After running through the quarterback and tight end rankings last week, we are continuing to break down this incoming rookie class for Dynasty Rookie Drafts, startups, and even the potential these young players can have on the 2023 seasonal formats.
Even prior to the actual NFL Draft in April, rookies are available in Best Ball formats across all platforms.
Now that the NFL combine has passed, we have a plethora of new athletic data on this upcoming rookie class. That information can be applied in athletic models and used to shape the full portfolio for prospects to go along with production profiles, which is a general overlay of what these players put on tape for NFL teams.
As we get more athletic testing data coming in through pro days, we will add notes here to those prospects. However, overall, athletic testing has a low correlation to actual fantasy output and when it does, it is typically counted twice from a productive player in the first place. But when a prospect has subpar athletic testing paired with a limited or nonexistent production resume, then we are playing with fire when attempting to elevate or count on that player for NFL production.
Post-draft we’ll have the added influence of draft investment and landing spot to add to the layout. Those two components carry the most influence in predicting immediate player usage, so things will be shaken up a bit come April and we will revisit both ranks and adjust accordingly, although I would express caution early on in avoiding overweighting those elements dramatically altering your approach on a player.
From a top-down perspective, this is a strong running back class. While many of these backs after Bijan Robinson do project more as committee backs and fitting specific archetypes of roles at the next level, those backs excel in those areas. I would not get hung up on any linear listing of the players here as the tiers are tightly packed. Draft investment is going to play a large role in the landscape of this class when we are in full rookie draft mode.
For running backs, nothing matters more to the position than invested draft capital. Over the past decade, fantasy production years 1-3 has a 32% correlation to draft capital alone.
While that correlation is also leaving a lot of room on the table for variance, it is by far and away the most predictive measure for backs and early career fantasy output. Post-draft, we’ll have the added influence of draft investment and landing spot to add to the layout, but opportunity is the name of the game for the running back position. If you can find the field and accrue touches, that’s the starting block we care about.
1. Bijan Robinson, Texas, Final Year Age: 20.9 (Tier 1)
You already knew where we were starting. No surprises here.
After racking up 4,215 yards and 7.0 yards per touch over three seasons at Texas, Robinson is arguably the best all-around running back prospect since Saquon Barkley in 2018. He has a 95th-percentile career production score in the prospect model while checking every box we look for in a prospect.
Robinson just turned 21 years old in January. His yardage and touchdown production increased every season of his collegiate career.
As a rusher, Robinson averaged 3.3 yards per carry on attempts when he was hit behind the line of scrimmage last season. Not only is that the highest rate in this class, but it is the second-highest rate that Sports Info Solutions has recorded on 75-plus carries since they have tracked data in 2016.
Robinson led this class in 2022 in yards created after contact (1,006) while forcing a missed tackle on 32.2% of his attempts, second among this group.
Out of the backfield, Robinson averaged 13.4 yards per catch over his collegiate career. We are not talking about stacking dump offs here, either. He was the only back in this draft class to have 100 air yards this past season (105), accounting for a class-high 8.2% of the Texas air yards.
For good measure, Robinson also did not allow a sack and was credited with just four pressures allowed on his 78 snaps in pass protection this season.
We do not need to overcomplicate things. Robinson will be the consensus RB1 for good reason and the player selected at 1.01 in the majority of rookie drafts in all formats.
2. Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama, Final Year Age: 20.8 (Tier 2)
Gibbs is 100% as advertised. He is the best speed and space player at the position in this draft class.
That is also simultaneously the hardest archetype at the position to correctly calibrate when accounting for Gibbs being 5-foot-9 and 199 pounds. This archetype of player often gets limited by coaching staffs at the next level in a compartmentalized role.
Not that compact backs cannot carry workloads or are injury prone, but we have seen multiple times that players in this archetype need to force their way into a three-down role next level. We have already seen this is how he was deployed in college as well.
Gibbs is often compared to Alvin Kamara, but he came in 15 pounds lighter than Kamara did as a prospect. With Gibbs, you are looking for him to run into something that Austin Ekeler has at the next level. He may need to cut his teeth in a similar fashion as Ekeler early in his career, but Gibbs already has a significant leg up in that he is expected to have tangible draft capital invested in him this spring.
