We've examined nine running backs from the 2023 class, including uber-productive players and five more with standout metrics. Although the four running back prospects in this column project as Day 3 selections — or may go undrafted — we'll want to keep tabs on them throughout the offseason.
How do these running back prospects compare to past players from a production standpoint? Do they have any standout skills? We hope to answer those questions by analyzing the data and film to identify four running back prospect profiles with Day 3 projected capital.
Day 3 Running Backs Worth Monitoring
Tavion Thomas, Utah
After two seasons at Cincinnati, Thomas (scouting report) transferred to a junior college (Independence Community College). In 2021, he went to Utah after a season at Independence CC, where he dominated the Pac-12 with 1,108 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns. That translated into a 47 percent rushing adjusted yardage market share and 32 percent RB Dominator.
Most notably, Thomas had a massive 75 percent rushing touchdown market share that season.
Unfortunately, Thomas's final season at Utah ended early because of a toe injury, and he decided to rehab for the NFL Draft. It's worth noting Thomas experienced some ups and downs throughout his life. He persisted through those challenges, an admirable trait to note.
On some sources, he's 6-foot-2, 221 pounds, which would be the prototypical size. However, his weight also ranges to over 240 pounds. At the NFL Combine, he weighed in at 237 and ran a 4.74 40-yard dash, translating to a 31st-percentile Speed Score. Even Thomas's broad and vertical jump led to underwhelming Freak (23rd percentile) and Explosion Scores (29th percentile).
Thomas checks the size and production box when considering his profile. However, his production mostly came during the past two seasons. It's probably ideal for Thomas to sit closer to 221 than 237 pounds. In 2022, he reeled in a season-high six receptions, with four combined in his three other collegiate seasons (not including his junior college year).
Based on production, the best comparisons include Ty Johnson and Silas Redd without considering draft capital. His comparisons change when we add the size and speed, though many similar players didn't run the 40-yard dash.
Thomas's Advanced Metrics
Among running backs with 50 carries in 2022, Thomas ranked 97th in broken plus missed tackle rate (BT+MT/Att) and tied for 70th in yards after contact (YAC/Att). He struggled to use his designed gaps (58.9 percent) and ranked No. 166 out of 200 qualified backs.
As a heavier back, we want higher broken tackle and YAC metrics. In Thomas's peak season (2021), he ranked 42nd in BT+MT/Att and tied for 22nd in YAC/Att. Those are better metrics. He also used his designed gaps 65.7 percent of the time (No. 116), aligning with his solid on-field production in 2021.
Thomas's Early Outlook
The early projected draft capital as a potential undrafted free agent is concerning. If he remains around 240 pounds, that's in the fullback range. Some notable heavier backs involve Derrick Henry, A.J. Dillon and Eddie Lacy, though they might be outliers in the dataset.
It's hard not to root for Thomas based on what he went through, but he'll need to create yards after contact, which he showed at Utah. Put Thomas on an early watch list for redraft and dynasty formats.
Israel Abanikanda, RB, Pittsburgh
Abanikanda (scouting report) turned 20 during his junior season and dominated with 1,431 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. That translated to a 73 percent RB Dominator and an unsurprisingly high 68 percent rushing TD-adjusted market share. He added a respectable four percent receiving yardage market share, showing he can be a factor in the receiving game.
Abanikanda's comparisons provide a mixture of optimism and concern with Kennedy Brooks, Ronald Jones and Stanley Williams. He possesses ideal size, is listed at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds and is the youngest running back in the 2023 class. Other running back prospects behind him in age include Kendre Miller, 20.7 (scouting report); Jahmyr Gibbs, 21 (scouting report); Keaton Mitchell, 21.1; Bijan Robinson, 21.1 (scouting report); and Deuce Vaughn, 21.3 (scouting report).
Abanikanda's Advanced Metrics
While age and production favor Abanikanda's profile, his underlying metrics look disturbing. He ranked 137th in BT+MT/Att at 14.6 percent and averaged a mediocre 2.7 YAC/Att (No. 112). On a positive note, he used his designed gaps 76.3 percent of the time (No. 15). That could indicate he has the vision to find the holes, but he struggles to create extra yards.
It's might be team context related, however, showing the ability the break and evade tackles more often is important. When Abanikanda finds an open lane, he has the speed to break big plays in the second level. His on-field and straight-line speed are legitimate, but he didn't participate in the workout drills at the NFL Combine because of a hamstring issue.
