The Under-25 Best-of Club: Running Backs

Tennessee Titans free safety Kevin Byard (31) holds on to a thread as he tries to jersey tackle Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson (30) during third quarter action. The Jacksonville Jaguars hosted the Tennessee Titans Sunday, December 13, 2020, at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jaguars trailed at the half 17 to 3. [Bob Self/Florida Times-Union]

The NFL is a league that has seen an explosion and infusion of lots of young talent through the draft over the past few seasons. Some young stars, however, went undrafted, which means that they play with a bigger chip on their shoulders than others, and have seen a major amount of production stats-wise. One position in particular that has seen such production from both undrafted gems and young stars is the running back. (Shoutout to coworker Abhyudhaya Venkat for popping this idea into the system). There’s already a list posted regarding the best quarterbacks under the age of 25, but now let’s look into their backfield mates. Here are some of the best running backs in the NFL who are younger than 25 years old.

1. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

The former Penn State Nittany Lion has impressed many a fan and scout over his first couple of seasons, even though a torn ACL wiped out his 2020 campaign in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears. Now preparing to enter his fourth year in the league, the 24-year-old should return to form from his first two seasons, when he won Rookie of the Year in 2018 and posted back-to-back 1,000 rushing yard stats. With Daniel Jones and a solid receiver group, Barkley should see touches comparable to those of his 2018 and 2019 campaigns.

2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

The last pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Edwards-Helaire displayed some impressive numbers in his rookie season, finishing with 1100 all-purpose yards during the regular season (803 rushing, 297 receiving), and five total touchdowns. His production took a hit during the postseason, where he was mainly seen as a backup to former Miami Dolphin Damien Williams. Now as he prepares to enter his sophomore campaign, the 22-year-old and former Louisiana State Tiger is expected to have another big year within the high-flying Kansas City offense.

3. James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

I almost feel like I should have put Robinson higher on this list, but number three is respectable considering some of the other talents at the running back position. Robinson came in last season as an undrafted rookie at Illinois State, and all he did was make history. In Week 1 against Indianapolis, he was the first undrafted rookie to start at running back since 1970, and would set the week 1 undrafted rookie rushing record with 62 yards in a win. Robinson was one of the lone bright spots in what turned out to be a dismal 1-15 season for Jacksonville last year, as he finished with the most scrimmage yards for any undrafted rookie in league history at 1,414. He also joined an elite company of undrafted running backs to finish their rookie season with over 1000 rushing yards, a feat previously done by Dominic Rhodes, LeGarrette Blount, and current Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay.

4. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

Jacobs has become a bright spot for the Raiders even though they’ve been kinda down over the past couple of seasons. The former Alabama Crimson Tide running back saw a bit of a dip in his rushing statistics last year, but still finished with over 1050 yards on the ground. His running style is comparable to that of Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, or Derrick Henry. He is the primary bellcow for carries, and usually picks up a high number of yards while bruising defenders. Jacobs did see an increase in his receiving production in 2020, posting 33 catches for 238 yards. As he looks ahead to his third season, the 23-year-old will once again serve as the primary ballhandler at the running back position for Jon Gruden, and he will more than likely finish with another 1000 rushing yard campaign under his belt.

5. Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Though a positive COVID test did hamper the end of the regular season, Jones still was a solid factor in the Bucs’ Super Bowl pursuit in 2020. The 23-year-old and former USC Trojan finished the campaign with 978 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, and was a solid option for Tom Brady in the passing games, collecting 28 catches for 165 yards and a score. The 38th overall pick back in the 2018 Draft split time with Leonard Fournette over the course of the regular season and playoffs as Tampa went on to win their first Super Bowl since 2002 in convincing fashion over the 2020 champion Kansas City Chiefs. Jones is likely to RB1 come September for the Bucs, and he will be the primary option out of the backfield for the ground and air games in Bruce Arians’ offense.

While injuries and positive COVID tests did affect the 2020 season for some running backs, others flourished in different systems. The position is in good hands in 2021 for NFL offenses, if stars and youngbloods can stay healthy.