Out of the backfield, Gibbs averaged a class-high 3.3 receptions per game over his college career at Georgia Tech and Alabama. His receptions rose all three seasons. This past year, he was targeted on 21.4% of his routes (second in the class), catching 44-of-52 targets for 444 yards and three touchdowns.
On the ground is where we saw his potential limitations due to role and archetype. Just 25.8% of Gibbs’s carries were inside runs, the lowest rate in this class.
On runs in which Gibbs was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage this season, he averaged just 0.9 yards per carry, the third-lowest rate in this class.
When he was contacted beyond the line of scrimmage he averaged a robust 10.8 yards per tote, the highest rate in this class.
Gibbs ran a 4.36 forty at the combine, the second fastest time among this group. Accounting for his size, that was an 84th percentile speed score. Regardless of factoring in his weight or not, fast is fast at that clip.
Gibbs also racked up 1,052 kickoff returns yards (23.9 yards per return) the most among running backs in this class.
From an age perspective, only two backs in this class are younger than Gibbs.
Just 8.6% of his carries in 2022 came in short-yardage situations (non-first downs needing 1-3 yards), which was also the lowest rate in the class. On those carries he averaged just 1.5 yards per carry, the lowest rate in the class. When Alabama was inside of the 5-yard line this season, Gibbs handled just three of the 16 team carries among running backs. We are going to need those touches at the next level to turn Gibbs into a ceiling producer versus a floor-based PPR scorer.
3. Zach Charbonnet, UCLA, Final Year Age: 22.0 (Tier 2)
After being stuck in a timeshare 2019-2020 at Michigan, Charbonnet transferred to UCLA where he racked up 3,014 yards and 27 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
He plucked 51 receptions (2.3 per game) the past two years, but the types of targets that Charbonnet received were more of the tertiary check downs compared to how Robinson and Gibbs were deployed as pass catchers. Charbonnet’s -55 air yards this past season were ahead of just one back in this class.
The types of targets that Charbonnet received are not as diverse as Robinson or Gibbs, but the receiving output (7.9 yards per catch for his career) does not limit Charbonnet to being an early-down grinder, either.
As a runner, 39.5% of Charbonnet’s carries in 2022 resulted in a first down or touchdown, which was the highest rate for this group. He failed to gain yardage on just 9.7% of his carries, the lowest rate in this class. Just 40.5% of his carries came with seven or more defenders in the box (sixth lowest), but he turned 43.0% of those attempts into first downs or touchdowns, the highest rate in this class.
52.3% of his carries were also inside runs, which was fourth in this class. 22.6% of his attempts were in short-yardage situations (second), which he converted 79.5% of the time into first downs or scores (fourth).
12.3% of Charbonnet’s carries went for 15 or more yards per Pro Football Focus, which was second in this draft class.
Checking in at 6-foot-0 and 214 pounds, there is a case to be made that Charbonnet lands in a three-down role in the NFL prior to Jahmyr Gibbs. If his draft capital rivals the area where Gibbs is selected, the gap between these two gets significantly tightened in rookie drafts.
4. Kendre Miller, TCU, Final Year Age: 20.6 (Tier 3)
Draft capital is going to shake up some of the backs from this tier and beyond.
We did not get to see Miller do any athletic testing at the combine due to recovery from a knee injury, but he does check a number of boxes we are looking for from a size, age, and production stance. While he did not work out, he did check in at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, which gives him plenty of size entering the league.
Miller is also the second youngest back in this class, coming off a season in which he produced 1,515 yards and 17 touchdowns on 240 touches (6.3 yards per touch). Only three backs in this class averaged more yards per carry than Miller’s 6.7 YPC over his career.
Miller did benefit from his surroundings, however. Afforded playing for a team that averaged 38.8 points per game (ninth in the country) elevated his touchdown totals while the TCU passing game and offense created favorable running conditions.
75.0% of Miller’s carries in 2022 came with six or fewer defenders in the box, which was the fourth-highest rate in this class. On those carries, Miller averaged 7.3 yards per carry, which was second among these backs. On carries with seven or more defenders in the box, Miller averaged just 3.1 YPC, the fewest in this class.
