Combining NFL and NCAA RB Touches

I've been seeing a whole lotta NFL career touch counts on Twitter. Wear and tear on running backs are tracked more than ever. I've combined 132 NFL and NCAA touch counts, including the rookies, to accurately predict whose efficiency wanes next.

All it takes is googling "RB career touch efficiency" and it's near-unanimous that RB's efficiency begins to drop at age 27.

Here's one study showing that efficiency falls at age 27.

FantasyPros believes that age 26 is when RBs regress.

According to Kyle Borgognoni on Twitter, "Over the last 8 years, there's been only ONE player inside the top-10 of Dynasty RB ADP over the age of 27 that maintained top-10 status the next year: Adrian Peterson."

According to ESPN's Mike Clay on Twitter, "Over the past 5 seasons, RBs over the age of 27 to start the season have finished as a top 18 RB only three times (Lesean McCoy, Mark Ingram and Cordarrelle Patterson)." (The study was done last year, so I added Patterson to the list.)

This puts Mark Ingram, Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, Derrick Henry, Giovani Bernard, Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette on a watch list. I'm not saying don't draft any of them, but buyer beware: their best season could be behind them.

The touch count efficiency drop-off is a little more disputed.

Pro Football Focus believes that RBs fall off after hitting 1,500 carries.

Apparently, the Curse of 370 carries has now become the Curse of 335 touches.

A study from 2014 shows that RBs efficiency peaks at 2,250 touches and drops drastically. However, HUGE grain of salt in this study with HOF outliers Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson leading the way. Every other back on regression alert did just that almost immediately.

Also, RBs touch the ball much less than before and still age. 13 RBs carried the ball 295+ in 2003. 8 RBs in 2010. And only 2 RBs the past few years. So, unless you're looking at durable future HOFers (is there one in today's NFL?), that number is guaranteed to be much lower in this era.

What we do know is the more you touch the ball, the less efficient you become. And unless you're a future Hall of Famer, that wall is coming sooner than you think.

Something the Fantasy Twitter-verse have been craving is a combined touch count, including their NCAA touches. Take a look at this spreadsheet, because there's a few things that really stand out.

Combining NFL and NCAA RB Touches

Top 24 rookie RB seasons since 2017, with their college touch count.

  • Jonathan Taylor - 968

  • Phillip Lindsay - 882

  • James Robinson - 855

  • Kareem Hunt - 855

  • Saquon Barkley - 773

  • Christian McCaffrey - 731

  • Najee Harris - 718

  • Leonard Fournette - 657

  • Elijah Mitchell - 576

  • D'Andre Swift - 513

  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire - 439

  • Miles Sanders - 308

  • Josh Jacobs - 299

  • Alvin Kamara - 284

  • Antonio Gibson - 77

Antonio Gibson is 93rd in NFL and NCAA combined touches, among 132 current NFL RBs. As a third year player, Gibson's touched the ball less than 11 rookies.

Austin Ekeler is 1st in NCAA touches with 1,054 at Western Colorado. Despite being 17th in NFL touches, he's now 7th in combined touches.

Jonathan Taylor is already 15th in combined touches, having touched the ball 968 times at Wisconsin.

Alvin Kamara only touched the ball 284 times in college, 119th among RBs. Even though he's 6th in NFL touches, he's just 19th in combined touches.

After just two NFL seasons, Jonathan Taylor has already surpassed Kamara in combined touches.

Eight year veteran and 30 year old Raheem Mostert has less touches than 15 rookies, ranked 108th in combined touches. Despite playing three more seasons, Mostert has 1,010 less combined touches than Chase Edmonds and 969 less than Sony Michel.

Ezekiel Elliott has 1,946 more combined touches than Tony Pollard.

Breece Hall touched the ball exactly 800 times at Iowa State, 11th among NCAA touches. He's already surpassed 5th year RB Gus Edwards and 3rd year RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire in career touches.

James Cook received 297 touches in college and Rachaad White received 275 touches in college.

Only Alvin Kamara and Antonio Gibson had less than 297 touches in college and posted top 24 RB rookie seasons since 2017.

Darrell Henderson has played 26 more NFL games than Cam Akers, but only has 50 more combined touches.

Marlon Mack had a combined 37 touches in 2020 and 2021, yet is already 32nd in combined touches with 1,275. Dameon Pierce has touched the ball 375 times.

Fifth year veteran Rashaad Penny has touched the ball a mere 334 more times than Kenneth Walker III.

For reference, Najee Harris touched the ball 381 times as a rookie in 2021 alone.

Harris has touched the ball more than third year starting RBs D'Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Cam Akers, fourth year starters Miles Sanders and Damien Harris, fifth year starter Rashaad Penny, and tenth year starter Cordarrelle Patterson.

Cordarrelle Patterson is entering his tenth NFL season at age 31. And with 659 combined touches, he's touched the ball less than rookies Breece Hall, Sincere McCormick, Travis Etienne, and Ty Chandler.

Coming off a lisfranc tear, Travis Etienne is starting his NFL career as a former college workhorse and potentially a future NFL workhorse, 16th in NCAA touches.

Fourth year starter Josh Jacobs is only 36th in combined touches. Thanks to a strong Alabama depth chart, Jacobs only touched the ball 299 times at Bama (114th in NCAA touches).

Joe Mixon is 7th in NFL touches. But thanks to a college suspension, he's only 13th in combined touches (103rd in NCAA touches).

Entering his third season, AJ Dillon is already 37th in combined touches, having been a workhorse at Boston College with 866 college touches (8th among current RBs).

Chase Edmonds, Royce Freeman and Myles Gaskin are in the top 25 of combined touches, thanks to 1000+ in college.

What can we conclude from all this data?

Running backs who touch the ball a lot in college generally, but not always, are more efficient early in their career. They're better prepared to play immediately.

The freshest starting RB in the NFL is technically either third year starter Antonio Gibson or 30 year old Raheem Mostert, depending on the Dolphins backfield rotation. Austin Ekeler had over 1000 touches in college, so even though he's not passed the 1,100 NFL touch threshold, he's taken a lot of punishment throughout his career. Alvin Kamara on the other hand, is past that NFL threshold, but is much fresher. Breece Hall should likely start his career off with a bang, but will he play ten effective seasons? 30 something RBs Cordarrelle Patterson and Raheem Mostert have less wear and tear than many rookies. There's a lot of RBs whose placement on the list changed drastically for better or worse when combining touches, and that's why I created this list.

Get your guys, draft whoever you want. All I can do is provide as much information as I can to help you make your decision. Don't say I didn't warn you!