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PRE-2023 NFL SCOUTING COMBINE RUNNING BACK RANKINGS

Bijan Robinson

Bijan Robinson

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Froton ranks the 2023 NFL Draft Class Running Backs and offers in depth analysis of the second tier of RBs after Bijan Robinson.

Running Backs

Bijan Robinson, Texas

Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama

Zach Evans

Devon Achane, Texas A&M

Zach Charbonnet, UCLA

KenDre Miller, TCU

Tyjae Spears, Tulane

Kenny McIntosh, Georgia

Roschon Johnson, Texas

Tank Bigsby, Auburn

Eric Gray, Oklahoma

Chris Rodriguez Jr, Kentucky

Sean Tucker, Syracuse

Israel Abanikanda, Pitt

DeWayne McBride, UAB

Keaton Mitchell, ECU

Mo Ibrahim, Minnesota

Evan Hull, Northwestern

Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State

Chase Brown, Illinois

Sarodorick Thompson, Texas Tech

Tiyon Evans, Louisville

Travis Dye, USC

Xazavian Valladay, Arizona State.

Camerun Peoples, Appalachian State

Deneric Prince, Tulsa

Jordan Mims, Fresno State

Kaz Allen, UCLA

Jarek Broussard, Michigan State

Tavion Thomas, Utah

Titus Swen, Wyoming

Jordan Mims, Fresno State

Chris Smith, Louisiana

Lew Nichols III, Central Michigan

Aidan Bourguet, Harvard

Todd Sibley Jr, Albany

Christopher Brooks, BYU

Christian Beal-Smith, South Carolina

Bijan Robinson, Texas

I don’t know what more to say about Bijan Robinson other than to corroborate that he’s legitimately the most complete RB prospect to enter the draft since Saquon Barkley. He has the size, speed, receiving skills, acceleration and ability to cut at full speed at incredibly sharp angles at 6'0/220 pounds. There really is no bust potential here outside of injury, as Bijan broke an astounding 104 tackles (#1 in FBS) while averaging 4.17 yards after contact. He was so dangerous as a receiver that he amassed 314 receiving yards last year (10th most in FBS) on just 19 receptions for a gaudy 16.5 YPR! The next lowest reception total for a running back in the receiving yardage top-10 was Maryland RB Roman Hemby who posted 315 receiving yards on 34 receptions. He also ranks fifth in FBS in RB Red Zone targets since 2021, showing how much Texas HC Steve Sarkisian depended on Bijan in every phase of the offense. Easy #1 RB and R1 selection.

The real quandary for me in this class is who will be the all-around second-best RB, as we’ve got a mix of dynamic sub-200 pounders who can make big plays and a few bigger backs with three-down potential that could end up as the eventual second-best back of the 2023 class. I plan to do a follow-up article post-Combine breaking down the rest of the 2023 running backs, but here are my thoughts on a few of the top RB2 options:

Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama

Gibbs (5'11/200) transferred from Georgia Tech to Alabama pre-2022 in order to boost his profile and escape the doldrums of the Yellowjackets’ football program. He manipulates defenders very well in space but can look indecisive on the interior as if he’s anticipating contact and not flowing naturally. A natural receiver who instant accelerates upon the catch and is dynamic in the open field. Tendency to string out runs on the outside with speed rather than wait for an opening to cut through. He’s not going to be seeing 15+ carries on the NFL level and is best suited as a swiss-army knife who lines up all over the formation and receives quick hits out of the backfield that serve as extended handoffs. Gibbs has never had a 1,000-yard rushing season in college for a reason, but averaged 8.5 total yards per touch in the second half of the season, the 2nd best mark nationally (Donovan Edwards #1 w/9.5). Gibbs is not a three-down back. Even at a Georgia Tech program starved for playmakers as deposed HC Geoff Collins transitioned from the option to a more contemporary offense, he recorded 20 carries just once while averaging four rushing touchdowns per season and splitting time with Jordan Mason. I certainly see the reasoning in Gibbs as RB2, but with his lack of heft, I have a hard time imagining he’s going to power through the interior of an NFL defensive front when he wasn’t even called upon to do that for a talent-starved team in Georgia Tech. Instead of taking the alpha role, Gibbs split time with Jordan Mason. His collegiate usage leads me to believe he will not be able to see consistent playing time outside of 10 carries and a handful of manufactured receptions per game. While Gibbs is the second-most talented back in the class, his dimensions could very well preclude him from being the second-most productive RB when we look back in 5 years. Hopefully, he lands with an organization that deploys him in a manner that best emphasizes his explosive traits.

Zach Evans, Ole Miss

Evans (6'0/215) had a tumultuous recruitment process and cleared 100 carries in a season just once in three years, throwing into question his durability. This year Evans toted the rock a career-high 144 times, averaging a strong 6.5 YPC in his lone SEC campaign, but was overshadowed by sensational freshman RB Quinshon Judkins. It’s too bad we never got a full season from Evans in college because his traits and per-carry numbers project well for NFL success. He picked up first downs on 35% of his rush attempts, the highest rate nationally, and also led the P5 in percentage of 10+ yard runs (22%) over the last two seasons. His production on a per/carry basis has been excellent, with the exception of a dip from 4.30 YAC in 2021 to a more average 3.56 in 2022. Evans has all the physical tools to be an NFL RB, shows incredible burst for his size when hitting a defined crease and has a smooth running style that helps him outrun second-level defenders in the open field. However, there are many examples of cloudy vision and a lack of lateral movement when sifting through the line. He has a tendency to put his head down and barrel into a scrum rather than slide out of the pile or take a pace step. I come away from evaluating Evans seeing major potential and raw skills but needing to harness his approach to reach his ceiling. Will Evans rise to the NFL challenge, or be a gifted player who doesn’t reach his athletic potential?

