With the increasing popularity of dynasty fantasy football leagues, player age has become an even more important variable. While some players can fend off father time for an impressive amount of time (we’re looking at you, Tom Brady), most players tend to have similar timelines. Age can help us make knowledgeable predictions as to when a player will improve or regress. Let’s explore the peak age for an NFL running back.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

TL;DR:

  • This article explores at which ages NFL running backs have their most productive seasons.
  • For RB1 (top-12) production, a shockingly high 91% of peak seasons are from players between the ages of 21-28.
  • For truly elite (250+ PPR points) production, 66% of elite seasons are from players between the ages of 23-26, and 95.7% take place before a player turns 29.

Defining A Peak Season

To start this study, we must define a peak season for an NFL running back. Generally, the 12th-highest-scoring running back each season averages about 230 PPR fantasy points. In 2023, Alvin Kamara was the 12th-highest-scoring running back and finished 227 PPR fantasy points.

To examine at what age top running backs produce, we’ll include all running backs who finished with at least 230 PPR fantasy points. The list of 258 includes all individual running back seasons to meet the requirements since 2000 and was generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com.

PlayerSeasonAgeTeamGPPRPPR/G
LaDainian Tomlinson200627SDG16481.130.07
Christian McCaffrey201923CAR16471.229.45
Marshall Faulk200027STL14459.932.85
Priest Holmes200330KAN1644527.81
LaDainian Tomlinson200324SDG16443.827.74
Priest Holmes200229KAN14440.731.48
Marshall Faulk200128STL14419.729.98
Steven Jackson200623STL16415.425.96
David Johnson201625ARI16407.825.49
Edgerrin James200022IND16395.324.71
Chris Johnson200924TEN16392.924.56
Arian Foster201024HOU1639224.5
Christian McCaffrey202327SFO16391.324.46
Saquon Barkley201821NYG16385.824.11
Christian McCaffrey201822CAR16385.524.09
Ahman Green200326GNB1638524.06
LaDainian Tomlinson200223SDG16384.224.01
Todd Gurley201723LAR15383.325.55
Jamaal Charles201327KAN1537825.2
Alvin Kamara202025NOR15377.825.19
Shaun Alexander200528SEA16376.823.55
Jonathan Taylor202122IND17373.121.95
Ray Rice201124BAL16372.823.3
Austin Ekeler202227LAC17372.721.92
Todd Gurley201824LAR14372.126.58
Larry Johnson200627KAN16370.923.18
Le'Veon Bell201422PIT16370.523.16
Brian Westbrook200728PHI15368.424.56
LaDainian Tomlinson200728SDG16367.622.98
LaDainian Tomlinson200526SDG16366.122.88
Ricky Williams200225MIA16362.622.66
Larry Johnson200526KAN16360.322.52
Tiki Barber200530NYG1635922.44
Christian McCaffrey202226CAR,SFO17356.420.96
Alvin Kamara201823NOR15354.223.61
DeMarco Murray201426DAL16351.121.94
Tiki Barber200429NYG16347.621.73
Adrian Peterson201227MIN16347.421.71
Charlie Garner200230OAK16347.321.71
Matt Forte201429CHI16346.621.66
Austin Ekeler202126LAC16343.821.49
Le'Veon Bell201725PIT15341.622.77
Dalvin Cook202025MIN14337.824.13
Matt Forte201328CHI16337.321.08
LaDainian Tomlinson200425SDG15336.122.41
Eddie George200027TEN16334.220.89
Derrick Henry202026TEN16333.120.82
Priest Holmes200128KAN16332.920.81
LeSean McCoy201325PHI16330.620.66
Brian Westbrook200627PHI15330.622.04
Ezekiel Elliott201823DAL15329.121.94
Shaun Alexander200225SEA16328.520.53
LeSean McCoy201123PHI15328.421.89
Josh Jacobs202224LVR17328.319.31
Deuce McAllister200325NOR16326.720.42
Ray Rice200922BAL16326.120.38