That was not all on Miller. He was hit at or behind the line on 48.2% of his carries with seven or more defenders in the box, which was the fourth-highest rate in the class. On carries in which he was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage, Miller failed to gain yardage on just 37.7% of those carries, which was good for sixth in this class.
As a receiver, we do not have to work off. Miller caught 16 passes for 116 yards this season. His 0.61 yards per route run ranked 20th in this class.
We are in more of a projection area for Miller than previous backs, but his age and size give him added upside appeal while we await to see how explosive he shows out at his pro day. If he does show out in the speed department at his size, his stock will rise compared to the leaner archetypes we have in this tier.
5. Tyjae Spears, Tulane, Final Year Age: 21.5 (Tier 3)
Spears was another 2022 breakout that is right in that similar archetype of space-eating back that Jahymr Gibbs profiles as.
After 1,637 yards and 13 touchdowns on 224 touches over his first three seasons at Tulane, Spears racked up 1,837 yards and 21 touchdowns on 251 touches this past season.
While Spears does have a similar build (5-foot-10 and 201 pounds) and receiving ability (1.24 yards per route run, which is sixth in this class) that makes him potential arbitrage on Gibbs, Spears did show more success as a grinder in the run game.
This past season, Spears averaged 4.0 yards after contact per carry, which is third among all backs in this class. His 4.1 YAC per attempt on runs in which he was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage ranked fourth. Against boxes with seven or more defenders, Spears averaged a class-high 7.5 yards per carry. He also converted 78.8% of his short-yardage runs for first downs or touchdowns, which ranked sixth.
Although it is unlikely that he will be tasked to be in pass protection much out of the box in the NFL, Spears was tied for the most pass-blocking reps for a back in this class last season (175) and only allowed one sack in protection.
6. Devon Achane, Texas A&M, Final Year Age: 21.2 (Tier 3)
Achane is another electric open-field back that takes some projection in finding a high workload in the NFL at 5-foot-8 and 188 pounds.
Achane logged the fastest forty time (4.32 seconds) at the combine. His 2.3 receptions per game over his career rank fourth in this class despite a lackluster 0.66 yards per route run (22nd) in 2022.
Carrying a smaller frame, Achane was utilized heavily on outside runs. 66.1% of his carries came on the perimeter, the fifth-highest rate in this class a year ago. Achane averaged 6.2 yards per carry on those attempts compared to just 4.5 YPC on inside runs, which was the second-lowest rate in this class.
Despite his size and that disparity in those splits, Achane was good at creating extra yardage when forced to. 21.9% of his carries this past season came with eight or more defenders in the box (fifth) and he averaged 3.4 yards after contact per carry on those attempts (third).
When Achane was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage, he averaged 4.5 YAC per attempt and turned 24.7% of those carries into first downs or touchdowns. Both of those rates were the highest in this draft class in 2022.
That said, we have a strong idea of how he will be used to start out in the NFL.
Achane also did not have the pass protection success of Spears, who is in a similar mold. Achane allowed a pressure on 9.8% of his reps in pass protection, the fifth-highest rate in this class.
7. Zach Evans, Mississippi, Final Year Age: 21.8 (Tier 3)
Evans is a former 5-star recruit who left TCU (freeing the runway for Kendre Miller) for Ole Miss this past season. With his new opportunity, Evans turned 156 touches into 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2022.
Evans is another back here that has a leaner profile (5-foot-11 and 202 pounds), but we did not see him do any athletic testing in Indianapolis. He does not have the receiving profile as the other compact backs in this class, averaging 1.1 receptions per game over his collegiate career, which is 18th in this class. He was targeted at a higher rate per route (14.6%) and averaged more yards per route (0.93) than Achane this past season, so his lack of involvement out of the backfield could have been more offensive structure than his own inability.
The offensive structure for Ole Miss also makes it hard to gauge Evans on the ground. 11.7% of his carries went for 15 or more yards, the third-highest rate in this class. But a class-high 82.8% of his carries in 2022 came against light boxes (six or fewer defenders). On those carries, he averaged 7.1 yards per carry. He had just 25 carries all season with seven or more defenders in the box, averaging 3.4 yards per carry on those attempts.
