Dynasty Running Backs Past the Age Apex: Buys or Sells

by Emerson Beery · Dynasty Leagues

Running backs are heavily scrutinized in dynasty fantasy football leagues based on their age and workload history. This is because they don’t have long careers compared to other positions due to the heavy contact. As a result, their fantasy relevance can end just like that similar to Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley. With that in mind, I’m going to take a look at some dynasty fantasy football running backs approaching (or well past) the age apex for the position.

While these players are certainly in the twilight of their careers, some will be incredible values in 2023. They can be had at a bargain in dynasty leagues as well due to the notorious cautious history of fantasy managers and aging running backs. On the other hand, there are also some older running backs who have surprisingly maintained their trade value. These are prime sell candidates as this will be the final season any of these players have any trade value.

Dynasty Running Backs Past the Age Apex: Buys or Sells

Christian McCaffrey – San Fransisco 49ers

Christian McCaffrey is one of the biggest sells of the off-season considering his age and injury history. Running backs normally decline in trade value rapidly after their first few seasons in the NFL. However, that isn’t the case for Christian McCaffrey, who ranks as a top 5 dynasty running back according to most publications.

This isn’t for no reason either. McCaffrey has finished top five in fantasy points per game each of the last five seasons. Furthermore, he’s garnered over a 20-percent target share every year he’s remained healthy. His role should be massive again in 2023 but expect Elijah Mitchell to remain a frustratingly large part of the gameplan.

Despite not being healthy for most of the season, Mitchell received a heavy workload in the playoffs. This shouldn’t be a surprise because he averaged 5.9 True Yards Per Carry and had a 41.7-percent Juke Rate in 2022 (both ranked top 10 in the NFL). With McCaffrey getting older as well, the 49ers will use Mitchell in order to preserve his health.

Nevertheless, fantasy managers still hold McCaffrey in high regard despite him being well past the age apex for a running back. A running back’s peak fantasy production has come between ages 22 and 26 in recent years. Specifically, running backs aged 24-26 have accounted for 46-percent of the total top 12 running backs since 2000 (Fantasy Alarm).

I can’t recommend selling Christian McCaffrey to a manager with a loaded fantasy team ready to compete for a championship. Any team that sees itself as a fringe contender though has to take advantage of what will be his final sell window. Any dynasty trade package with multiple first round picks or a young and talented wide receiver would be a great return.

Dynasty Fantasy Football Verdict: Sell

Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans

There isn’t a player with a wider range of value in dynasty rankings than Derrick Henry. His trade value is entirely based on how a fantasy manager values youth versus short-term production. The age apex for a running back is less than 25 years old, and Henry will be 29 entering his eighth NFL season.

Given he’s approaching 30 and his workload over the last several years, Henry isn’t being valued high in dynasty leagues either. After finishing in the top 10 in True Yards Per Carry in 2019 and 2020, Henry has dropped out of the top 30 in the last two seasons. While he is certainly still very productive, his fantasy production is becoming more volume dependent.

Dynasty managers don’t value the present enough though, and Henry could be had at a value as a result. The floor could fall out anytime for Henry. However, as long as he remains healthy, he is a lock to finish as a top 5 fantasy running back in 2023. With a career-high in targets last year, fantasy analysts are simply allowing history to decide their ranking of Henry.

A strong contender will have a hard time letting go of Henry, but any other manager will be looking to move him. I wouldn’t trade a future first round pick, and most managers won’t be willing to sell for a second. Regardless, there are ways to work around this. Offering a future second round pick and an upside receiver such as Zay Flowers would be a savvy move.

Dynasty Fantasy Football Verdict: Buy

Austin Ekeler – Los Angeles Chargers

Austin Ekeler is ranked much higher than Derrick Henry in dynasty fantasy football leagues, but he shouldn’t be. Despite finishing as a top 2 fantasy running back each of the last two seasons, there is cause for concern. Ekeler has actually ranked outside the top 12 running backs in Opportunity Share three of the last four seasons, instead relying predominantly on touchdowns and receiving volume.

There is a reason that could change with Kellen Moore taking control of the offense too. It’s always a toss up who ultimately falls in the endzone, and Moore is expected to push the ball more downfield this year. With so many check-downs to Ekeler last season, a considerable drop in targets should be expected.

This isn’t good news for a player that has never exceeded 206 rushing attempts and was only No. 34 in True Yards Per Carry a year ago. At 28 years of age, he is entering uncharted waters for modern running backs. Furthermore, he will be a free agent next off-season, and there isn’t a better situation for him than in Los Angeles.

Similar to McCaffrey, an elite fantasy football team pushing for a championship shouldn’t be pushing Ekeler out the door. Adding a first round pick to him to acquire a young back such as Kenneth Walker or Breece Hall would be fantastic though. An expected mid-first round pick in 2024 or a top 24 dynasty receiver would be a solid return too.

Dynasty Fantasy Football Verdict: Sell

Dalvin Cook – Free Agent

Fantasy Football Implications of Dalvin Cook‘s Departure

There isn’t a running back on this list whose status is more up in the air than Dalvin Cook. He was recently released by the Minnesota Vikings becoming a free agent before training camp begins. As a result, his status for 2023 is in limbo and he is dropping down dynasty fantasy football rankings.

At this stage in his career, the wheels could fall off at any point as well. Cook has struggled with injuries over the years and his yards per touch have decreased each of the last four seasons. It is safe to wonder just how much Cook has left in the tank at this point. Regardless, his fantasy-relevant days are closing quickly.

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As a contender in dynasty fantasy football leagues, I would be comfortable sending a future second-round rookie pick. If he lands in a good offense, Cook could maximize his touches in a more limited role. However, with that kind of return unless a fantasy manager is in a severe rebuild, they are likely better off holding Cook. It’s actually hard for me to recommend him as a buy or a sell at this moment.

Dynasty Fantasy Football Verdict: Hold

James Conner – Arizona Cardinals

There might not be a better value in fantasy football at the moment than James Conner. He is a borderline RB3 in dynasty leagues and is set to be the top option in the Arizona backfield. In 2023, this role saw him finish No. 8 in Opportunity Share and No. 9 in fantasy points per game among running backs.

In dynasty leagues though Conner is ranked right alongside other one-year assets and younger longshot players. For contenders, he is the perfect player to target in trades because he doesn’t have much value in the market. Sending a second-round pick expected to be later or a player such as Kadarius Toney could be potential options.

A rebuilding team will want to trade him as well considering he won’t have any value going into the 2024 off-season. The only problem might be the recent hype wave, and a savvy manager might have already acquired him.

Dynasty Fantasy Football Verdict: Buy