Top 5 Running Backs Under 25 (2022 Fantasy Football)
If you’re like me and you suffer from arthritis, you know that youth is a wonderful thing. Let’s chase that feeling. Last week, I covered the Top 5 QBs Under 25. This week, I want you to follow me to a pasture filled with bellcows, workhorses, and rock-toting studs. This is the Top 5 RBs Under 25.
As with the QBs, the rules are the same: I will cover some of the players that didn’t quite make the rankings, and then I’ll present the Top 5. Additionally, all players must be under the age of 25. That means that players that just turned 25, like Christian McCaffrey and Joe Mixon, will be omitted from consideration. Finally, this list is my own, but it is strongly swayed by Dynasty Expert Consensus Rankings, so please follow that link to see how my list (or yours) compares.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Miles Sanders (PHI): 24 years old
The Eagles seem to be a constantly over-performing team, but they really over-performed this year, making an appearance in the playoffs. Mostly, that was due to Jalen Hurts and the coaching staff. As for Sanders, he finished the year with no TDs. It was also his second straight season of only appearing in 12 games. He’s never topped 900 yards rushing, and his season finishes have gone from a 15th to 21st to 40th. At this point, we know what his ceiling is.
Michael Carter (NYJ): 22 years old
Carter could have landed on any other franchise and would have instantly been in contention for Rookie of the Year. Instead, he landed on the lowly Jets. Even with that, he finished the season as the RB30, appearing in 14 games, 4.3 Y/A, 36 receptions, and one week as the top-scoring RB. He’s an A+ Dynasty buy.
Rhamondre Stevenson (NE): 23 years old, Damien Harris (NE): 24 years old
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), both Stevenson and Harris were graded in the top 10 at the position. Harris was third best, and Stevenson was 10th best. The issue here is pretty simple: they’re on the same team. It’s like Voldemort and Harry Potter: Neither can live while the other survives. That’s not to say that they can’t form an effective tandem, but both players boomed while the other was out with injury. They simply can’t both produce at a top-five level at the same time.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC): 22 years old
I’ve been a Clyde Edwards-Helaire apologist for some time. I’ve stood by him through his good times and bad times. Doing so has cost me multiple nights of sleep and even more fantasy championships. The guy simply can’t produce top stats. There’s a phenomenal article by Tim Brosnan that lays out all the details, but the long and short of it is that CEH has a high floor and low ceiling.
Travis Etienne (JAC): 23 years old, James Robinson (JAC): 23years old
Etienne spent all of 2021 on injured reserve. He’ll be back in 2022, and James Robinson (his only real competition for touches) will be coming off an Achilles surgery. Robinson, likewise, is under 25 years old, but the Jaguars seem generally incompetent enough to waste his career to make way for Etienne. Historically (except for Cam Akers), an Achilles injury is a career killer. No NFL stats exist to prove Etienne’s current worth, but I adamantly believe he’ll be a steal in 2022.
AJ Dillon (GB): 23 years old
PFF graded AJ Dillon as the best RB in 2021. However, that grade translated to a meager but respectable RB22 finish for Dillon in .5-PPR leagues. That being said, he showed massive improvement from 2020 to 2021 in nearly every category. Most significantly, he went from two receptions in 2020 to 34 in 2021. With Aaron Jones likely nearing the end of his time in Green Bay, it wouldn’t be surprising to watch Dillon take over the Packers backfield in 2022. The issue is that Green Bay has too many question marks for anyone to know what the offense will look like next season. He’s a strong Dynasty buy due to his immediate value and durability, but he may not touch his ceiling until 2023 (when Aaron Jones is just about guaranteed to be gone).
Saquon Barkley (NYG): 24 years old
Oh boy. There was a time when I might have been burned at the stake for not putting Barkley in the top-five. However, those of us who had him on various rosters this season know that he’s not that guy anymore. Barkley appeared in 13 games in 2022, finishing as the RB33 and (aside from his injury-marred 2020 season) notching career lows in nearly every category. He may have a new QB next season and will definitely have a new GM and head coach. Barkley is currently ranked much higher than he’ll ever come close to hitting next season. He’s a major Dynasty sell. Still, his floor may be low, but he has one of the highest ceilings in the league.
David Montgomery (CHI): 24 years old
Monty’s one of those RBs that surprises in nearly every way. The Chicago Bears fielded an atrocious offensive line in 2021, but Montgomery still posted an RB19 finish while only appearing in 13 games. For comparison, so did Saquon Barkley, who was the RB33. Did you know Montgomery has never had fewer than 267 total touches and seven TDs in a season? Now you know. He’s got upside. If the O-line improves and he stays healthy, he’s one of those guys who could make a serious jump in 2022. The downside is that he’s got quite a few “what if” situations to overcome, as well as Khalil Herbert and Tarik Cohen to contend with for touches.
