Layout of the Preview:
1) Brief Positional Overview
2) Top 15 Prospects. Includes Grade, NFL Comparison, Summary, Extra Thoughts
*Comparisons are more about physical profile and play style, NOT projection
3) Grades only: 16 – 31
90+: All Pro
85+ Pro Bowl
81-84: 1st Round / Year 1 Contributor / Starter
79-80: 2nd Round / Year 1 Contributor / Year 2 Starter
77-78: 3rd Round / Contribute by end of Year 1 / Year 2 Starter
74-76: Early Day 3 / Special Teams / Future Backup / Possible Starter
71-73: Mid-Day 3 / Special Teams / Future backup / Gamble Starter
68-70: Late Day 3 / Back End of Roster / Practice Squad / Developmental
65-67: Preferred UDFA
4) Positional Approach – Draft Weekend
Saquon Barkley was the #2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. A much-debated pick because the value of running backs in relation to the economics of production that lead to wins and the usage of salary cap allocation, Barkley played out the five years of his rookie deal. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year and finished as a Pro Bowler. The next three seasons saw 21 missed games and just eight rushing touchdowns. Under his fifth-year option in 2022, Barkley bounced back, playing in 16 games and making his second Pro Bowl. This led to the franchise tag, as the NYG front office has not fully committed to his long term future with the organization. Matt Breida was re-signed to back him up along with the ascending Gary Brightwell. Only Brightwell and the 2022 undrafted free agent, Jashaun Corbin, are under contract beyond 2023. While the group looks strong on paper, the future is very unknown.
TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1) Bijan Robinson – Texas – 5’11/215
NFL Comparison: Dalvin Cook / MIN
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Tucson, AZ. 2022 Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American. Two-time first team All-Big 12. Robinson is the factory-made prototype for any offense, any era. His skill set will present weapons for the running and passing games respectively right away. The combination of elusiveness and contact balance makes him a tough ball carrier to get on the ground but then he adds the finishing touch of elite runaway speed and short area quickness to create and lengthen separation from defenders. He has wide receiver-caliber hands, understands how to protect himself, and shows the knack for the big play in big moments. Robinson is a day one starter in any scheme with the ceiling of quickly being one of the top backs in the league. Robinson is an elite playmaker that left the Texas program as one of most productive backs in school history and has every tool in the box to be a superstar at the next level.
*Not much needs to be discussed here. Robinson is one of the best running back prospects I have ever scouted. I still think he is going top 10, but many think he will not. It will be interesting and fun to see what happens because this is not a traditional running back with traditional value. Robinson could grade out as a day two wide receiver if he wanted to. What sets him apart is the ability to break tackles and gain yards after contact. That is the number one trait I look for and he is the best to ever do it. There are a few holes in his game, and he is the typical new age guy that wants every play to be a highlight. If he can do some of the dirty work and always fall forward, he will be a better player. If NYG had a shot at him at #25? I’ll plead the fifth. “Trade down”.
2) Jahmyr Gibbs – Alabama – 5’9/199
NFL Comparison: James Cook / BUF
Junior entry. Two-year starter from Dalton, GA. Spent two seasons at Georgia Tech where he earned first team All ACC and second team All American honors as an all-purpose player in 2021 before moving on to Alabama, where he earned second team all SEC in 2022. Gibbs chose to take a step up in competition, both in-house and with his opponents. He responded with a career year, leading the Crimson Tide (by over 2x) with 132.3 all-purpose yards per game, second in the conference. He can wear multiple hats on offense and special teams, as the only objective here is to simply get the ball in his hands. Gibbs has such fluid movement patterns below the waist in all directions. It looks like he is on ice skates with how easily he can change direction and explode. He has home-run speed, receiver-caliber hands, and a good feel for where the creases will appear. This is an ideal skill set for today’s pro running back. Gibbs will be an immediate asset to any passing game and has shown the elite movement traits both in crowded areas and in the open field to create explosive plays weekly.