When hit at or behind the line, Evans averaged 1.3 yards per carry, which was 17th with 2.4 YAC per carry on those attempts (16th). When contacted beyond the line of scrimmage he averaged 9.2 yards per carry (fifth) with a first down or touchdown on 47.4% of those carries (fourth).
Evans has the pedigree as a recruit, but we can also question if he was even the best running back on his team last season since super freshman Quinshon Judkins dwarfed him in usage and output.
8. Chase Brown, Illinois, Final Year Age: 22.8 (Tier 3)
While a number of backs in this tier take some projection in the number of touches they receive next level, we know Brown has three-down capability out of the package. He is bigger than the previous three backs (209 pounds) and carried the Illinois offense a year ago.
In 2022, Brown accounted for 60.2% of the team rushes, 75.4% of the rushing yardage, and 39.6% of the total yards gained by the Illini. All of those marks were the highest in this draft class. By the end of the season, Brown handled 355 touches, producing 1,883 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The question surrounding Brown is how much of a volume producer was he.
66.5% of his carries were outside runs, the fourth-highest rate in this class. On inside runs, he forced a missed or broken tackle on 17.3% of his carries, which was 19th in this class. When hit at or behind the line, Brown forced a missed tackle 19.8% of the time, which ranked 16th. 7.0% of his carries went for 15 or more yards, which checked in 20th in this class.
That certainly does not line up with what we saw from him in the testing department at the combine. In Indianapolis, Brown ripped things up with an 81st-percentile speed score to go along with a 96th-percentile explosion score, which incorporates both the vertical and broad jumps. Brown paced the position in both jumps.
9. Tank Bigbsy, Auburn, Final Year Age: 21.3 (Tier 3)
Bigsby burst on the scene as a freshman in 2020, producing 918 yards on just 149 touches (6.2 yards per touch). While he never fully exploded afterward, he ended his three-year run at Auburn with 3,351 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Bigsby has more size (210 pounds) than some of the previous backs and he needed it playing behind his offensive line a year ago. Bigbsy was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 47.8% of his carries, the second-highest rate from this class. As a result, 63.6% of his rushing yardage came after contact, which ranked fourth. The downside is that Bigsby forced a missed tackle on just 19.0% of those carries, which ranks 17th in the class.
Living up to his name, Bigsby did convert 78.3% of his short-yardage carries into first downs or touchdowns in 2022, which ranked seventh in this class. He also was objectively reliable in pass protection, allowing zero sacks and just one pressure on 92 pass blocking snaps a year ago.
While Bigsby may profile as more of an early down player next level, he is capable of catching the football at a baseline level in the checkdown game. Bigsby was the target on 19.7% of his routes run (fourth) and accounted for 18.9% of the Auburn receptions last season, which was second.
10. Sean Tucker, Syracuse, Final Year Age: 21.2 (Tier 3)
After breaking out in 2021 with 1,751 yards and 14 touchdowns on 266 touches (6.6 yards per touch), Tucker took a slight step back this past season, racking up 1,314 yards and 13 scores on 242 opportunities (5.4 YPT).
Tucker is another back here that has tweener size (5-foot-9 and 207 pounds). Unfortunately, we did not get to see him do any athletic testing at the combine.
Tucker has tangible counting production on his resume, but there are a number of areas where he is just at the middle to bottom of this class with few standout areas.
Tucker ranked 17th in this class in missed tackle rate on his carries (18.9%). He was 16th in yards per carry versus light boxes (5.7) and 18th in yards per carry when contact beyond the line of scrimmage (7.6). When hit at or behind the line of scrimmage, his 0.9 yards per carry were ahead of just one other back in this class.
Tucker did receive 52 targets in the passing game (tied for third in this class in 2022), but his 0.9 yards per route run came in 15th while he also was credited with a class-high five drops. Tucker did objectively excel in pass protection, though. On 104 pass blocking snaps in 2022, he did not allow a single sack or even a single pressure per Pro Football Focus.
11. DeWayne McBride, UAB, Final Year Age: 21.5 (Tier 3)
McBride has arguably the best early down profile of any runner in this draft class. No running back in this class averaged more yards per carry over their collegiate career (7.3 YPC) while McBride was second among all backs in this class with 1.2 rushing touchdowns per game over his tenure at UAB.