Ezekiel Elliott201621DAL15325.421.69
Jamal Lewis200324BAL16325.120.32
Shaun Alexander200427SEA16323.620.23
Domanick Williams200424HOU15323.621.57
Maurice Jones-Drew200924JAX16323.520.22
Frank Gore200623SFO1632320.19
Tiki Barber200227NYG16321.420.09
Adrian Peterson200924MIN16320.920.06
Alvin Kamara201722NOR16320.420.03
Curtis Martin200431NYJ16319.219.95
Ahman Green200124GNB16318.119.88
Le'Veon Bell201624PIT12317.426.45
Devonta Freeman201523ATL15316.421.09
Ahman Green200023GNB16316.419.78
Clinton Portis200221DEN16316.219.76
Aaron Jones201925GNB16314.819.68
Clinton Portis200322DEN13312.524.04
Ezekiel Elliott201924DAL16311.719.48
Doug Martin201223TAM16311.619.48
Deuce McAllister200224NOR1531120.73
Edgerrin James200527IND15310.320.69
Austin Ekeler201924LAC1630919.31
Curtis Martin200027NYJ16307.919.24
DeAngelo Williams200825CAR16307.619.23
Edgerrin James200426IND16306.119.13
Arian Foster201125HOU13305.123.47
Shaun Alexander200326SEA1630519.06
Maurice Jones-Drew201126JAX1630519.06
Matt Forte200823CHI16304.519.03
Derrick Henry202228TEN16302.818.93
Marshawn Lynch201428SEA16302.318.89
Arian Foster201226HOU16302.118.88
Charlie Garner200028SFO16300.918.81
Najee Harris202123PIT17300.717.69
Tiki Barber200631NYG16298.718.67
Ricky Watters200031SEA16298.518.66
LeSean McCoy201628BUF15298.319.89
Shaun Alexander200124SEA16298.118.63
LeSean McCoy201022PHI15297.219.81
Curtis Martin200128NYJ1629718.56
Knowshon Moreno201326DEN16296.618.54
Kareem Hunt201722KAN16295.218.45
Peyton Hillis201024CLE16294.918.43
LaMont Jordan200527OAK14294.821.06
Derrick Henry201925TEN15294.619.64
DeMarco Murray201628TEN16293.818.36
Dalvin Cook201924MIN14292.420.89
Tiki Barber200025NYG16290.518.16
Breece Hall202322NYJ17290.517.09
Willie Parker200626PIT16288.618.04
Melvin Gordon201724LAC16288.118.01
Joe Mixon202125CIN16287.917.99
Devonta Freeman201624ATL16284.117.76
Saquon Barkley202225NYG1628417.75
Travis Henry200224BUF16283.717.73
Ray Rice201225BAL16283.117.69
Marshall Faulk200229STL1428320.21
Jamaal Charles201024KAN16282.517.66
Travis Etienne202324JAX17282.416.61
Nick Chubb202227CLE17281.416.55
Maurice Jones-Drew200823JAX16280.917.56
Robert Smith200028MIN16280.917.56
James Conner201823PIT1328021.54
Fred Taylor200024JAX13279.921.53
Frank Gore200926SFO14278.619.9
Mark Ingram201728NOR1627817.38
Michael Turner200826ATL1627817.38
Maurice Jones-Drew200621JAX16277.717.36
LaDainian Tomlinson200829SDG16277.617.35
Darren Sproles201128NOR16277.317.33
Joseph Addai200724IND15276.618.44
Ray Rice201023BAL16276.617.29
James White201826NWE16276.617.29
Brian Westbrook200425PHI13276.521.27
Fred Taylor200327JAX16276.217.26
Thomas Jones200830NYJ16275.917.24
Adrian Peterson201025MIN15275.918.39
Melvin Gordon201825LAC12275.522.96
Marshawn Lynch201327SEA16275.317.21
Arian Foster201428HOU13273.521.04
Chris Johnson201025TEN16272.917.06
Clinton Portis200726WAS16272.717.04
Mike Anderson200027DEN16272.617.04
Eddie Lacy201424GNB16272.617.04
Ricky Williams200326MIA16272.317.02
Clinton Portis200524WAS16271.916.99
Steve Slaton200822HOU16271.916.99
Brian Westbrook200829PHI14269.819.27
Marshawn Lynch201226SEA16269.616.85
LaDainian Tomlinson200122SDG16269.316.83
Ahman Green200225GNB14268.319.16
Rachaad White202324TAM17267.915.76
Raheem Mostert202331MIA15267.717.85
Darren McFadden201023OAK13267.420.57
Fred Taylor200226JAX16267.216.7
Joe Mixon202327CIN1726715.71
Reggie Bush200621NOR16266.716.67
Edgerrin James200325IND13266.120.47
Ricky Williams200124NOR16265.616.6
David Montgomery202023CHI15264.817.65
Matt Forte201025CHI16264.616.54