Abanikanda's Early Outlook
With my novice video watching, Abanikanda impresses more on video than via the production numbers. Some reports indicate Abanikanda ran a 4.50 40-yard dash in high school, but he might have more on-field juice than that. When including his projected fourth-round draft capital, Abanikanda compares closely to Alex Collins and Wayne Gallman, with upside comparisons of Alexander Mattison and Devonta Freeman. While most served as RB2s, they flashed RB1 upside when given the opportunity.
Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota
Ibrahim shouldered a heavy workload throughout his five-year collegiate career. He suffered an Achilles injury early in 2021 and returned in 2022 for his best season yet at age 24. An Achilles injury is brutal, especially for a running back. Two recent fantasy-relevant NFL players that returned from an Achilles injury included Cam Akers and James Robinson.
Regardless of his age, it's admirable he destroyed the competition after that injury. He amassed 320 carries, 1,665 rushing yards and 20 rushing scores for a 61 percent RB Dominator. As a dominant rusher in college, he only averaged a two percent receiving yardage market share. From an RB Dominator perspective, that would've ranked inside the top 10 in the 2023 RB class. Unsurprisingly, he didn't participate in the drills at the NFL Combine, but his profile checks the production box easily.
Ibrahim's Advanced Metrics
In 2022, Ibrahim tied for 91st in BT+MT/Att at 18.4 percent and ranked 57th in YAC/Att (3.1). With that heavy volume, he fought for extra yards, as only 12.2 percent of his carries resulted in zero or fewer yards (No. 27).
It's probably not fair to look back. However, in 2020, he averaged a 16.4 percent BT+MT/Att and 3.1 YAC/Att. Ibrahim's metrics look similar before and after the Achilles injury.
Ibrahim's Early Outlook
For context, Ibrahim is the second oldest running back in the 2023 class, behind Khalan Laborn out of Marshall. Since 2005, we had only two older prospects at running back, including Cameron Artis-Payne and Jalston Fowler in 2014. Artis-Payne should ring a bell, as he produced 1,608 rushing yards and 13 rushing scores in his final season at Auburn. Without considering Ibrahim's age, the college production should warrant more attention.
Unfortunately, the current projected sixth-round draft capital bakes in some concerns. It's safe to temper expectations with any athleticism measurements. However, I could envision a scenario where Ibrahim impresses an NFL team. From a pure-production standpoint, Ibrahim matches with Devin Singletary, Nick Chubb, Jamaal Williams and Shonn Greene. It makes you wonder about Ibrahim's career path if he didn't suffer the Achilles injury.
Deneric Prince, RB, Tulsa
Tulsa's Deneric Prince had a peak season of 729 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2022. That translates into a 61 percent RB Dominator, with an underwhelming two percent receiving yardage market share. Thanks to his limited college production, Prince compares closely to Jordan Mason, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Benny Cunningham. Unsurprisingly, Prince projects as an undrafted free agent.
However, Prince improved his NFL Draft stock with his impressive 4.41 40-yard dash, translating into a 93rd percentile Speed Score. He also showed off his explosiveness and athleticism, with a 95th percentile Freak Score and 79th percentile Explosion Score. Unfortunately, Prince didn't participate in agility drills, so it's unclear if he possesses tackle-evading skills. Prince went from potentially overlooked to a running back prospect on the rise, potentially similar to Isiah Pacheco last year.
Prince's Advanced Metrics
Prince posted mediocre advanced metrics, with 2.7 YAC/Att (No. 117) and 16.7 percent BT+MT/Att (No. 112). He had a 22.2 percent stuff rate, which ranked No. 176, meaning over one-fifth of his carries resulted in zero or fewer yards.
Running backs that create yards after contact or evade tacklers are more valuable. For instance, other notable running backs with a high stuff rate include Frank Gore Jr., Gibbs and Tank Bigsby (scouting report). Unsurprisingly, Gore, Gibbs and Bigsby boast better evasion rates.
Prince's Early Outlook
There's a good chance Prince elevated his draft stock at the NFL Combine from an undrafted running back to a Day 3 selection. His athleticism and explosiveness should intrigue NFL teams, even if it's as a backup. Remember his name for redraft and dynasty purposes, though don't overreact to the NFL Combine hype.