It was not just the cumulative output, but how McBride did so. Everyone knew he was getting the ball and they couldn’t slow him down.
No back in this draft class had a lower rate of carries come against light boxes than McBride at 27.0%. 72.9% of his carries came with seven or more defenders in the box while 31.8% came versus eight or more in the box, the highest rate in this class. Even with eight or more in the box, McBride avaeraged 5.9 yards per carry, second in the class.
On inside runs, he averaged 7.1 YPC (third) while his 3.2 YPC when hit at or behind the line was just behind Bijan Robinson’s 3.3 YPC. McBride forced a missed tackle on 37.9% of his carries hit at or behind the line compared to 38.4% for Robinson.
McBride did all of this in the Conference USA, so grain of salt applied, but his rushing profile is as strong as anyone in this class. A hamstring injury prevented McBride from working out at the combine, which could have further illuminated if his production was more competition based.
Now, the bad.
McBride caught just five passes over his three years in college. His 0.14 yards per route run in 2022 were easily the lowest of any back in this class. He ran just 69 total pass routes in 2022.
He also had five fumbles on his 233 carries (2.1%), which was the highest rate in the class.
Draft capital and landing spot are going to play a big role in the initial opportunity that McBride runs into in the NFL.
12. Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh, Final Year Age: 20.2 (Tier 3)
Abanikanda is an upright, boom-or-bust runner in the same throwback style of Tevin Coleman coming out of Indiana.
After 954 yards and 10 touchdowns on 177 touches over his first two seasons at Pitt, he exploded for 1,577 yards and 21 scores on 251 touches a year ago. No back in this draft class found the end zone at a higher rate per touch than the 8.3% rate Abanikanda had. He led the country with 13 touchdown runs of 10 or more yards. At 5-foot-11 and 216 pounds, he also is one of the few backs towards the top of this class with projectable three-down size.
If Abanikanda is in a zone-based run scheme he can be electric. 71.3% of his carries were zone concept runs (second in this class) while 73.8% of his carries were outside runs (third). Give him a runway and he will make you pay.
The rest of his game needs some growth entering the NFL.
Abanikanda forced a missed tackle on just 14.6% of his carries per SIS, the lowest rate in this draft class. On inside runs, that rate was 14.3%, also the lowest rate among all backs invited to the combine. When hit at or behind the line of scrimmage, that mark was 12.2%, once again the lowest.
Just 45% of his rushing yardage came after contact in 2022, the lowest rate of this class. He adds massive yardage on long runs when given a crease, but just has not shown to be a massive tackle breaker, needing to be in a sound scheme for his strengths.
Abanikanda also needs to work on improving in all areas of the passing game. His 11.89% drop rate was the second highest in this class in 2022 (albeit he only had a small sample of 17 targets) while he allowed a pressure on 10.9% of his snaps in pass protection, the third-highest rate in this class.
13. Roschon Johnson, Texas, Final Year Age: 22.8 (Tier 4)
Johnson converted from quarterback to running back as a freshman at Texas due to injuries. During that 2019 season, he handled the transition well, turning 146 touches into 807 yards and eight touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Johnson was then handled as an ancillary back due to the arrival of Bijan Robinson, never handling more than 107 touches in a season over his final three years in college.
Nearly every back here would have taken a back seat to Robinson had they been on the same team. There is no shame in falling behind him in terms of usage, but there are some intriguing peripherals for Johnson entering the draft.
He is one of the few big backs in this class, checking in at 6-foot-0 and 219 pounds. He also had an 86th-percentile 10-yard split (1.58). That size and explosion combo will put him on the radar in a class with a limited number of backs in that department. Johnson also does have some on-field metrics to incentivize teams looking for a back of that archetype.
Johnson forced a missed or broken tackle on a class-high 35.5% of his carries in 2022. On inside runs, only Robinson had a higher missed tackle rate than Johnson (31.6%).
He converted 83.3% of his short-yardage carries for a first down or touchdown, which was second in this class. 56.3% of his carries against eight or more defenders in the box resulted in a first down or touchdown, which also led the class.
