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Time To Hang It Up: Five NFL Running Backs That Should Retire After The Season

Mark Ingram II - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers

Most NFL careers are notoriously brief, but perhaps no position is as brutal as the running back spot. The average length of an NFL running back's career is 2.57 years, which falls under the league average of 3.3 years and is the shortest career lifespan of any position in the game.

Even those RBs that are talented and durable enough to stick around past their rookie deals are struggling to demand the type of large guaranteed contracts that we saw in years past, as many NFL front offices now view the position as a bad investment due to how rapidly even great running backs can decline.

All of the players on this list have proven themselves to be valuable to their teams and have carved out good-to-great careers during their time in professional football. That said, running backs in the NFL sadly do age like milk and these five players are nearing - or already past - their expiration dates.

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#5. Brandon Bolden, Las Vegas Raiders, Age 33

2022 Stats: 16 Games, 17 Rushing Attempts, 66 Rushing Yards, Nine Receptions, 57 Receiving Yards, 1 TD

The longtime New England Patriots utility back failed to make an impact in his first season as a Las Vegas Raider. Brandon Bolden was presumably brought to Vegas due to his Patriot ties and familiarity with Josh McDaniels' offensive system.

While Bolden may well have provided veteran leadership in the locker room, he did little on the field, as Josh Jacobs was a one-man wrecking crew for the Silver & Black this season. The 33-year-old Bolden logged just 17 carries and reeled in a mere nine catches in 2022. He's now failed to top 200 total yards in five of his last six seasons in the NFL.


#4. Rex Burkhead, Houston Texans, Age 32

2022 Stats: 16 Games, 26 Rushing Attempts, 80 Rushing Yards, 37 Receptions, 51 Receiving Yards, 2 TDs

Another former New England Patriot running back, Rex Burkhead's production noticeably declined in his second season with the Houston Texans. After totaling 613 yards from scrimmage for the Texans in 2021, Burkhead tallied just 284 scrimmage yards in the 2022 campaign.

Dynamic rookie Dameon Pierce quickly earned the starting running back job and workhorse duty in the Houston backfield, turning the aging Burkhead into an afterthought. The truly concerning thing for the 32-year-old is that even after Pierce went down with a season-ending injury in a Week 14 loss, he was a non-factor in Houston's final four games of the season.

With Pierce unquestionably the Texans RB1 of the future – and Burkhead on an expiring one-year deal – it might be the last we see of the scrappy veteran in a Houston uniform.


#3. Melvin Gordon III, Kansas City Chiefs, Age 29

2022 Stats: 10 Games, 90 Rushing Attempts, 318 Rushing Yards, 25 Receptions, 223 Receiving Yards, 2 TDs

Melvin Gordon was just one of many casualties in what was a dumpster fire of a year for the Denver Broncos. Gordon entered 2022 off back-to-back campaigns with over 1,000 total yards, but his third season in the Mile High City was marked by puzzling usage and massive ball security issues that resulted in five fumbles across 10 games.

After opening the year in a timeshare with fellow Broncos back Javonte Williams, Gordon appeared primed for a workhorse role after Williams went down for the season with a torn ACL in Week 4. However, Gordon's usage actually decreased after Williams was sidelined.

In a key Week 6 divisional matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday Night Football, the 29-year-old saw just three total opportunities and appeared stunned in postgame interviews. Things never really improved, as limited playing time, ineffectiveness, and fumbling troubles eventually led to Gordon's release from the Broncos following Week 12. The former superstar ended 2022 on the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad and enters the offseason with the NFL's fourth-most career rushing yards among active players.


#2. Mark Ingram II, New Orleans Saints, Age 33

2022 Stats: 10 Games, 62 Rushing Attempts, 233 Rushing Yards, 16 Receptions, 223 Receiving Yards, 1 TD

After spending the first eight seasons of his career with the Saints, Mark Ingram II appeared rejuvenated upon his return to New Orleans in 2021 after a hiatus that saw him spend two years in Baltimore and two games in Houston.

However, the 33-year-old Ingram looked every bit his age in the Saints backfield in 2022 and endured the worst statistical season of his career before a torn MCL in Week 13 ended his year. The former Heisman Trophy winner logged career lows in rushing attempts and rushing yards, while his lone trip to the end zone marked the first time since an injury-plagued 2013 campaign that he failed to record multiple TDs in a season.

Ingram has put together a sterling professional career and is one of just three active NFL running backs with over 8,000 career rushing yards. Already a beloved Saints legend, he has nothing left to prove and last year's season-ending injury might expedite his retirement decision.


#1. David Johnson, New Orleans Saints, Age 31

2022 Stats: 5 Games, 12 Rushing Attempts, 24 Rushing Yards, 4 Receptions, 47 Receiving Yards, 0 TDs

You're forgiven if you mistakenly thought David Johnson was already retired, as the 31-year-old started the 2022 season without a spot on any 53-man roster. The New Orleans Saints called the veteran up from their practice squad when Mark Ingram II went down with a torn MCL in Week 13 and Johnson looked completely washed in limited action across the last five games of the year while averaging just 2.0 yards per carry.

It was just the latest reminder of Johnson's dramatic decline from fantasy football superstar to has been. His best season came when he exploded for 2,118 all-purpose yards and 20 TDs for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016. Unfortunately, Johnson suffered a dislocated wrist in the 2017 season opener and did not play another game that year.

After a bounce-back season in 2018 in which he posted 1,386 total yards and 10 TDs, the Northern Iowa product slumped in 2019 across 13 games and was ultimately dealt to the Houston Texans in a trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. Johnson was released by the Texans after two lackluster seasons.

He's a classic example of what can happen at the running back position in the NFL, as his career was like a shooting star - shining brightly for a fleeting moment in time. Running backs age in the opposite fashion as wine and Johnson's time in the league appears to be nearing its sobering end.


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