Written by Andy Doorty
Following a stellar 2021 season, Jonathon Taylor and Najee Harris catapulted up the dynasty running back rankings. While Taylor finished just outside the top five in PPR leagues in 2020, his jump to the number one spot in his sophomore year prompted sky-high trade values. Taylor was the consensus number two pick in dynasty rookie drafts during his rookie season, often taken after Cyle Edwards-Helaire.
Harris, another highly touted running back prospect, slightly edged Ja’Marr Chase in ADP in the 2021 rookie draft. Harris definitely didn’t disappoint, as he showed versatility on the ground and as a pass-catcher in his rookie season. Harris led all rookie running backs in both rushing and receiving yards. He finished as the third best PPR running back, a good start for an elite NFL career.
Taylor and Harris both eclipsed the 300 carries mark in 2021, prompting speculation that they will fall to beat the curse of the 300-rush season. Back in 2019, the Fantasy Knuckleheads posted a story, as part of their Red Flags series, suggesting that you should get rid of Ezekiel Elliott because his 300 carries at age 21 will likely result in a down-year in the NFL.
Not specific to Elliot, the curse suggests that a running back coming off of a 300-carry season should be avoided. The article focuses on every running back from 2011 to 2019, citing that only Marshawn Lynch increased his yardage after a 300-carry season. Considering that a player with 300+ carries will likely lead the league in that statistic, it’s not too crazy to think that touches and yardage will come down as the running back ages. The RB position has the smallest lifespan in the NFL, and players did regress after leading the league in carries.
However, players like Zeke himself have broken the curse, which caused me to become skeptical. Typically, a player that rushes 300 times has around 1200 yards in a season. Just because that player didn’t repeat the feat in the following year doesn’t mean they had a lousy fantasy output, as the curse would suggest. Here is a breakdown of the 300-carry curse.
Victims of the Curse
In the same terms of the 2019 article, I sampled each running back that had 300 carries over 11 years from 2011 to 2021. Of the 27 running backs that eclipsed at least 290 rushes, only six had comparable stats the following season. Despite this stat not being excellent for my take, only five players were under the age of 24. Hell, Adrian Peterson had 327 carries in his age-30 season, which was the fourth time in his career he surpassed 300 carries in a single year. Some of these backs, who are either older or in their prime at 24, ruined their careers by being overused.
Alfred Morris hit 335 carries as a 24-year-old rookie in 2012. His yearly rushing yards went from 1,613 to 1,275 in 2013 before they hovered just above the 1,000-yard mark in 2014. Morris would hit career lows in rushes, yards, and touchdowns in 2015, his last year as a full-time starter.
Other running backs couldn’t repeat their seasons due to off-the-field concerns. Following his first 300 carry season, Elliott was suspended by the league for six games in 2017, stemming from a domestic violence lawsuit from a former girlfriend. Le’veon Bell sat out the 2018 season after a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bell had posted 1,291 yards on 321 carries and nine touchdowns. He signed with the Jets in 2019 and tallied career lows in production.
Of the four players that were 23 or younger with 300 carries in one season, Elliot was the only one to place in the top ten in rushing the following season. He did it twice, including his suspension-shortened 2017 season. The three that fell off the following their rookie or sophomore seasons were Bell, Stevan Ridley, and Doug Martin. Bell, at age 23, missed four games due to a suspension and injured his MCL after playing six games. Martin played six games into the 2013 season before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the remaining ten games. Ridley also played six games to follow up his 300-carry campaign but lost the starting job to LeGarrette Blount in 2013.
I believe that Taylor and Harris are way better than Ridley or Martin in terms of skill. So that leaves suspensions and injuries as the lone hurdles to repeating a 300 carry season. Suspensions and injuries are such long shots to root for because Taylor and Harris are so young. Maybe you could scare an owner in your league into trading you a future 2nd or 3rd-round pick for either player’s handcuff, but I doubt you’ll frighten them with injury talk.
