At age 36, former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber is considering a return to the NFL after a four-year retirement. The merits of whether or not he should return can be debated and ultimately the decision will come down to Tiki and his team determining whether or not he is capable of doing the job and if he can be a productive player.
But let’s take a quick look at the possibility of Barber making a “successful” return from a statistical viewpoint. Simply asked, how many successful 36-year-old running backs have played in the NFL? First, consider that Barber rushed for 1,662 yards and five touchdowns in his “final” season of 2006. Can Barber match that total in a comeback?
Here’s a look at the NFL running backs 36 years of age or older who have gained the most yards in a season:
Marcus Allen (age 36) 830 (1996)
John Riggins (age 36) 677 (1985)
Marcus Allen (age 37) 505 (1997)
MacArthur Lane (age 36) 277 (1978)
John Henry Johnson (age 37) 226 (1966)
Lorenzo Neal (age 36) 140 (2006)
Ollie Matson (age 36) 101 (1966)
So only six running backs gained over 100 yards in a season (Allen did it twice). That’s not 100 yards in a game, that’s in a season!
How about touchdowns? Only six running backs scored a rushing touchdown at age 36 or older. Allen scored 20 over two years, Riggins scored eight in one season, and John Henry Johnson scored three rushing TDs in one season. Three other running backs scored one TD each at age 36 or older: Ollie Matson, Fred McAfee and Lorenzo Neal.
Can Tiki Barber make a successful return to the NFL? Time will tell. But based on the numbers, a successful 36-year-old running back is pretty rare. If Barber can find some of those skills that propelled him to 1,662 yards and five TDs in 2006, he will join Marcus Allen and John Riggins as those rare running backs who had success at age 36 and beyond.
(Thanks, Chips, for the idea)