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2023 NFL Rookie Fantasy Rankings: Running Back

Bijan Robinson

Bijan Robinson

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

1. Bijan Robinson, Texas

Age: 21.2

Size: 5'11/215

For my money, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley are the only prospects better than Robinson over the past decade. At his size, Robinson simply shouldn’t be as elusive as he is. He set the record for missed tackles forced in a single season (104) charted by Pro Football Focus and was ranked as their No. 2 overall runner in 2022. He displays incredible vision and can get small to navigate tight spaces, but has the power to run through a defender when he needs to. He rushed for 1,580 yards and 18 scores as a true junior and was handed the Doak Walker award before declaring for the draft. All of the knocks on his game are incredibly minor. He doesn’t have elite speed, but his 4.46 40-time is more than fast enough. Robinson isn’t the otherworldly receiving prospect that CMC and Barkley were. However, he did leave college with a 60/805/8 receiving line. Robinson also had an average target depth of 6.8 yards, the third-highest among all Power Five backs, so he can do more than just catch screens. The last puzzle piece will be draft capital. Robinson could go nearly anywhere in the first round outside of the top five picks.

2. Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama

Age: 21

Size: 5'9/199

Gibbs was a committee back at Georgia Tech for two seasons before transferring to Alabama for this third and final year of college football. He remained a rotational back with the Tide but set career highs across the board as a runner (151/926/7) while also catching 44 passes for 444 yards and three scores. Gibbs is incredibly shifty in the open field and has home-run speed. He put up a 4.39 40-time at the combine and over half of his rushing production came on carries of 15 or more yards in 2022. His incredible balance, gliding footwork, and strong pass-catching chops have earned him plenty of Alvin Kamara comparisons. Stylistically, that’s more than a fair comp. However, Kamara entered the league 15 pounds heavier than Gibbs. I see him as a more explosive version of Kenneth Gainwell who will also garner higher draft capital. His size is a legitimate concern for fantasy production, but the traits are undeniable.

3. Zach Charbonnet, UCLA

Age: 22.2

Size: 6'/214

Charbonnet began his career at Michigan and started as a freshman en route to a 149/726/11 rushing line. His role declined in 2020 and he transferred to UCLA to pick up where he left off in 2019. Charbonnet rushed for 1,137 yards as a junior and 1,359 yards as a senior. He scored 27 total times and was effective as a pass-catcher, reeling in 61 receptions for 518 yards over the two seasons. Between the combine and his pro day, Charbonnet crushed the jumps, posted a middling 40-time (4.53 seconds) with strong splits, and flopped in the agility drills. This all aligns with what he put on tape. Charbonnet is a no-nonsense runner with incredible burst and power. He’s also a great option in short-yardage situations and can stay on the field for receiving downs. Charbonnet may not have an elite ceiling, but he is the prospect most likely to see 250 touches in a season outside of Bijan Robinson.

4. Roschon Johnson, Texas

Age: 22.2

Size: 6'/219

Johnson joined Texas as a four-star quarterback recruit but filled in at running back as a freshman. That was ultimately his best season as far as counting stats go. He totaled 807 yards and eight scores on 146 touches. For the next three years, he would spend his days lightening the workload of five-star recruit and future first-round pick Bijan Robinson. Johnson’s production is lacking, but that’s to be expected when Bijan is sitting ahead of him on the depth chart. The Longhorns found creative ways to use him, including getting him in on two-back sets, lining him up as a quarterback, and even occasionally sending him out as a receiver. Roschon didn’t see the ball often, but he made the most of his opportunities. Among Power Five backs, PFF charted him with the fourth-most yards after contact per attempt and the third-highest Elusiveness Rating. Johnson’s supreme versatility, great size, and middling college production give me Rhamondre Stevenson vibes.

5. Devon Achane, Texas A&M

Age: 21.5

Size: 5'9/188

Achane was forced to sit behind future NFL running back Isaiah Spiller as a freshman but still made the occasional big play, scoring five times on 48 touches as a backup. He earned a greater share of the backfield as a sophomore, totaling 130 carries for 910 yards and nine scores. With Spiller gone for his junior year, Achane took over the backfield and earned career highs in carries (196) and receptions (36). He rushed for 1,102 yards and scored eight times on the ground. Achane is an unbelievable home run hitter. Per PFF, 11 percent of his carries at Texas A&M went for 15 or more yards. Achane isn’t purely a track star as he possesses above-average lateral agility and caught 60 passes for 457 yards in his final two years of college ball. His size will greatly limit his touch totals in the NFL, but he can close that gap through efficiency. It’s an easy comparison to make, but he is very similar to Raheem Mostert.