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Devon Achane, Texas A&M

Because they are both explosive sub-200 pound backs with game-changing speed, Jahmyr Gibbs and Devon Achane are invariably going to be compared with each other when evaluating the RB class. But stylistically they are noticeably different, as Gibbs is more of a straight-line runner between the tackles who is good at exploiting creases, but isn’t particularly creative. Conversely, Achane is a determined and focused interior rusher who is always probing for the smallest crack to dart through in an effort to reach the open field where his Olympic-caliber speed and eye-popping change of direction ability make him special. He was also a valuable cog in the moribund Texas A&M passing game, catching 57 passes since 2021 (10th most in FBS) including 16, third down targets which was the second most nationally this year. Achane’s 19.7 carry per game average was the 10th highest in the Power Five while his 4.9 targets per game ranked 8th. On the ground, the Texas A&M tailback rushed for 10+ yards on 18.9% of his carries since 2021, which is the second-highest rate nationally among RBs with 220+ carries. On the flip side, Achane gained 20+ yards on just one of his 33 receptions this season while sporting a sub-par 7.7% drop rate (5 drops in 65 catchable targets) and is a blank in pass pro, allowing a whopping 10 pressures this season and earning a woeful 27.7 pass-blocking grade from PFF. Achane is billed at 5'9/185, which is very small to be counted on for consistent, game script-proof production in the NFL. However, I’m very interested to see his dimensions at the Combine since Achane was a track runner in college and had trouble keeping on weight in the offseason when he was competing. If he can get to 195, Achane could be a very effective all-purpose complement to a power back, which could be a very attractive second-round option depending on the landing spot.

Zach Charbonnet, UCLA

A former five-star super-prospect at Michigan, Charbonnet grew weary of Michigan’s rotational backfield and set his sights for Pasadena two years ago to be Chip Kelly‘s bell cow. It was a prescient decision as he went on to average 139.4 rushing yards (2nd in P5) and 4.1 receptions (3rd in P5) this year. The 6'1/224 tailback displays a well-rounded, downhill skillset that should have him ready to contribute in the NFL straight away. He looks to punish tacklers when he can’t avoid them and is disciplined in waiting for lanes to open up. Charbonnet doesn’t have the burst or top-end speed of the smaller backs in this class, but I still think he’s going to clock in the 4.5s+ range in the 40. His receiving usage was more prolific than you’d think as well, averaging 36 receiving yards per game this year, third-most in the Power Five behind only elite receiving backs Evan Hull and Kenny McIntosh, and ahead of Jahmyr Gibbs. His 17 first down receptions ranked fifth in FBS in addition to producing 10+ yard runs in 22% of his rushing attempts this season, third-best in P5. Charbonnet’s 93.6 PFF rushing grade ranked third in the power five, just a shade behind Bijan Robinson and Blake Corum, while his 4.15 yards after contact average also checks in at third place for all P5 rushers with at least 170 rush attempts (Bigsby #2, Bijan #1). That being said, he broke off 20+ yard plays on just 6-of-61 receptions (9.8%) since 2021, the 12th lowest rate among P5 skill players (Dontayvion Wicks #1 at 39%). Charbonnet has the potential to be a James Conner-lite type back who can run, pass protect and catch in a three-down role at the next level, but lacks the athletic traits to be an elite prospect.

Kendre Miller, TCU

Miller (6'0/220) is a classic tale of a less-heralded grinder that eventually outshines a higher-profile teammate. Zach Evans dealt with injuries at TCU which hampered his ability to reach his ceiling. However, KenDre Miller‘s talent and established role had Evans seeking more attractive situations in the portal for a reason. Miller has above average contact balance for his size in addition to an array of stutter steps, jukes and slide steps that free him up to hit the second level where his max speed shows out. Several times this season he stiff-armed defenders in the hole in a way where he used the tacklers’ momentum to propel himself into another cut. The Horned Frogs phenom finished second nationally in PFF’s elusiveness rating in 2021 (Miyan Williams #1) while also ranking 8th overall with 18 rushes of 20+ yards over the last two years at a 6.8% clip. In addition to his big play acumen, Miller rushed for 11 touchdowns on 30 red zone carries this year, the fifth-best RZ carry-to-TD rate (2.7) in the P5 (2024 Clemson RB Will Shipley #1 at 2.3). His 12 carry per TD average since 2021 is the best mark in the nation, proving he has a nose for the goal line. The biggest drawbacks are a lack of real usage in the passing game and a tendency to get lost in pass protection. I’m not particularly concerned about Miller’s receiving chops, but he’s got to tighten up the pass pro miscues if he wants to be on the field with regularity in the NFL. I think he settles in the RB7-10 range, which makes me higher on him than many NFL Draft analysts I’ve seen, making Miller a somewhat polarizing prospect.

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