*Gibbs is one of the fastest 12 running backs to run at the combine since 2000. The other names on that list are exciting including the likes of Isiah Pacheco, DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best, CJ Spiller, Chris Johnson, Reggie Bush…etc. The smaller guys on that list? They all had durability issues. Even though he was a pretty durable back in college, he’s never had more than 200 touches. Gibbs is a weapon for any offense and if I think he is deserving of a first round slot. Just know he can’t be the guy that gives you 20 touches a game. But his hands, routes, and movement traits are exactly what defensive coaches hate to deal with. Gibbs may see a fall because of positional value and if someone does get him round 2, it will be one of the top values of Friday night.
3) Zach Charbonnet – UCLA – 6’0/214
Grade: Adrian Peterson / RET
Senior entry. Started games in both years he spent at Michigan before transferring to UCLA in 2021 where he also started for two years. Two-time All-Pac 12, first team in 2022. Charbonnet hit a bump in the road after a strong freshman season in Ann Arbor, where he earned third team All-Big Ten honors. His playing time diminished the next season and it led to the transfer. He was then able to put his full ability on display week to week, getting just under 500 carries over his two seasons under Chip Kelly. Charbonnet’s body and body of work scream NFL. He has well-distributed muscle mass with tremendous thickness around his hips and calves. That size along with precise footwork and forward lean breaks a lot of tackles. He has the look of a guy that can handle a full dosage of carries in addition to providing excellent hands in the passing game and upper tier blocking. He does it all. This is an ideal fit for a starting job in a gap-heavy scheme. Charbonnet is everything a starting caliber back needs to be when looking at the well-balanced skill set, body, and mentality.
*Rewind 15 years ago and I strongly believe Charbonnet is a first-round pick. I think he played closer to 225 pounds by the way but likely shed some weight for the sake of his workout. Just above I wrote that Gibbs may be the ideal fit for today’s running back. While Charbonnet may be a decade too late to be considered a top-notch prospect, there is still a place for a guy like this. 566 carries, 2 fumbles. Targeted 90 times, just 5 drops as a receiver. His footwork is so precise and the way he breaks through cheap contact and will constantly “fall forward” leads me to believe he can be the leading ball carrier on a team right away. This is as pro-ready as possible no matter what role you need a back to do. Will also be one of the top pass blockers at the position in the league right away.
4) Tank Bigsby – Auburn – 6’0/210
NFL Comparison: Isaiah Crowell / RET
Junior entry from LaGrange, GA. 2020 SEC Freshman of the Year and second team all-conference. Bigsby exploded on to the scene right away with 834 yards, second most in program history by a true freshman. Even though the team around him went backwards, especially up front on the offensive line, Bigsby continued to evolve and make plays. He has explosive movement traits on a well-sized frame that can break through cheap tackle attempts and get away from defenders in space. When things are timed well, Bigsby can break off big plays as both a rusher and receiver. He is a high-upside player that brings some extra unknown because of the lack of talent he played with over his career. Bigsby has enough potential to be labeled a dynamic threat at the next level but there are concerns about his vision, ball security, and consistency of effort.
*Ball security and overall impact as a receiver. Those are the two red flags that bumped him down a few notches. Beyond that, I am a high on Bigsby. It took me some time to finally get to him but after doing the deep dive, I see the vision and aggressive run-style that can make big difference at the next level. Bigsby will be line-dependent more than most backs. He is not overly explosive or shifty when it comes to reactions. He simply just gets the ball and runs to his point as fast as he can. Fun kid to watch with big upside if he cleans up his issues. Quietly left Auburn as one of best backs from a program with a storied tradition at the position.
5) Kendre Miller – TCU – 5’11/215
NFL Comparison: Alvin Kamara / NO
Junior entry. One-year starter from Mount Enterprise, TX. First team All-Big 12 honors in 2022. His third year with the program was the first and only time Miller was the team’s top used back. He responded with the fifth most single season rushing yards in program history. Miller has the NFL body and run style to adjust smoothly into the NFL. He carries most of his weight above the waist, promoting his sudden quickness and ability to play shifty in traffic. He is a physical player that welcomes violence and knows how to stay centered against it. Miller gains plenty of yards after contact and shows the gear to get away in space. He is an every-down back that will favor a physical downhill attack preferably with zone tendencies. Miller brings a well-balanced skill set to the table and was a consistent force after contact throughout his entire career, a trait that translates well to the NFL.