LeSean McCoy201729BUF16263.616.48
Adrian Peterson200823MIN16261.516.34
Corey Dillon200430NWE15260.817.39
Adrian Peterson201530MIN16260.716.29
Eddie George200229TEN1626016.25
Leonard Fournette201924JAX15259.417.29
Aaron Jones202026GNB14258.918.49
Corey Dillon200127CIN16258.316.14
DeMarco Murray201325DAL14258.118.44
Duce Staley200227PHI1625816.13
James Conner202126ARI15257.717.18
Leonard Fournette202126TAM14255.618.26
C.J. Spiller201225BUF16255.315.96
Nick Chubb201924CLE16255.215.95
Lamar Smith200030MIA1525517
Kyren Williams202323LAR1225521.25
Trent Richardson201222CLE15254.716.98
Stephen Davis200026WAS15254.116.94
Jonathan Taylor202021IND15252.816.85
Ezekiel Elliott202126DAL17252.114.83
Alfred Morris201224WAS1625215.75
Jamal Lewis200223BAL16251.915.74
Adrian Peterson200722MIN14251.917.99
Warrick Dunn200025TAM16251.515.72
Melvin Gordon201623SDG13250.619.28
Jamaal Charles201428KAN15250.416.69
James Robinson202022JAX14250.417.89
Moe Williams200329MIN16249.915.62
Chris Johnson200823TEN15249.816.65
Rudi Johnson200526CIN16249.815.61
Rhamondre Stevenson202224NWE17249.114.65
Tony Pollard202225DAL16248.815.55
Aaron Jones202228GNB17248.614.62
Alvin Kamara201924NOR14248.517.75
Joseph Addai200926IND15248.316.55
Ricky Williams200932MIA16247.515.47
Jamal Lewis200728CLE15247.216.48
Justin Forsett201429BAL16246.915.43
Derrick Henry202329TEN17246.714.51
David Johnson201827ARI16246.615.41
Clinton Portis200827WAS16246.515.41
Bijan Robinson202321ATL17246.314.49
James Stewart200029DET16245.115.32
Steven Jackson200926STL15244.816.32
Tiki Barber200328NYG16244.715.29
Saquon Barkley201922NYG13244.118.78
Marshawn Lynch201125SEA15243.616.24
Joe Mixon201822CIN14243.417.39
Danny Woodhead201530SDG16243.115.19
Mark Ingram201930BAL15242.516.17
Eddie Lacy201323GNB15242.516.17
Steven Jackson201027STL16242.415.15
Mark Ingram201627NOR16242.215.14
Jahmyr Gibbs202321DET15242.116.14
Corey Dillon200228CIN16241.915.12
Marion Barber III200724DAL16241.715.11
Rashard Mendenhall201023PIT1624115.06
Chris Johnson201328TEN16240.215.01
Thomas Jones200931NYJ1624015
Ahmad Bradshaw201024NYG16239.914.99
Jamaal Charles201226KAN16239.514.97
Joe Mixon202226CIN14239.517.11
Reggie Bush201328DET14239.217.09
Curtis Martin200229NYJ16238.614.91
Tiki Barber200126NYG14238.217.01
Dalvin Cook202227MIN17237.813.99
Travis Henry200325BUF15237.415.83
Ladell Betts200627WAS16236.914.81
Frank Gore200724SFO15236.815.79
Ryan Mathews201124SDG14236.616.9
Clinton Portis200423WAS15235.615.71
Fred Jackson201332BUF16234.714.67
Alvin Kamara202126NOR13234.718.05
Cordarrelle Patterson202130ATL16234.614.66
Rudi Johnson200627CIN16234.314.64
Ricky Williams200023NOR10234.323.43
Maurice Jones-Drew201025JAX14234.116.72
Ryan Grant200927GNB1623414.63
Tarik Cohen201823CHI16233.914.62
Carlos Hyde201727SFO16233.814.61
Steven Jackson200522STL15233.615.57
Thomas Jones200426CHI14233.516.68
Alvin Kamara202328NOR1323317.92
LeGarrette Blount201630NWE16232.914.56
Rudi Johnson200425CIN16232.814.55
Michael Pittman200025ARI16232.814.55
James Cook202324BUF17232.713.69
Adrian Peterson201328MIN14232.716.62
Chris Carson201925SEA15232.615.51
Marshawn Lynch200822BUF15232.615.51
Doug Martin201526TAM16232.314.52
Lamar Miller201524MIA16231.914.49
Michael Bennett200224MIN16231.714.48
Jamaal Charles200923KAN15231.715.45
DeAngelo Williams201532PIT16231.414.46
Josh Jacobs202022LVR15231.315.42
Frank Gore201229SFO16230.814.43
Marion Barber III200825DAL15230.215.35
Leonard Fournette201722JAX13230.217.71
Kareem Hunt201823KAN11230.220.93
Jordan Howard201622CHI15230.115.34