Anomalies of the Curse
As mentioned before, Elliot has already broken the curse… Twice. Elliot went over 300 carries in 2018 and 2019, in which he nearly totaled 2,800 rushing yards over 31 games. Even as he regressed in 2020, Elliot still was in the top five in carries.
Derrick Henry had back-to-back 300-carry seasons in 2019 and 2020. Henry was injured eight games into the 2021 season, having already 219 rushes for 937 yards. If he stayed healthy, he had a chance at breaking the record for most carries and rushing yards in a season.
These two examples confuse the point of the study. Isn’t a curse technically dead once it’s beaten? With Marshawn Lynch already having bested the curse in 2013, why was it circulating in 2019? Not to mention that Adrian Peterson has surpassed 300 carries in four separate seasons and came close in another two.
I think that regression in the running back position comes naturally with age. While there are outliers, age will eventually catch up with the player. I believe the data supported in this article is more telling of the regression of a running back as he gets older, rather than promoting a cursed statistic.
The article mentioned is not clear enough to prove to me that young running backs will drop off the map after having 300+ carries in a season. Nowhere in the article do they point out anomalies and explain how they are outliers. Stevan Ridley was a third-round running back that was quickly replaced, while Doug Martin was often injured besides his two best seasons. Elliott, Taylor, and Harris are obviously different breeds of running backs, and if you’re betting on the latter two to get injured, then the odds are against you.
What to Expect from Taylor and Harris
Harris and Taylor were prominent offensive threats last season. The Colts had a wavering trust in Carson Wentz, who they ultimately traded this offseason, and Ben Roethlisberger was running on fumes in the final leg of his career. With Wentz at QB, the Colts relied on Taylor in the run and pass game. Colts coach Frank Reich will likely trust new addition Matt Ryan as a passer more than Wentz. The Colts will somehow need to bolster their receiving core before Taylor’s usage is affected. He might see fewer carries and rushing yards in 2022 but expect him to comfortably fit inside the top five among running backs.
Harris, I feel, will take a bigger dip in running back rankings. This is not entirely his fault, as the quarterback changing hands to Mitch Trubisky will likely mean fewer passes to the flat. The Steelers’ 2022 season might be a bit shakier with Trubisky at the helm, as they barely squeezed into the final playoff spot last season. The Steelers beat out the Colts and Dolphins with a record of 9-7-1, with the tiebreaker being a week 10 tie against the Detroit Lions. Pittsburgh may be playing from behind more often in the upcoming season, which means fewer opportunities for Harris in the running game.
Though Harris and Taylor will technically qualify as cursed, there is little reason to trade either back in your fantasy league. Both players were key pieces in some genuinely horrendous lopsided trades. However, I don’t care if you are a competitive team; three first-round picks for either player is an outright overpay, and you should smash accept.
The curse of rushing the ball 300 times in one season is inconclusive. While running backs do get injured following a tremendous workload, there is no correlation to the number of carries. Derrick Henry, Marshawn Lynch, and Ezekiel Elliott have all broken the curse, while many other running backs were still high-tier RB1s with decreased usage.
Though Taylor and Harris might not carry you to the fantasy playoffs in 2022, it’s not because they are cursed. The Steelers and Colts are in vastly different places than last season, and change is scary in any facet of fantasy football. The Colts will likely throw the ball more, while Trubisky on the Steelers will often heave the ball down the field.
Taylor and Harris can only fall in value if they get injured. Although injuries are unpredictable, most of the running backs who regressed after a 300-carry season were 25 and older. The curse was interesting to read into but didn’t show enough evidence of existing beyond the fact that RBs don’t last long in the NFL. Some players had natural regression entering their late 20s, while others were injured or suspended. If Zeke, at 23, played an entire season and had a crap year, the narrative may have been different.
Be sure to follow us on Twitter to stay up to date with our latest articles, rankings and posts. Feel free to tweet at us or send us a direct message for any of those tough dynasty decisions and we’ll be more than happy to lend a helping hand. Thanks for reading, we’ll see you next time!