6. Kendre Miller, TCU

Age: 20.8

Size: 5'11/215

Miller flashed the occasional big play as a freshman and sophomore, but he entered 2022 with just 150 touches to his name. Then, as a junior, he dominated the TCU backfield and opposing defenses to the tune of 244 carries for 1,399 yards and 17 scores. Miller didn’t do any drills at the combine but came away as a slight winner because of his size. On tape, Miller is a powerful runner who sheds off arm tackles with ease but also has the requisite agility to catch flatfooted defenders off guard. He won’t be used as a pass-catcher in the NFL but runs with the physicality of a player who can command the bulk of the carries in a backfield. Miller may be limited in the pros by the lack of an elite trait, but he should get a shot to start for an NFL team.

7. Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh

Age: 20.5

Size: 5'11/216

Abanikanda didn’t see much action as a freshman and performed well in a backfield-by-committee as a sophomore. Then, in his junior campaign, he dominated Pitt’s backfield en route to 1,431 yards and 20 touchdowns on 239 attempts. His receiving production was underwhelming as he caught just 12 passes. Abanikanda has a track background and showed it off at his pro day with a 40-time that scouts clocked in the mid-4.3s. He also posted vertical and broad jumps that would have ranked first among all running backs at the combine. Abanikanda needs to work on his vision at the line of scrimmage and his navigation of tight spaces. He gets lost behind the line too often and doesn’t always work around his blocks to their full potential. However, that’s something he could get a better feel for with more reps. His elite athleticism makes him an intriguing prospect for teams in need of a two-down back.

8. Tyjae Spears, Tulane

Age: 21.8

Size: 5'11/201

Spears didn’t see much work as an underclassman and played in a committee as a junior. In his senior season at Tulane, he took over the backfield to the tune of 229 carries, 1,581 yards, and 20 rushing scores. He also had his best season as a receiver by posting a 22/256/2. Spears looks like a fluid route-runner on film and posted a solid, 1.44 yards per route run over the course of his career. As a runner, he does his best work on the outside as he doesn’t have the lower-body power to fight through contact on interior plays. Based on his size, Spears projects as a pass-catching specialist with efficiency-based upside on the ground at the next level.

9. DeWayne McBride, UAB

Age: 21.7

Size: 5'11/209

McBride exploded on the scene as a sophomore with 204 carries for 1,371 yards and 13 scores. He followed that up with an absurd, 233/1,713/19 rushing line in 2022 before declaring for the draft. McBride is a violent runner who rarely goes down on first contact. PFF charted him with the second-best mark in yards after contact per attempt (4.6) in 2022. He led all running backs with at least 100 carries in yards per attempt (7.3) as well. McBride’s weaknesses are as glaring as his strengths. He caught five passes in three seasons at UAB and doesn’t have much experience in pass protection. McBride isn’t particularly agile either, so he needs an offensive line to get him set up going downhill. His absurd production speaks for itself, but McBride may take a year or two in the NFL as he makes a considerable jump in competition level on top of acclimating to a pro-style scheme.

10. Sean Tucker, Syracuse

Age: 21.4

Size: 5'9/207

Tucker didn’t break out as a freshman but did see immediate action as a backup at Syracuse. Then, as a sophomore, he popped off for 1,496 rushing yards and 12 scores. His numbers took a hit in 2022, but he still crested 1,000 yards on the ground while adding 254 yards on 36 catches. He also participated in track and field at Syracuse. He was unable to test at the combine but posted clips of him doing the drills on his own to social media. The video shows him running a 4.33 40-time and posting a higher vertical jump than any back at the combine. These should be taken with a grain of salt, and, most importantly, he doesn’t jump out as a supreme athlete on tape. Tucker also needs to improve his vision and body control at the line of scrimmage because he doesn’t always play to the strengths of his compact frame. He’ll need some time to hone his craft at the next level, but Tucker’s college production shows a back who could work himself into a considerable role in the NFL.

11. Zach Evans, Ole Miss

Age: 21.8

Size: 5'11/202

Evans began his career at TCU and was on track for a massive breakout as a sophomore. He had 648 yards and five scores through six games before a turf toe injury ended his season. He then transferred to Ole Miss but ultimately played second fiddle to Quinshon Judkins. Evans ran for 936 yards and nine scores on 144 attempts in his lone season as a Rebel. A former five-star recruit, Evans is a one-cut runner who hits the hole with force and quickly works his way upfield. He turned in a middling pro day with a 4.5-second 40-time plus pedestrian burst and agility metrics. Evans would fit well in a zone scheme but may top out as a part-time player, even on the right offense.

12. Chase Brown, Illinois

Age: 23

Size: 5'10/209

Brown transferred from Western Michigan to Illinois after one year and slowly worked his way up the depth chart until breaking out with over 1,000 rushing yards in 2021. In his final season, Brown rushed 328 times for 1,648 yards and ten scores. He also showed well at the combine with a 4.43 Forty. Brown has track speed and gets to the edge quickly but could do better when navigating the chaos of inside runs. Nearly half of his college production coming as a fifth-year senior is also a concern. He looks like a committee back at the next level, but his home-run speed could lead to above-average efficiency on the ground.

