For the 2022/2023 season, Chargers rookie running back Isiah Spiller was the youngest player in the NFL. He was 21 years and 32 days old when the season began on September 11, 2022.  Spiller appeared in just six games for the Chargers his rookie season as he rotated duties as the team’s third running back with veterans like Sony Michel and Larry Rountree.
I’m David, and I’ve been watching football for more than thirty years and have played and coached through the high school level. I wouldn’t consider myself an NFL-level coach or anything, but I like to think I’ve picked up a lot of the game’s nuances and strategies after all these years.
In this article, I’ll examine Spiller’s playing career and what obstacles stand in the way of him getting more opportunities in his second year. Even after a rough rookie season, we’ll discuss why it still may have been the right choice to enter the NFL so young, and why we may see fewer players declaring early going forward.
- The youngest player in the NFL is Chargers rookie running back Isiah Spiller.
- Spiller was drafted in the fourth round of the 2022 draft after starting for three years at Texas A&M.
- With running backs’ careers being so short, it may be a wise choice for them to enter the NFL as soon as possible to maximize their career earnings
Spiller’s College Career and Rookie Year
Spiller was one of ten players younger than 22 when the 2022/2023 season kicked off and one of two running backs along with Jets rookie Breece Hall. 
Spiller got little in the way of opportunities his first year in the league, despite being selected in the fourth round. He was active for just six games, getting eighteen carries for 41 yards and catching three passes. 
Stuck behind one of the few bell-cow running backs left in the league in Austin Ekeler, Spiller was left to compete with Joshua Kelley for carries and ultimately had to share time as the third running back with two veterans, Sony Michel, and Larry Rountree. 
But despite the lack of opportunities, Spiller may have been smart in declaring for the draft as young as he was. Players are allowed to declare for the draft three years after graduating from high school, and Spiller had enjoyed a fine career at Texas A&M, rushing for almost 3,000 yards over three seasons. 
Why Running Backs Should Reach the NFL Sooner
In recent years, the perceived value of the running back position has decreased, with many teams and analysts concluding that running backs have less influence over their production than we believed when the position was manned by luminaries like Emmitt Smith, Adrian Peterson, and Shaun Alexander. 
Instead it’s more financially prudent to invest in the areas around a running back such as the passing game and offensive line, spending less draft capital and salary cap space in the backfield. Running backs make less on average than any other skill position and only eight currently make more than $10 million/year on average. 
With the career length of running backs getting shorter and the number of long-term contracts available after their rookie deal becoming less frequent, Spiller and Hall may have a good reason for entering the NFL as quickly as possible.
Read more: WHO IS THE TALLEST RUNNING BACK IN THE NFL?
Spiller is currently on a four-year deal worth 4.39 million dollars, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of his age 24 season. 
This will give him the chance to receive a second contract one or two years younger than other players in his draft class.
If he can prove to be a reliable running back, his chances of getting this second contract are much higher at age 24 than at age 26. Many running backs begin to decline in their late 20s, with some seeing a decrease in production even earlier. 
As football front offices grow savvier, hitting the open market earlier may be the only way for running backs to entice teams into second contracts.
Will the Youngest Player in the NFL Get… Older?
For a long time, college players were incentivized to reach the NFL as soon as they could. The question was a simple financial one: continue to play for free collegiately, or get drafted and make, at minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Fearing injury, many players would either skip their senior year of college or forego bowl games to preserve their bodies for their big professional contracts.
But that may be changing with NIL (Name/Likeness/Image) deals now legal throughout college sports. For many years, amateur athletes were not allowed to accept endorsement deals or gifts of any kind from boosters, organizations, or companies without some sort of punishment. 
This changed in the summer of 2021. After a series of court hearings that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the new NIL rules went into effect on July 1, 2021. 
Now that players can have a source of income that in some cases can exceed $1 million, it will be interesting to see if fewer athletes are incentivized to reach the NFL as quickly as possible. 
The running back position hasn’t been marginalized at the college level yet as it has in the NFL, so it’s possible that college running backs at prestigious schools could enjoy their first “contract” starting at age 18.
But for now, Spiller will have to wait for an opportunity behind the superstar Ekeler, hoping for a chance to prove his worth before he hits free agency and the chance for a big payday.
Transitioning from college to the NFL is a challenge for any player, but coming out as early can be especially difficult. Nevertheless, I think Spiller made the right choice to maximize his career earnings by starting the clock on his NFL contract as soon as possible. With how volatile the running back position can be, his big opportunity could be just around the corner.
Besides Spiller, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between professional and college athletics changes in the years to come. Now that college players can make money off their images, will they be less motivated to make the jump to the NFL? Or will the luster of the professional stage still be too strong to resist? We should find out over the next couple of years.