The average age of this cohort is 25.51. Below is a distribution graph of the ages of the peak seasons:

Running Back Peak Age

The youngest players to accomplish a peak season were 21: Clinton Portis, Saquon Barkley, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ezekiel Elliott, Reggie Bush, and Jonathan Taylor. This season Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs joined the list. The oldest players to accomplish the feat were 32: Ricky Williams, Fred Jackson, and DeAngelo Williams. The peak is from ages 22 to 28, as an incredible 84.11 percent of the seasons fall within this range.

While 9.69 percent of the peak seasons have taken place at age 28, just 5.43 percent have taken place at age 29 – a noticeable drop-off. From there, just 4.26 percent of the seasons happen at age 30. Father time has a big impact, as no running back since 2000 has scored at least 230 PPR fantasy points at the age of 33 or older.

The age distribution of running backs confirms our previous studies that wide receivers have longer careers than running backs.

Redefining The Time-Period

Each year that I do this study, I wonder when to remove the oldest seasons. It appears that running backs are playing earlier than ever and having shorter careers than ever. Let’s analyze how running backs seasons from 2000-2009 compare with 2010-present. We’ll keep the threshold for scoring at a 230 PPR fantasy-point minimum.

2000-09 2010-Present
Qualifiers 120 138
Average Qualifiers Per Season 12.0 9.9
Average Age 25.88 25.19
Players Age 21-28 83.33% 90.58%
Players Age 29 or Older 16.67% 9.42%

First off, we see that running backs aren’t hitting the threshold as frequently. The average qualifiers per year has dropped from 12 in 2000-09 to 9.9 since. This is likely due to the usage rate of starting running backs dropping. Now NFL teams are more willing to rely on multiple running backs or specialists for the goal-line or passing downs.

The average age drops by 0.69, so running backs are certainly getting younger. In the past, running backs fell within the 21-28 range in 83.33 percent of seasons. Incredibly that number is now 90.58 percent – showing how hard it is to produce as a running back after turning 29. Starting in 2010, just 9.42 percent of the seasons take place at age 29 or older.

Filtering For The Elite

I suspect that the age discrepancy will grow if we filter for higher-end seasons. Let’s raise the floor of a peak season to 250 PPR fantasy points and compare the difference between before and after 2010.

2000-09 2010-Present
Qualifiers 90 94
Average Qualifiers Per Season 9.0 6.7
Average Age 25.88 24.87
Players Age 21-28 83.33% 95.74%
Players Age 29 or Older 16.67% 4.26%

Again, the difference in qualifiers is noticeable – 2.3 fewer running backs per season qualify. The average age drop increases by 1.01 years. While the 2000-2009 cohort remains the same in terms of the proportion of peak seasons, the 2010+ cohort increases to 95.74 percent of the peak seasons taking place before the age 29 season. That means, in 2000-2009 a running back age 29 or older was nearly four times more likely to account for a peak season! The league has gotten much younger.

The Elite Since 2010

Since it appears that the 2000’s data is irrelevant. Here are the 94 running back seasons since 2010 to score 250 or more PPR fantasy points.

