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Top 5 Running Backs Under 25 

With the realization that paying running backs over 25 is a gamble, young running backs are vital for success in the NFL.
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There are some electric young talents at the running back position currently. Historically, the position has been filled with some of the NFL’s most exciting talents. This list of the top five running backs under 25 showcases the best young running backs in the league currently.

The top four players in terms of yards per rushing attempt in 2022 were all quarterbacks. Clearly, the game has changed for running backs. They are now as important to the passing game as they are to the running game. Pass blocking has always been vital for a starting running back but now, even when they are not catching passes, they provide the quarterback with an option before he takes off on a run of his own.

This change has been reflected in the running back economy. Three of the top 10 2022 running backs are now on new teams (or, at least, will be, when Dalvin Cook is signed up). Plus, Ezekiel Elliott is a free agent and Derrick Henry’s future remains uncertain. Thus, it is fair to say the running back landscape has changed considerably in just five short months. With the running back market vastly changing, the need for young running backs is clear. Who are the top running backs under 25 in the NFL currently?

The Top Five Running Backs Under 25

Kenneth Walker 

According to NextGen stats there was only one ball carrier faster than Kenneth Walker in 2022. Surprisingly, that player was Parris Campbell.

Walker missed two games and only started 11 games in 2023, but still finished the season ranked 12th for rushing yards. His 4.6 yards per attempt was 15th amongst running backs. Not bad for a second-round pick. His 1,050 rushing yards is even more impressive considering the Seahawks threw the ball on 55% of their offensive snaps.

In 2023, Seattle acquired offensive lineman Evan Brown from the Lions (a team who ran the ball very well in 2022). They also drafted two more interior linemen and signed three more linemen as undrafted free agents. Even with such an electrifying receiving corps the Seahawks should run the ball well this year.

Breece Hall

Breece Hall was third on the list for fastest ball carriers in 2022, just 0.22 mph slower than Walker. And just like Walker, Hall was a second-round pick in 2022. Hall’s rookie season only lasted seven games though, and he only started two of those. Hall was a victim of the MetLife’s questionable turf, which has since been replaced.

Hall averages an impressive 5.7 yards per carry so far in his burgeoning career. He also scored a rushing touchdown in the last four games he played. The Jets won five of the seven games he played in. They proceeded to lose eight games after his injury.

With a new (but old and slightly fragile) quarterback in town alongside four new offensive lineman and Allen Lazard (who has plenty of run blocking experience), Gang Green won’t want to rely on the passing game so much in 2023. They threw the ball 58% of the time last season.

The Jets will also benefit from a softer schedule after finishing bottom of their division in 2022.

Dameon Pierce

After the arrivals of Shaq Mason, C.J. Stroud and Devin Singletary, the Texans are set up perfectly to run and run some more. They will chew up plenty of clock and get after opposing quarterbacks with their shiny, new defense. It is not the most fashionable way to win football games but, in the AFC South, it will work. DeMeco Ryans might be copying Mike Vrabel’s homework a bit, but maybe all linebackers think alike?

Pierce was a fourth-round pick in 2022 who averaged 72.2 rushing yards per game as a rookie. Pierce’s average was seventh best for a running back. He also features on NextGen Stats “improbable rushes” list. His 75-yard run against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 4 ranked fourth, with 69 yards over expectation.

Pierce ended the 2022 season with 1,104 total yards from scrimmage. That was 23% of the Texans total offensive yards. With an upgraded offensive line and a less terrified quarterback, Pierce’s job should be simpler in 2023.

However, with the new additions, he may not be used as often. He might not break the 1,000 yards mark again, but his average yards per touch should increase from 2022’s 4.4. Incidentally, the fact Pierce only touched the ball 250 times when he was one of the most reliable players in Houston serves as a testament to how well Lovie Smith took care of his players in 2022.

Travis Etienne

Travis Etienne missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, but you would not have known that watching him in 2022. Etienne gave new meaning to the phrase “exploding onto the scene” last season. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 9 yards per reception. He ended the season with 1,441 yards from scrimmage.

Etienne appears at eighth on the NextGen fastest ball carriers list as he carried 21.62 mph in Week 17 against the Tennessee Titans. That makes him the fourth fastest running back, behind Walker, Hall and Dalvin Cook. And he was only 0.06 mph slower than Cook.

There’s going to be some regression toward the mean for Doug Pederson’s Jaguars in 2023, and it is unlikely they will maintain their good luck when it comes to injuries. But whenever Etienne is on the field, he will be a threat. He had five 100-yard rushing games in his unofficial rookie season, and he will not have any real competition for carries in 2023. However, the Jags may decide to throw more than 56% of the time with Calvin Ridley available.

Bijan Robinson

Technically, Javonte Williams may be the next best running back under 25 but he has only started five games in two seasons. Who knows what Sean Payton has planned in 2023?

On the other hand, Bijan Robinson has been compared to Christian McCaffrey. He was also called the best route runner in the draft by some. He will be a dual threat for the Falcons, just like Cordarrelle Patterson is.

The only real question concerns how Arthur Smith will choose to use the wealth of talent he has at his disposal. If Desmond Ridder or Taylor Heinicke start at quarterback, they provide some running ability to add to their throwing.

Last season at Texas, Robinson scored 20 touchdowns in 12 games. He averaged 16.5 yards per reception and 6.1 yards per carry amassing a whopping 1,894 total yards from scrimmage. Nobody ran the ball more than the Falcons did in 2022 and 20% of the passes they threw were caught by running backs. So, even with the plethora of backs in Atlanta, including Tyler Allgeier, they will all get plenty of opportunities if they stay fit.

Despite winning seven games in 2022 the Falcons finished last in the NFC South. As a result, they will face one of the easier schedules in the NFL this season. Robinson and that offense will be really fun to watch against struggling defenses.

Main Photo: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports


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