Johnson fits the mold of an early down and short yardage grinder. I would bet on him being drafted higher than backs already highlighted so far here. The question will be how much of a role can he carve out in the passing game in the NFL. Johnson did catch 56 passes at Texas, but his 9.5% drop rate was the sixth highest in this class.
14. Keaton Mitchell, East Carolina, Final Year Age: 21.0 (Tier 4)
Mitchell is a blazer and the top big play runner in this class from 2022. A class-high 15.4% of his carries went for 15 or more yards. Those runs accounted for 57.9% of his rushing yardage, the highest rate in this class.
Only Devon Achane and Jahmyr Gibbs ran faster times in the forty than Mitchell (4.37) in Indianapolis.
The difference between Mitchell and a long-range runner like Deneric Prince is that Mitchell is just 5-foot-8 and 179 pounds, coming in nearly 10 pounds lighter than Achane.
Michell did catch 2.3 passes per game over his career at East Carolina while his yards per route run (1.07) were higher than Achane’s, so the door is still wide open for Mitchell to be arbitrage on both Achane and Gibbs. His speed alone will surely have him drafted.
His limitations in stature did come into play in pass protection. Mitchell allowed a pressure on 11.5% of his snaps in pass protection, only better than Prince. Mitchell surely will not be asked to protect often in the pros, but he is going to start off his career as a change of pace back.
15. Evan Hull, Northwestern, Final Year Age: 22.2 (Tier 4)
Hull is a solid back that can contribute to an offense in a plethora of ways. He has size (5-foot-10 and 209 pounds) and draws a 69th-percentile athleticism score in my prospect data.
Hull was the Northwestern offense. He accounted for 37.1% of the team’s total yards (second in this class).
Where he was a standout was out of the backfield.
Hull received 17.2% of his team targets, drawing a target on 22.8% of his routes. Both of those rates were the highest in this class. The targets were not empty calories, either. Hull averaged 1.9 yards per route run, which was second in this draft class on his way to 55 catches for 546 yards and a pair of touchdowns out of the backfield.
While Hull is a reliable pass catcher, there is the question of how much of a compiler he was due to the lackluster offense he was in, especially as a rusher.
Hull was dead last in this draft class in yards created after contact per carry (2.5), yards per carry on inside runs (4.4 YPC), and outside runs (3.7 YPC). He was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 42.1% of his carries (fifth highest) but even on carries in which Hull was contacted beyond the line of scrimmage, he averaged the fewest yards per carry of any back in this class (5.9 YPC).
Hull was last in this class in forcing a missed tackle when contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage (11.7%). Just 6.3% of Hull’s carries were runs of 15 or more yards, ahead of only two backs in this class. 56.1% of his short-yardage carries resulted in a first down or touchdown, ahead of only Jahymr Gibbs and Deuce Vaughn, two backs with an extremely lighter profile.
In another class, I would be higher on Hull since he is the type of player that is not flashy or objectively special. But he is the kind of player that hangs around the league since he has the requisite size and experience to handle a high workload and the ability to play in the passing game.
16. Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State, Final Year Age: 21.2 (Tier 4)
This one hurts a bit because Vaughn is inherently a player you want to root for.
He was a major producer over his three seasons at Kansas State, tallying 4,884 yards and 43 touchdowns on 767 touches. Only two backs averaged more touches per game than the 23.9 per week that Vaughn handled.
The last time we saw Vaughn on the field, he touched up the Alabama defense for 133 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
That said, with Vaughn coming in at 5-foot-5 and 179 pounds, he has significantly low odds to roll over his collegiate workload into the NFL. Given his size and where he played it is nearly impossible not to draw parallels to Darren Sproles. While Sproles did have a successful NFL career as a pass catcher, his usage completely flipped next level. After 815 carries in college, Sproles had 732 carries over 14 NFL seasons.
We have already seen some of the potential hang-ups for Vaughn if he does not get a ton of carries in the NFL.
Vaughn forced a missed tackle on just 16.3% of his inside carries (20th in this class). Just 5.6% of his carries hit at or behind the line of scrimmage went for a first down or touchdown, ahead of only one other back. He converted just 53.7%of his short yardage runs, the lowest rate in this class.
Vaughn is a sturdy pass catcher averaging 3.0 receptions per game for his career (fifth in this class). That is where he will have to cut his teeth in the pros on his way to garnering more touches.