*The Kamara comparison is more about measurables and running style. Miller’s contact balance and vision are special and that is a big reason why Kamara has had success. The other half of Kamara’s game that is elite shows up in the passing game. I’m not sure I see that with Miller. Just as a pure runner, Miller is one of my favorite backs in the class. He will not be a big play guy, but he is going to annoy the heck out of defenses. Broken tackles, excellent vision, and yards after contact. This is a guy that presents starter-value possibly in round four, which is where I project him to go.
6) Zach Evans – Mississippi – 5’11/202
NFL Comparison: Chuba Hubbard / CAR
Junior entry. Spent two seasons at TCU where he started games both years. Transferred to Mississippi for 2022 where he was also split starting duties. Evans is a complete package back with the prototype combination of speed and size to immediately contribute in the NFL. He has elite movement traits across the board that look loose and flexible, but twitchy and explosive. He is a home-run hitter (6.9 yards per carry over career) with the right mentality. While his greatest attributes are movement-based, Evans shows plenty of toughness and grit. He opted to challenge his skill set in the SEC by transferring, showing the inherent competitive mindset. He only improved his stock with how he played against the country’s top week to week talent. Evans flashed superstar potential but needs to clean up specific components to his skill set before being relied upon as a top back. Evans was never the focal point of a running game, but it could work in his favor. He comes into the league with plenty of tread left on the tires in addition to his combination of size and speed complementing his running style well.
*Evans is a little shaky when it comes to character and maturity. There will need to be some extra digging into off-field habits. On the field, I sometimes use the work “unique” and “stand-out”. Evans averaged 7 yards per carry with just under 300 carries in his career. That really is an amazing number. The 3 fumbles in 2022 bothered me a bit and there are some holes when it comes to vision. But when it comes to pure running, acceleration, and upside, Evans is one of the top three in this class.
7) Tyjae Spears – Tulane – 5’10/201
NFL Comparison: Shane Vereen / RET
Fourth year junior entry. First team All-AAC in 2022 and won the Conference’s Player of the Year award, the first time a non-quarterback has taken home the hardware. Spears missed most of the 2020 season with a torn ACL and then bounced back with just under 2,500 yards on just 360 carries (6.8 avg) in two years. This is a big play back with elite burst, balance, and runaway speed. The size and bendiness make him a weapon after contact, and he was among the nation’s leaders in explosive runs. Spears is an ideal complement to a power back that can fit into any scheme that will excel in space, but will not be big enough to carry an every down load. Spears will be a good secondary threat in the backfield, one that specializes in explosive plays in space.
*Spears is a kid I boosted up quite a bit later in the process. The combination of his Senior Bowl and bowl game against USC is not a huge sample size, but there were a lot of “wow” moments. I love this kid’s running style. He is aggressively patient, tough, and wants every inch. He has a lot of dog in him. Can he hold up at that size with this style? That will be the question. A kid that tore his ACL in 2020 came back and produced just under 7 yards per carry over the following two season, Spears simply has the natural traits that will show up when opportunities are there. Get him a #2 job and be ready to hear his name called.
8) Deuce Vaughn – Kansas State – 5’5/179
NFL Comparison: Tarik Cohen / CHI
Junior entry. Two-year starter from Round Rock, TX. Three time All Big 12 and two-time first team All American as an all-purpose player. The 2020 Big 12 Freshman of the Year is the son of Cowboys Assistant Director of College Scouting, Chris Vaughn. Deuce exploded on to the scene right away as a true freshman and never looked back. He ranked sixth in the country in all-purpose yards in both 2021 and 2022 respectively. While his frame is nearly off the charts in the wrong direction, Vaughn is one of the few that can play running back in the NFL at the diminutive size. He is hard to find in traffic and moves with tremendous agility, burst, and long speed. His greatest impact will likely come as a pass catcher, but do not sleep on what he can do as a rusher. Vaughn will need a specific role and scheme to be most effective, but the unique skill set and impact on the passing game will be viewed as a hard-to-defend weapon in the passing game especially.
*I bet grades on this kid will be all over the place. But if you remember what the Patriots did with Dion Lewis and James White or the Eagles did with Darren Sproles and Brian Westbrook, that is where I envision Vaughn. He is not the number one of number two back, he simply has his own position. A scat-back that will destroy linebackers in the passing game. He carried the ball 293 times in 2022, 235 times in 2021. In a 17-game season, I would not expect him to see even half that load. But what he can do in the passing game can be such a big-time asset. I am saying it right now – if NYG can get him day three I will be all over it.
