson has indeed been trending downward in fantasy points, it is important to note that the average of the top 30 running backs has been trending down as well. Jackson has declined at a rate that is marginally greater than that of the top 30 at the position as whole. However, this is directly correlated to the fact that the Rams have been woeful on offense the past few years and that their offensive line has resembled a slice of Swiss cheese at times. In watching most of his carries from this past season, I do not notice much of a decline in his physical skill set. Primed to leave St. Louis and join a contender like Green Bay or Atlanta to chase that elusive championship ring, he has already confirmed that he intends to be a bell cow back wherever he goes. In either of those locations, he has top 10 upside for at least one more year. The whole situation is very reminiscent of Corey Dillon’s departure from Cincinnati to New England, and we all know how well that worked out.
The best argument for these two as trade targets is the combination of the uncertainty at the position due to a growing trend of backfields by committee and the certainty that these two backs will be receiving consistent carries for the next year if not two. While it wouldn’t make much sense for a Dynasty team in rebuild mode to invest any assets in either of these players, any manager that thinks his squad has a shot at the title in the next two years should certainly inquire about buying Gore and Jackson on the cheap. Given the prices that I have seen these two traded at, it is a low-risk move that could be the difference in a championship run, even if you only utilize them as flex options.
Planning for the future is nice, but there is a price for every asset where acquiring it becomes advantageous, even if it is depreciated. It is shrewd moves like these that win championships, which is the reason we are all playing this ridiculous game we call fantasy football in the first place.