For Fred Jackson, Age Doesn't Matter

The Buffalo Bills will want to run the ball a lot this season, and look for Fred Jackson to be a major part of that, despite his seemingly advanced age.

Some things get better with age. The value of an antique, the flavor of wine or cheese, or the amount of time that passes until the Yankees win another championship. (Sorry, this is why I'm not a baseball writer.)

Other things...don't. Take running backs, for instance. In a recent article, I profiled Steven Jackson, who is over 30 and seems destined for a major decline. Jackson has been put through a tough workload over his career, amassing nearly 2,500 carries before even turning 30.

That amount of mileage on a running back leads to a decline in ability and durability, which for real and fantasy football purposes, signals a reduction in opportunity and productivity. But what about backs who are late bloomers? What about backs who don't see that much work early in their careers?

Since 2000, of the 25 backs to earn 300 or more rushing attempts in their age-30 season or later, 10 had more than 1,750 carries heading into that season. So in other words, more than half of the backs on the list were late bloomers, not racking up a ton of work before bursting onto the scene later in their football lives.

The two primary examples are Tiki Barber and Priest Holmes, who combined for over 1,300 carries after age 30 thanks to more sporadic usage in their 20's. Thomas Jones and Warrick Dunn combined more than 2,000 carries after turning 30, and both had similarly lighter workloads before exiting their athletic prime in the late 20's.

Among the five best yardage producers of this over-30 group, two were heavily worked Hall of Famers (Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin) and three weren't used as heavily while under-30 (Jones, Dunn, Barber). The statistics here show us that the likelihood of success after 30 very much depends having a limited workload in the 20's. Which is why it's far too early to give up on Fred Jackson.

Jackson is already on the "300 carries after age-30 season" list, totaling 491 rushing attempts since the season in which he hit the age of 30. However, the late-career surge in opportunities for Fred Jackson is less worrying than it is for Steven, because Fred barely saw an NFL field in his 20's.

Jackson didn't begin his NFL career until 2007, when he was already 26. He wouldn't reach 200 carries in a season until 2009, when he was 28. And he didn't hit 1,000 career carries until 2013, when he was 32, while sitting on a career workload similar to most 25-year-old starting running backs.

Here's a look at Jackson's productivity using our Net Expected Points data in his seasons prior to turning 30.

YearRushesRushing NEPRushing NEP/RushSuccess Rate

In limited usage in 2007, Jackson was efficient, but after receiving more of the share of the carries on offense, his productivity dropped.

Since turning 30? The numbers might surprise you.

YearRushesRushing NEPRushing NEP/RushSuccess Rate

Jackson has provided positive NEP production twice since turning 30, and while the 2012 season was certainly concerning, it appears to be an outlier given his consistent production closer to average on a per-carry basis in other seasons.

The general trend for Jackson, then, has been an increase in productivity with a fairly consistent Success Rate (which measures the percentage of a player's rushing attempts contribute positively in terms of NEP). In other words, he's adding Net Expected Points to his offense consistently, and in a decent amount. Last year, only 10 of the 22 backs who carried the ball 200 or more times finished with a positive Rushing NEP, and Jackson finished fifth in that group, just ahead of Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson.

And with a hopefully healthy C.J. Spiller and new weapons at receiver in Buffalo, Jackson won't be called upon to take on any more carries than he ever has, so the 30-something with the career experience of a 20-something shows no warning signs of slowing down.

Will age eventually catch up to Jackson? Sure. But he's in the perfect situation, and seems to be in the right condition to continue to give the Bills the two-headed rushing attack they need to supplement what should be an improved but still limited passing offense. Buffalo had the third-most run-heavy offense in the league last season, and that means opportunities will be plentiful for the rare running back who does get better with age.