The running back class for the 2023 NFL Draft appears deep after the top two projected prospects in Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs, according to The 33rd Team Scouting Department's most recent mock draft. One of the first data sources I lean on includes college production in their final season and career totals. My early process involves sorting through college dominator ratings, plus the rushing and receiving metrics.
Part of this process allows us to dive deeper into the film and underlying metrics via Sports Info Solutions to help us with an early projection. After the NFL Combine, we'll incorporate the athleticism and workout data to paint a clearer picture. And finally, draft capital matters, of course.
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 and more to analyze the data and film to identify various running back prospect profiles. Also, take a look at the 2023 Rookie Running Back Best Ball Primer by Josh Larky and Ryan Reynolds.
Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M
At Texas A&M, Devon Achane posted the best college dominator rating, which examines a player's percentage of their team's production. Achane sits at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, with an uber-productive junior season. While he didn't dominate the receiving game, he posted a respectable 8 percent receiving yardage market share in 2022. That indicates Achane's ability to produce as a rusher and receiver at the NFL level.
The table above shows the top five running back prospects from a production standpoint. Keep a close eye on Achane's 40-yard dash for the size-adjusted speed, as a college sprinter that set school and NCAA records. Achane mentioned a goal to run a 4.2 40-yard dash. That would make him one of the fastest players in NFL Combine history. Achane's breakaway speed is evident on film when he finds space in the open field.
Achane's Advanced Metrics & Early Outlook
As one of the smaller running back prospects, Achane had trouble with being stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Amongst running backs with 50 carries, he ranked 148th with a 19.4 percent Stuff% out of 200 qualified players. Achane hovered near the median with a 37.2 percent hit at the line rate (No. 102), though he broke and missed tackles 19.4 percent of the time (No. 74).
The downside and upside comparisons of Dri Archer and Chris Johnson come to mind given Achane's size and potential speed. However, it's most likely a mix of both. He probably lands as a third-down back with rushing upside, though it depends on the draft capital and actual workout metrics. The redraft and dynasty market keeps elevating his projected value, so buy into the production and expected athleticism for one of the most productive running back prospects in 2022.
Chase Brown, RB, Illinois
After playing at Western Michigan as a freshman, Chase Brown redshirted at Illinois in 2019, making him a fifth-year senior in 2022. Brown handled a workhorse load with 328 carries for 1,643 rushing yards, translating to a 74 percent rushing attempt-adjusted market share and 80 percent rushing yards-adjusted market share. He added a 10 percent receiving yardage market share to post the second-best college dominator in the 2023 class behind Achane.
From a production perspective, Brown compares closely to Doug Martin, Ben Tate, Ameer Abdullah, and Rashaad Penny. All those players went in the first or second round, and Brown's draft capital will impact these comparisons. Martin, Tate, Abdullah, and Penny flashed near-elite athleticism at the NFL Combine, and they shouldered a heavy workload in college.
He's listed anywhere from 5-foot-9 to 5-foot-11, ranging from 205-215 pounds. Brown doesn't pop off the page from an athleticism standpoint on film, but he runs tough inside the tackles. It'll be interesting to see what he runs in the 40-yard dash because he seems to lack the game-breaking speed in the open field, though he can break off long chunks on the ground with an open lane. Brown ran track in high school, so there's a chance he has sneaky straight-line speed.
Brown's Advanced Metrics & Early Outlook
While it's not the flashiest profile, Brown can break and evade tacklers. Brown ranked 68th out of 200 qualified running backs (min. 50 carries) in broken plus missed tackle rate (20.4 percent). He used his designed gaps 70.7 percent of the time (No. 57) yet posted a stuff rate of 16.8 percent (No. 107). Since Brown totaled the most carries amongst qualified running backs in the 2023 class, it's logical that his carries of zero or fewer yards might be higher.
Brown has a projected draft selection ranging between the third and fourth rounds. That's fair, and we could see that rise or fall based on the workout metrics. He set tons of school records with national recognition for his elite production, and he'll enter the 2023 season as an early sleeper running back for dynasty and redraft formats.