17. Deneric Prince, Tulsa, Final Year Age: 23.3 (Tier 4)
Prince is the oldest prospect we have touched on up until this point. He has the size (6-foot-0 and 216 pounds) paired with top-end speed (92nd-percentile speed score) that will draw some nibbles from clubs on day three.
Prince was a home run hitter with those traits, but the rest is up in the air.
11.1% of Prince’s carries went for 15 or more yards (fourth in this class). 55.8% of his rushing yards came on those carries, the second-highest dependency in this class. But he also had the third-lowest missed tackle rate (16.7%) while also posting the lowest yards per carry (0.4) on runs in which he was contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Prince also was the worst back in this class on paper in pass protection. In 2022, he allowed a class-high 14.6% pressure rate and 4.9% sack rate on his 103 snaps in protection. To compound matters here, Prince was also in pass protection at the highest rate of snaps (30.0%) in this class.
18. Kenny McIntosh, Georgia, Final Year Age: 22.8 (Tier 4)
McIntosh carries some intrigue due to how good he is in the passing game. He led this entire class in yards per route run in 2022 (2.21) while only Evan Hull and Jahmyr Gibbs were targeted at a higher rate per route (21.3%). He also ran 230 pass routes, so the sample size was not cheap here. McIntosh also was not credited for a single drop on any of his 42 targets, the most targets in this class for a back without a drop.
McIntosh only allowed one pressure on 66 snaps in protection to go along with his receiving ability.
At 6-foot-0 and 204 pounds, McIntosh is a tweener that can carry some extra rushing workload, but that was the department of his profile that is middling. McIntosh ranks 19th in this class in yards created after contact per carry (3.0) while coming in 18th in yards per carry (7.6) on carries when he was first contacted beyond the line of scrimmage. Just 5.3% of his carries went for 15 or more yards, the lowest rate in this class.
That lack of explosion did show up at the combine when he ran a 4.62 forty, which was good for a 12th-percentile speed score.
Rest of the class…
19. Eric Gray, Oklahoma, Final Year Age: 23.2 (Tier 5)
20. Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota, Final Year Age: 24.3 (Tier 5)
21. Cam Peoples, Appalachian State, Final Year Age: 23.3 (Tier 5)
22. Chris Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky, Final Year Age: 23.3 (Tier 5)
23. Tiyon Evans, Louisville, Final Year Age: 23.4 (Tier 5)
24. Travis Dye, USC, Final Year Age: 23.4 (Tier 5)
25. Tavion Thomas, Utah, Final Year Age: 22.6 (Tier 5)
26. SaRodorick Thompson, Texas Tech, Final Year Age: 23.3 (Tier 5)
27. Hunter Luepke, North Dakota State, Final Year Age: n/a (Tier 5)
We are at the bottom of the barrel here in terms of projected draft capital. A good number of these backs in this area will be signed as undrafted free agents and have to work through low-probability outcomes of hitting for fantasy.
Eric Gray is the most intriguing late-round option from this group. The former four-star recruit closed his college career with 1,595 yards and 11 touchdowns, catching 33 passes as part of the production. The Oklahoma system definitely aided that output as 75% of Gray’s carries came against light boxes. As a byproduct, no back in this class was contacted prior to the line scrimmage at a lower rate (24.9%). On his limited sample of running against seven or more defenders in the box, Gray had the third-lowest yards per carry in this class.
Major injuries extended Mohamed Ibrahim’s tenure in college, making him the oldest back in this draft class. While that age and injury history will have him a late-round option if he is drafted, Ibrahim is a legit workhorse. He averaged 27.3 touches per game over his career at Minnesota.
2023 Pre-Draft Running Back Rankings
|6||Devon Achane||Texas A&M||21.2||3|
|14||Keaton Mitchell||East Carolina||21||4|
|16||Deuce Vaughn||Kansas State||21.2||4|
|21||Cam Peoples||Appalachian State||23.3||5|
|22||Chris Rodriguez Jr.||Kentucky||23.3||5|
|26||SaRodorick Thompson||Texas Tech||23.3||5|
|27||Hunter Luepke||North Dakota State||n/a||5|