Great Wall of 30: Five NFL Running Backs Who Are About To Hit the Age 30
We've all heard it dozens of times before.
"Such and such player is 29. He's got about one good year left"
"Don't you know running backs drop off at 30?"
That conversation has happened in hundreds of sports bars, living rooms, and stadiums for years. So whose name will be on the lips of these fans' 30 year wall conversations sooner than later?
Here are five running backs running straight for the retirement home.
Thomas Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
Thomas Jones will be tackled by the 30-plus bug this season.
He defied the standard by staying productive with the Jets because of a great defense that could get him the ball more frequently, and it didn't hurt to have Brett Favre during his '08 renaissance. That year, Jones totaled 15 touchdowns and more than 1,300 yards rushing.
Don't let Thomas Jones fool you. Much like the other running backs on this list, his best days are behind him by far, even if two or three plays a game still make you think he's a 20-something.
He's the backup to Jamaal Charles in Kansas City and isn't likely to take much playing time from him, considering his lack of catching skills.
Its safe to say, the 30-year old wall has caught up to Thomas Jones.
Jones's yards per carry average went from 4.5 yards in 2008 to 4.2 in 2009, and without a miracle season for Jones in 2008, his YPC was slipping from 4.3 to 4.1 to 3.6 in '05, '06 and '07 respectively.
Jones won't be running anywhere but to retirement in a year or two.
Willis McGahee, Baltimore Ravens
When you're a starting running back in the NFL, you learn pretty quick that "NFL" just as clearly stands for "Not For Long" as it does "National Football League".
Willis McGahee has never been a real "stud" option at running back, but it is becoming more evident each year that McGahee is backing up Ray Rice for a reason. He's lost a step or two and probably some driving power he used to use to break tackles.
McGahee has started just nine of his last 32 NFL games for the Ravens, a sign that the team is moving away from the former Buffalo Bills first-round pick in 2003's draft.
McGahee 12 touchdowns nearly matched his rookie total (13), but his scoring was mostly situational and very misleading. Other than last year, he hasn't had more than seven touchdowns since the 13-score rookie season.
McGahee is a running back in a system, so it will be hard to predict his fall from the game officially, but lets put it to rest like this: Willis McGahee is no longer a starting option at running back, and has very little life left in those legs.
I think I can hear Just For Men ad representatives calling McGahee now...
LaDainian Tomlinson, New York Jets
LaDainian Tomlinson has been a star running back his entire career, but going to New York just to keep that "star image" is pretty sad. Sure, he'll have a better opportunity to win if he splits carries because he's not a top starting option anymore, but it just delays the inevitable.
Tomlinson has been slowing down for a few years now, similar to how Shaun Alexander disappeared after his MVP season. He's not out of the league yet, but this might be LT's swan song in NY. I can't see him keeping up the charade and fighting age and wear on his legs for too much longer.
His production backs this up.
2007- 1474 Yards, 15 TDs, 4.7 YPC
2008- 1110 Yards, 11 TDs, 3.8 YPC
2009- 730 Yards, 12 TDS, 3.3 YPC
His receptions have also decreased in three consecutive seasons, from 60 to 52, to 20, in 2007, 2008, and 2009 respectively.
This clear drop in production, all coming after his mammoth 2006 season, where he totaled 349 runs, for 1815 yards to go with 28 TDs and 56 catches for 500+ yards and 3 TDS.
Tomlinson has lost a step. He's still one of the best of the 2000's, maybe one of the best of all time, but he's not one of the best in the game today. The former Charger doesn't seem to have that jolt in his step anymore.
Larry Johnson, Washington Redskins
What is there to say about Larry Johnson that hasn't already been said before?
"I hope he never plays another down as a Chief"
"Where's 2005 or 2006 Larry Johnson?"
All have been uttered in bathroom conversations while the good ol' urinal cake takes a pounding at Arrowhead Stadium sometime or another.
Aside from 2005 and 2006, Larry Johnson hasn't been a consistent option at all. In fact, it's laughable.
His 1,700-plus yard, 17 and 20 TD seasons in 2005 and 2006, respectively, made fans believe in life after Priest Holmes, but Johnson has been a dud since then, totaling 2,014 yards and eight TDs over his last 529 carries for just 3.8 yards per carry for the last three seasons.
Johnson was never a consistent back, sans 2005-06, and will never fit that bill now that he's in Washington's crowded backfield with fellow 30-plus runners, Willie Parker and Clinton Portis, as well as Ryan Torrain.
Larry Johnson might be riding to FedEx Field in Washington in a Bentley or Mercedes for now, but he'll be in a running back retirement home wheelchair before too much longer.
Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins
Closing in on 10,000 career rushing yards, Clinton Portis has been relatively consistent during his NFL career, only posting three seasons of less than nine touchdowns and 1,200 yards.
Even then, he was a solid producer for the Broncos for two seasons before being sent off to the Washington Redskins.
He won the 2002 AP Rookie of the Year award for his stud year of 1,508 yards and 15 TDs on just 273 carries.
However, with the great is the, well, not so great.
Portis' bad years—2006 and 2009—were bad not just because of poor performance but also because of his injury problems, as he only played in eight games in each of those seasons.
Portis' yards per carry has hovered right around 4.1 yards since his arrival in Washington, with his career numbers (4.5 YPC, bumped up by two great first seasons in the NFL with Denver and Mike Shanahan's running back system.)
Portis has nearly 10,000 yards of wear on the tires, and being 30 doesn't help any either. He's had injuries work against him before, and a key to longevity after 30 is health, so it's easy to assume another injury might spell the end for Portis—both in Washington and the NFL.
Now it's Your Turn
Have a problem with any of the running backs on the list?
Any additions necessary going into 2010?
I'm all ears, Bleacher Report readers & commenters. Let me know what you think.