After age 26, production of NFL running backs noticeably declines

By JERRY TAPP

If you follow the NFL, you probably hear a lot about the need to establish the run game and have a solid defense. It all sounds well and good, but let’s be realistic… today’s game depends more on quarterbacks and receivers than running backs.

NFL runners who reach 1,000 yards for the season are still a well-sought-after milestone in today’s game. In 2019, there were 16 running backs that surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark. If we look back over the past 50 years of the NFL (since 1970), there have been 613 times in those 50 years that a running back had a 1,000-yard season.

(Note: pro-football-reference.com lists a player’s age for the season as the age of that player on December 31 of that year.)

But in looking at the age of these 1,000-yard rushers since 1970, there is a very distinct pattern: Most of these players have been in the 24-26 age range. In fact, 269 of the 613 1,000-yard rushers (43%) since that ’70 season (the first year of the AFL-NFL merger) was either 24, 25 or 26 years of age in that milestone season.

Looking at the 16 players who reached 1,000 yards rushing last season, 14 of the 16 were under the age of 26. The breakdown from last year: 30 years old (1), 29 (1), 25 (4), 24 (4), 23 (3), 22 (2) and 21 (1).

Here’s a look at the age of the 613 players who reached 1,000 yards rushing since 1970.

Age    # of runners
35               1
34               1
33               3
32               6
31               12
30               25
29               42
28               59
27               74
26               90
25               89
24               90
23               68
22               41
21               12

In case you were wondering, John Riggins is the oldest running back to have a 1,000-yard rushing season. He did it twice, at 34 years of age and at 35. The 33-year-olds were Frank Gore, Franco Harris and Adrian Peterson.

The twelve 21-year-olds on the list are: Josh Jacobs (2019), Saquon Barkley (2018), Ezekiel Elliott (2016), Todd Gurley (2015), Marshawn Lynch (2007), Clinton Portis (2002), Jamal Lewis (2000), Edgerrin James (1999), Rashan Salaam (1995), Marshall Faulk (1994), Jerome Bettis (1993) and Barry Sanders (1989).

Follow Jerry on Twitter @StatsonTapp

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