PlayerSeasonAgeTeamGPPRPPR/G
Christian McCaffrey201923CAR16471.229.45
David Johnson201625ARI16407.825.49
Arian Foster201024HOU1639224.5
Christian McCaffrey202327SFO16391.324.46
Saquon Barkley201821NYG16385.824.11
Christian McCaffrey201822CAR16385.524.09
Todd Gurley201723LAR15383.325.55
Jamaal Charles201327KAN1537825.2
Alvin Kamara202025NOR15377.825.19
Jonathan Taylor202122IND17373.121.95
Ray Rice201124BAL16372.823.3
Austin Ekeler202227LAC17372.721.92
Todd Gurley201824LAR14372.126.58
Le'Veon Bell201422PIT16370.523.16
Christian McCaffrey202226CAR,SFO17356.420.96
Alvin Kamara201823NOR15354.223.61
DeMarco Murray201426DAL16351.121.94
Adrian Peterson201227MIN16347.421.71
Matt Forte201429CHI16346.621.66
Austin Ekeler202126LAC16343.821.49
Le'Veon Bell201725PIT15341.622.77
Dalvin Cook202025MIN14337.824.13
Matt Forte201328CHI16337.321.08
Derrick Henry202026TEN16333.120.82
LeSean McCoy201325PHI16330.620.66
Ezekiel Elliott201823DAL15329.121.94
LeSean McCoy201123PHI15328.421.89
Josh Jacobs202224LVR17328.319.31
Ezekiel Elliott201621DAL15325.421.69
Alvin Kamara201722NOR16320.420.03
Le'Veon Bell201624PIT12317.426.45
Devonta Freeman201523ATL15316.421.09
Aaron Jones201925GNB16314.819.68
Ezekiel Elliott201924DAL16311.719.48
Doug Martin201223TAM16311.619.48
Austin Ekeler201924LAC1630919.31
Arian Foster201125HOU13305.123.47
Maurice Jones-Drew201126JAX1630519.06
Derrick Henry202228TEN16302.818.93
Marshawn Lynch201428SEA16302.318.89
Arian Foster201226HOU16302.118.88
Najee Harris202123PIT17300.717.69
LeSean McCoy201628BUF15298.319.89
LeSean McCoy201022PHI15297.219.81
Knowshon Moreno201326DEN16296.618.54
Kareem Hunt201722KAN16295.218.45
Peyton Hillis201024CLE16294.918.43
Derrick Henry201925TEN15294.619.64
DeMarco Murray201628TEN16293.818.36
Dalvin Cook201924MIN14292.420.89
Breece Hall202322NYJ17290.517.09
Melvin Gordon201724LAC16288.118.01
Joe Mixon202125CIN16287.917.99
Devonta Freeman201624ATL16284.117.76
Saquon Barkley202225NYG1628417.75
Ray Rice201225BAL16283.117.69
Jamaal Charles201024KAN16282.517.66
Travis Etienne202324JAX17282.416.61
Nick Chubb202227CLE17281.416.55
James Conner201823PIT1328021.54
Mark Ingram201728NOR1627817.38
Darren Sproles201128NOR16277.317.33
James White201826NWE16276.617.29
Ray Rice201023BAL16276.617.29
Adrian Peterson201025MIN15275.918.39
Melvin Gordon201825LAC12275.522.96
Marshawn Lynch201327SEA16275.317.21
Arian Foster201428HOU13273.521.04
Chris Johnson201025TEN16272.917.06
Eddie Lacy201424GNB16272.617.04
Marshawn Lynch201226SEA16269.616.85
Rachaad White202324TAM17267.915.76
Raheem Mostert202331MIA15267.717.85
Darren McFadden201023OAK13267.420.57
Joe Mixon202327CIN1726715.71
David Montgomery202023CHI15264.817.65
Matt Forte201025CHI16264.616.54
LeSean McCoy201729BUF16263.616.48
Adrian Peterson201530MIN16260.716.29
Leonard Fournette201924JAX15259.417.29
Aaron Jones202026GNB14258.918.49
DeMarco Murray201325DAL14258.118.44
James Conner202126ARI15257.717.18
Leonard Fournette202126TAM14255.618.26
C.J. Spiller201225BUF16255.315.96
Nick Chubb201924CLE16255.215.95
Kyren Williams202323LAR1225521.25
Trent Richardson201222CLE15254.716.98
Jonathan Taylor202021IND15252.816.85
Ezekiel Elliott202126DAL17252.114.83
Alfred Morris201224WAS1625215.75
Melvin Gordon201623SDG13250.619.28
James Robinson202022JAX14250.417.89
Jamaal Charles201428KAN15250.416.69

The average age of this group is 24.87. Below is a distribution graph of the ages of the elite peak seasons:

Running Back Peak Age

The peak of 23 to 26 includes 65.96 percent of the individual seasons. As noted above, 95.74 percent of the seasons take place before a running back’s age 29 season. The two most common ages are 24 and 25 years old.

When searching for top-end production, a running back is more likely to produce in his prime (typically prior to turning 27). Owners should be looking to sell dynasty assets before they turn 26 years old to be ahead of the curve. This meshes with a previous conclusion that dynasty owners aren’t selling running backs early enough.