9) Roschon Johnson – Texas – 6’0/219
NFL Comparison: Chris Carson / SEA
Senior entry from Port Neches, TX. Started games each of his last three seasons but was never considered the number one back. Earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in 2022. Was a dual threat quarterback recruit out of high school. Moved to running back because of injuries at Texas and never looked back. Johnson is a football player above all else. He can make things happen as a runner, receiver, blocker, and a tackler on special teams. He shows all-out effort all the time. He packed on weight after making the transition to the backfield and special teams but was able to maintain his plus-speed. Paired with the aggression and power, Johnson makes his presence felt weekly. He is not the most graceful runner with the ball and his style highly favors gap over zone schemes. But if a team gets him on the back end of a depth chart and finds ways to use the skill set and mentality, Johnson is going to create the hidden elements that win games. Johnson is the ideal teammate and 48th gameday player that will wear several hats, and wear them dependably.
*When a program has an absolute star at a position from the beginning of his career, always give the backup an extra look. That is principle of mine every cycle. Bijan has been a star at Texas from day one. Add in the fact Johnson was a quarterback until 2019 (and in high school), one can only wonder just how early on the progression curve he is. Johnson lacks polish and feel as a runner, but this dude can pick up yards in an NFL offense. His value as a top-notch cover man on special teams and the fact he is incredibly smart/coachable will get him extra looks draft weekend. This is a high-floor player with the mindset everyone wants in the locker room.
10) Eric Gray – Oklahoma – 5’10/207
NFL Comparison: Mark Ingram / NO
Senior entry. Three-year starter from Memphis, TN. Spent two years at Tennessee before transferring to Oklahoma for his final two seasons. Second team All-Big 12 in 2022. Ended his career with almost double the usage and production of any other season in his career, finishing with the ninth most single-season rushing yards in Oklahoma history. Gray brings a tremendous physical profile and body to the table. He looks like he is manufactured in a running back factory and has the quality tape to back it up. He can fit into any running scheme but will be best suited for action between the tackles. There is where he can truly maximize the plus-burst, balance, and strength. Gray also has proven to carry a pair of elite hands as a receiver. While he may not end up with the best long speed in the group, Gray will create explosive plays with how decisive and violent he can run downhill while always maintaining the ability to abruptly stop and change direction. Gray is an ideally-built, versatile team player that fits into the every-down role at the next level.
*Gray was a favorite of mine when it came to the surface level scouting. He is not a very big guy, but he is huge in the right places. His lower half is put together almost like Saquon. His short limbs work well with the kind of movement we need to see out of running backs. Short, choppy, balanced movements that can get in and out of small spaces in a hurry. When he reaches the open field, he can be caught from behind but do not overlook just how much his burst can create initially. Gray is a guy that, if he hooks up with the right team (SF, PHI, BAL) – he is going to be a 1,000-yard rusher. An overlooked attribute in his game shows up as a receiver. He was targeted a lot (102 times last three years combined) and dropped just two of them, a very good number for anyone let alone a back with power.
11) Devon Achane – Texas A&M – 5’8/188
NFL Comparison: Trenton Cannon / TEN
Junior entry. One-year starter from Missouri City, TX. Earned first team All-SEC honors in 2022. Also a member of the Texas A&M track and field team, running short distance races and posting some of the fastest times in school history. Achane is near the Olympic level when it comes to speed, and it shows up on film. The easy burst and next gear are always enough to outrun angles. He is not a player that will be caught from behind. His play style fights the stereotype of track athletes that put the pads on. He is tough and hard-nosed. He puts his shoulder down into a pile of tacklers. And he succeeds between the tackles. Achane is an elite, explosive athlete that can show up in the passing game, obviously in the running game, and on special teams. While there are a few physical restrictions that come with a frame this size, the right usage is going to inject explosive plays into the offense and points on to the scoreboard. Achane’s game is built on speed and burst that can be used in more ways than one but should not be the feature back early in his career.