JK Dobbins (BAL): 23 years old, Cam Akers: 22 years old
I’m putting Dobbins and Akers together because they both represent players who missed all or most of 2021 with a major injury. Akers tore an Achilles, and Dobbins tore an ACL. We’ve already seen in the postseason that Akers is the featured back in Los Angeles. Despite the presence of Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson, Akers will be the back to roster on a potent Sean McVay offense. Dobbins, similarly, will be returning to a Ravens team that desperately needs a lead back. Both offenses can put up stellar RB numbers. My concern is with durability and longevity. If they’d not been injured, both guys would likely be in the top five.
Elijah Mitchell (SF): 23 years old
Mitchell appeared in 11 games in 2021 and turned in eight top-25 performances. He was actually in the top-10 for most of those games. Simply put, he was everything we thought Trey Sermon would be: just a wrecking ball of Kyle Shanahan excellence. He posted 207 carries for 963 yards and 19 receptions. If he doesn’t miss those other six games, he’s easily in the top five. He’s the RB to target in San Francisco and that’s all we need to know.
THE TOP 5
5. Antonio Gibson (WAS): 23 years old
Gibson was, at times, a frustrating player to roster this season. He was drafted in the early second round and rarely delivered week-winning performances. However, for the season, he finished as the RB12, just about where he was being drafted. Consider his career progression from 2020 to 2021: he jumped from 170 to 258 carries, 795 to 1037 rushing yards, 36 to 42 receptions, and 11 to 10 TDs. Whether a single week showed it or not, he’s an ascending talent at the start of his career. Remember, this is the Top 5 RBs Under 25. Finishing two years in a row as the RB12 is pretty exciting. Just imagine what he could do if he played with a high-caliber QB.
4. Javonte Williams (DEN): 21 years old
There are two different realities at war for Williams. The first involves Melvin Gordon leaving the Broncos in free agency. The other involves Melvin Gordon staying. We know what both realities look like. If Gordon stays, Javonte Williams will finish 2022 much like he finished 2021, as the RB17. That’s not too shabby, but it’s all the more impressive when you realize that Williams evenly split touches with Gordon and still led the league in forced broken tackles. In the one game where Gordon was out, Williams tallied 29 total touches, 178 yards and a TD. He’s a workhorse waiting for his moment in the sun. It all depends on Melvin Gordon.
3. D’Andre Swift (DET): 22 years old
Swift is most valuable in PPR leagues, much like I am most valuable in ice cream shops. We both absorb everything that’s dumped off on us. Seriously, I love ice cream. And Swift tallied 62 receptions over 13 games (even though a couple of his appearances were cut very short by injury). He finished as the PPR RB16 and standard scoring RB24. What that means is that his value is dependent on league rules. Still, he put up over 1,000 total yards and began the year so hot that he looked like the steal of the draft. The Lions were abhorrent in 2021, but they also fought to the last play every game. Swift is injury prone, but he’s matchup proof. When the Lions were up, he got plenty of touches. When the Lions were down, he got even more touches. The talent and opportunities are both there. He’s just got to string it all together.
2. Najee Harris (PIT): 23 years old
I’ll confess I had little faith in Najee Harris in 2021. I even wrote most of an article that detailed exactly why he would disappoint this season. I was wrong. Way wrong. I pointed to the facts that the Steelers offensive line was going to be atrocious and Big Ben was going to be a liability. I was right about those two things, but I failed to grasp just how important it is for a player to receive an insane amount of touches. Harris was grossly inefficient with his carries (not a fault of his own), but he got so many touches that he had only four weeks where he finished outside the Top 20 RBs. Plus, he played every game, rarely missing an offensive series for the Steelers. The guy was simply always on the field. 307 carries, 74 receptions, all of which led to an RB4 finish in .5-PPR leagues. In a league where the best ability is availability, this man stands second to none.
1. Jonathan Taylor (IND): 23 years old
Let’s be real. You knew that Jonathan Taylor was going to be the top pick here, right? Even before you started reading, you knew. What’s left to say? 372 total touches, 2000+ total yards, 20 total TDs, played in all 17 games. He runs behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Even with an incompetent QB, he’s matchup proof. He jumped up in nearly every statistical category from 2020 to 2021, and he went from RB6 to RB1. Even from a hyper-critical standpoint, PFF gave him the second-highest overall RB grade, behind only AJ Dillon. If the Colts can get someone better than Carson Wentz at QB, this might not even be Jonathan Taylor’s ceiling. Wowza.
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