13. Eric Gray, Oklahoma

Age: 23.4

Size: 5'10/207

Gray began his collegiate career in Tennessee. He took over the starting role as a sophomore and topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage on 187 touches. Gray then transferred to Oklahoma and would have to wait until his senior season to see a large workload again. In 2022, he rushed 22 times for 1,366 yards and 11 scores. He also caught topped 30 receptions for the second time. Gray isn’t particularly big and doesn’t show overwhelming power between the tackles, but he’s a shifty runner with the requisite frame to take on a sizable workload. He’s also smooth as a pass-catcher, putting a three-down role for him on the table. Draftniks see him as a Day Three pick, but if sneaks into the second day of the draft he will shoot up my rankings.

14. Tank Bigsby, Auburn

Age: 21.6

Size: 6'/210

Bigsby was an immediate producer at Auburn, rushing for a team-high 834 yards plus five scores. He then crested 1,000 yards as a sophomore and found paydirt ten times. The Tigers’ offense took a hit in 2022, and Bigsby’s numbers followed suit. He dipped just below 1,000 yards but managed to score another ten times. Bigsby is a punishing runner who doesn’t go down on first contact. He doesn’t have top-end speed or wiggle, but as long as his future team uses him as a power back between the tackles, they will be pleased with the results.

15. Kenny McIntosh, Georgia

Age: 23.1

Size: 6'/204

McIntosh was stuck behind future NFL backs for three years at Georgia before finally earning the starting role as a senior. He remained in a backfield-by-committee but set career highs across the board with a 149/829/10 rushing line. Georgia fully unleashed him as a pass-catcher in 2022 and caught 43 passes for 505 yards and two scores. Pro Football Focus gave him the top receiving grade among Power Five running backs and he ranked fifth in yards per route run. McIntosh ran a subpar 4.62 40-time at the combine and bombed the rest of the drills at Georgia’s pro day. His 4.0 RAS makes his lack of usage in college even more concerning.

16. Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota

Age: 24.6

Size: 5'8/203

Ibrahim was thrust into a starting role as a freshman and rushed for over 1,000 yards in his debut campaign. Ibrahim was a backup in 2019 but earned the starting job again in 2020 and added another 1,000-yard season to his resume while also scoring 15 touchdowns. He missed most of his senior year because of injuries and returned to school for the 2022 season. In his fifth and final year, Ibrahim rushed for 1,665 yards and 20 touchdowns. Ibrahim has good vision and can push the pile with his impressive lower-body strength, but he is undersized and didn’t show great agility or top-end speed on tape.

17. Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State

Age: 21.4

Size: 5'5/179

Vaughn stepped on campus in 2020 and immediately took over the starting gig in Kansas State’s backfield. He rushed for 642 yards and seven scores while adding another 434 yards and two scores through the air. As a sophomore, Vaughn logged 235 carries for 1,404 yards and 18 touchdowns. He followed this up with another 293 attempts for 1,558 yards and nine scores as a junior. Vaughn also caught over 40 balls in each of his final two seasons. Based purely on his production at a Power Five school, Vaughn could be the RB2 in this class. However, he’s absurdly undersized and posted underwhelming broad and vertical jumps at the combine. Vaughn can handle more work than you’d think but will be limited to outside runs and pass-catching duties in the NFL, greatly limiting his fantasy potential.

18. Evan Hull, Northwestern

Age: 22.4

Size: 5'10/209

Hull isn’t a notable runner. He topped 1,000 yards once in four years and averaged an unimpressive five yards per carry throughout his career at Northwestern. He shines as a pass-catcher though. Hull caught 33 passes for 264 yards in 2021 then followed that up with 55 catches for 546 yards in 2022. He projects as a pass-catching specialist at the next level but could string together some useful fantasy seasons in PPR leagues.

19. Chris Rodriguez, Kentucky

Age: 23.5

Size: 6'/217

Rodriguez’s role grew from nothing to committee duties in his first three seasons as a Wildcat. He then took over the backfield for the final two years of his collegiate career and amassed 2,282 rushing yards plus 16 scores across 21 games. Rodriguez is a downhill runner who is a nightmare to bring down once he gets a head of steam. He ran a 4.52 40-time at the combine but lackluster jumps sunk his RAS to 7.68. Without any pass-catching upside, Rodriguez projects as the backup to an early-down grinder in the NFL.

20. Keaton Mitchell, East Carolina

Age: 21.2

Size: 5'8/179

Mitchell was a two-year producer at ECU, amassing 2,584 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in his sophomore and junior seasons combined. He added 500 receiving yards over those two years. Mitchell showed well at the combine with a 4.37 40-time and strong jumps but weighed in surprisingly light. He is all but sure to play a part-time role in the NFL because of his size. Mitchell ultimately profiles similarly to Boston Scott, a player who plays above his size and has smooth hands but needs to contribute on special teams to earn his paychecks.