*The speed is Chris Johnson-caliber. The kind of speed that can change an offense in a hurry. But how many backs were drafted and sustained a 5+ year career at running back that weighed in under 190 pounds at the combine since 2000? Besides the 5’6” Darren Sproles? Zero. You need to consider that when deciding whether to draft him. Is the idea of him realistic? It is fun, but what are the odds he can hold up? Of course, he can put some weight on and I am sure he will, but most backs do. And how much does that eat into his movement traits? And it’s not like his shuttle/3-cone times are great. Achane is worth a gamble at some point, I agree. Day three is the only time I think about it.
12) Israel Abanikanda – Pittsburgh – 5’10/216
NFL Comparison: Jay Ajayi / RET
Junior entry. Two-year starter from Brooklyn, NY. First Team All-ACC and a consensus All-American in 2022 after leading the country with 11.6 points per game and finishing second in all-purpose yards per game. The former high school track star (100 M) plays an explosive brand of football attached to a credible NFL-dimensioned body and advanced vision. He has the kind of do-it-all skill set that screams number one back in specific schemes. Abanikanda is a little thin below the waist, but he can accelerate in such a hurry that is transforms into power. He can run with force between the tackles but what makes him a true threat is what happens in the open field. He erases angles of pursuers and only lengthens the gap between him and the other team the further into space they get. Abanikanda will bring life to any backfield with a bias toward a zone scheme and there is icing on the cake with is kick return value. Abanikanda will not be a fit for every scheme, but his size/speed combination will be among the best in the class, and he has true home-run ability every time he gets the ball.
*I am surprised there is not more chatter about this kid. We did not see a full exposure of him during the Kenny Pickett era. Pickett (and Addison) leave town and Abanikanda breaks out, leading the ACC in rushing and finishing as an All-American. He is such an aggressive downhill runner that turns that plus-speed into power. Maybe he doesn’t always know what he is doing or where to go, but what he showed in one year of being a feature guy behind a shaky-at-best offensive line and no other talent to speak of on offense? This may be one of the top five sleepers in the class.
13) Chase Brown – Illinois – 5’10/209
NFL Comparison: Chris Evans / CIN
Fifth year senior. Three-year starter from Ontario, Canada. Three-time All-Big Ten and a consensus second team All-American. Son of Darren Issac, a running back that played in the CFL. Brother, Sydney, is also a 2023 draft prospect on the defensive side of the ball. Chase transferred to the Illinois from Western Michigan following the 2018 season. The high school track star redshirted after barely seeing the field in 2019 and then became their feature back from there. His usage was brought to another level in 2022, nearly doubling his career touches to that point. He ended up a Doak Walker finalist, the first in school history. Brown is a hard-nosed blazer with the kind of home-run ability that can change an offense in an instant. He was among the nation’s leaders in runs over ten and fifteen yards. He is best suited for a zone-running scheme where he can search for the crease and turn on the jets to beat defenders to a spot. The fumbles need to be cleaned up (he had a nation-high five in 2022 alone) and he may not be an every-down guy between the tackles. As a part of a committee though, Brown is the explosive threatBrown is at his best in space where he can fully utilize his plus-speed and sharp cutting ability to create big plays.
*Production played a huge part in his evaluation by the media and public. The All-American finished third in the nation in yards, second in the nation in carries. He has the look of what a back needs to look like. Thick but also fast explosive enough to create big plays. The fumbles bothered me and what he did in the passing game both as a receiver and blocker left me a bit underwhelmed. His ideal spot is a #2 or #3 behind a back or a dual-back system. He does not have a specialty, but he can play football. He can do a lot of things well enough. You need a guy like this somewhere on depth chart.
14) Sean Tucker – Syracuse – 5’9/207
NFL Comparison: Chase Edmonds / MIA
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Owing Mills, MD. Two-time All ACC, including first team honors in 2021 after setting the program single season rushing yards record, a season that also earned him All-American honors. Tucker has elite athleticism in every sense of the word. The former state champion sprinter is a danger to the defense every time he is in space. All of the necessary movement traits are there both as a rusher and receiver. He has the size and pad level to hide in the shadows of his blockers just long enough to wait for a crease to open up before he shoots out of the cannon. Tucker is an advanced route runner and shows an understanding of timing and tempo to maximize the space he can create from defenders. This is a big play threat that is reliable with the ball in his hands and will work like a blue collar, seasoned veteran right away. Tucker has the traits to be an explosive playmaker and enough versatility to stay on the field in all situations, but is best suited for a number two, complementary job.