Sean Tucker, RB, Syracuse
The article's theme is finding uber-productive running back prospects, and Sean Tucker checks that box for two straight seasons. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, Tucker ran track in high school and during his freshman season in college. Tucker rushed for 638 yards as a true freshman at Syracuse, then posted a 91 percent rushing yardage-adjusted market share as a sophomore. He followed that up with an 84 percent rushing yards adjusted market share as a junior, with massive running back dominator numbers.
Using productivity metrics, here are the top five college running backs based on their career numbers.
1) Sean Tucker👀
2) Deuce Vaughn✅
3) Evan Hull👀
4) Bijan Robinson🔥
5) Jahmyr Gibbs🔥
✈️Hull had the highest receiving yard market share amongst draft-eligible RBs in 2022 pic.twitter.com/zRLVS2mUMo
— Corbin (@corbin_young21) February 17, 2023
Tucker added consecutive receiving yardage market shares of 10 percent or higher, indicating the ability to produce as a pass catcher. Justin Jackson popped up for Tucker's top comparisons based on production, though Jackson went in the seventh round and draft capital matters. Jackson garnered sleeper buzz in a given week yet never received a consistent workload and battled injuries.
Tucker's Advanced Metrics & Early Outlook
Tucker's underlying metrics looked mediocre, with a 17.5 percent BT+MT/Att (No. 100) and 2.5 yards after contact per attempt (No. 130). It's probably related to the team context, but Tucker ranked fourth worst in designed gap rate at 51 percent, with an 18.4 percent stuff rate that ranked No. 133 out of 200. On film, Tucker appears to have good vision on where to gain positive yards as a rusher, though sometimes defenders stop him in the backfield. In the receiving game, Tucker can make explosive plays in the open field which could be a sneaky part of his profile.
Tucker projects to go in the second or third round, which would provide additional reasons for optimism. As one of the most productive running back prospects, Tucker's athleticism and draft capital will boost him up draft boards from redraft and dynasty perspectives. Tucker boasts an intriguing profile, and he is an early favorite of mine in the pre-draft process.
Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane
We'll close out this week's installment to discuss Tyjae Spears. At Tulane, he rushed for 1,581 rushing yards with 21 total touchdowns, 19 rushing plus two receiving. That translated into an 85 percent running back dominator as a senior, with a respectable career receiving-yardage market share of 8 percent. Spears compares similarly to Donnel Pumphrey and Kendall Hunter from a production perspective.
Spears's Advanced Metrics
Listed at 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, Spears packs a punch and runs tough. He can evade tacklers as a pass catcher out of the backfield, as he showed in the Cotton Bowl against USC. The data aligned as Spears ranked tenth in YAC/Att and 54th in BT+MT/Att. His 12.1 percent stuff rate (No. 23) shows he fights for positive yards. Spears had one of the worst designed-gap rates at 54.5 percent (No. 188). That could indicate he struggled with using the run blockers. Or it could hint at his ability to overcome the lack of open lanes, and I'd lean toward the latter.
As a receiver, Spears produced efficiently with the 16th-highest yards per route run (2.0) and the seventh-best yards per target (8.6) amongst running backs with 25 receiving opportunities. He converted his receptions into first downs 63.6 percent of the time, the third-highest rate behind Bijan Robinson and Austin Jones out of USC.
Early Outlook & Comparisons
Spears has a projected draft pick in the third or fourth round, bringing up a fun group of comparable players, including Ameer Abdullah, Kendall Hunter, and Michael Carter. How fast Spears runs will play a role in his draft capital, but a safe projection would be around a 4.50 40-yard dash. Spears flashed the speed and big-play skills to make him one of the more exciting running back prospects, regardless of whether he came from a non-Power 5 Conference. Expect Spears's stock to keep rising, especially after the optimistic reports from the Senior Bowl.