*It has not been a great pre-draft process for Tucker. He did not workout for scouts at the Combine or Pro Day due to a medical issue. The workouts are where he was supposed to shine. The former track standout had 112 carries of 10+ yards in the last two years alone, an amazing number. At his size, he had some workhorse in him. Tougher than you would think but maybe not the receiver you would think. Tucker is a nice guy to have on the back end of a depth chart because he is dangerous with the ball if he gets some space to work with. Also, a guy that won’t hurt you. Medicals will be big.
15) Mohamed Ibrahim – Minnesota – 5’8/203
NFL Comparison: Giovani Bernard / TB
Six-year senior. Redshirt in 2017 and used the extra Covid year. Starter all five seasons he was on the field but missed nearly all of 2021 with a torn achilles. Two-time All American and three time All-Big Ten (’18, ’20, ’22). The 2020 Big Ten Running Back of the year left Minnesota as second all-time leading rusher and atop the career touchdown list. Because of multiple injuries below the knee, he played in just 40 games over the course of five seasons. His production and consistency were vital components to the program that was turned around by Head Coach PJ Fleck. He is simply a back that understands the nuances of the position inside and out. He displays great vision and toughness in addition to elite ball security. He always picks up the sure yards and gains yards after contact on a consistent basis. The question with him will revolve around past injuries and the amount of tread left on the tires. Ibrahim plays the position the way it should be played, a lot of teach-tape can come from his film. Whether or not he can hold up at the next level is the question.
*If one could guarantee me Ibrahim will hold up physically, he is the kind of back I am taking a chance on. I love his play-style and toughness. This kid’s picture is next to the word “gamer” in the football dictionary. The injury history, volume of touches in college, and diminutive frame do not add up to strong odds there. But for my money if this kid is there toward the end of the draft, this is a risk that is worth taking. He plays running back at a higher level right now than 90% of the backs in this class.
16 – 31
16 – Kenny McIntosh – Georgia – 6’0/204: 73
17 – Keaton Mitchell – East Carolina – 5’8/179: 72
18 – Travis Dye – USC – 5’10/201: 72
19 – Tyron Evans – Louisville – 5’10/225: 72
20 – Chris Rodriguez – Kentucky – 6’0/217: 71
21 – Camerun Peoples – Appalachian State – 6’1/213: 71
22 – Dewayne McBride – UAB – 5’10/209: 71
23 – Deneric Prince – Tulsa – 6’0/216: 71
24 – Evan Hull – Northwestern – 5’10/209: 70
25 – Hunter Luepke – North Dakota State – 6’1/230: 70
26 – Xazavian Valladay – Arizona State – 5’11/204: 69
27 – Lew Nichols III – Central Michigan – 5’10/220: 68
28 – SaRodorick Thompson – Texas Tech – 5’11/204: 68
29 – Jordan Mims – Fresno State – 5’10/206: 68
30 – Emari Demercado – TCU – 5’9/213: 68
31 – Isaiah Bowser – Central Florida – 6’0/217
This is a running back class that I like a lot. I was asked during the season which position groups were the strongest/deepest. My answer was EDGE, TE, and RB. I have not answered with RB in a quite some time. There are different flavors of backs to the point where I have a hard time projecting where guys go. It will likely come down to when teams want to pull the trigger on a position that is now becoming undervalued by the public. A good running back room is still ultra-important to offensive success in today’s NFL. If your guy is there in round one, so be it. You can find a good one day three, but then again, we can say that about every position including Brock Purdy and quarterback.
NYG should use one of their day three picks on the position. Create some competition and depth for Matt Breida and Gary Brightwell. But the elephant in the room – Saquon Barkley’s long-term future – needs to be considered. If you know he will not be here in 2024, does it change your outlook on this year’s draft? Or do you simply push this to the side and leave this position alone for a year and maybe add a piece or two in undrafted free agency? I can go either way. If a back is drafted, he needs to have a specialty whether it is special teams and/or receiving. If a big-time value present itself day two, do you bite? This offense needs playmakers and because of that, yes I take a hard look if the value is right. Everything is on the table.