Draft Prospect Watch: Running Backs
We are in February now, and with the senior bowl finished we are one event closer to the 2022 NFL Draft. A position that is often looked for in drafts is the running back position, whether that be a franchise guy, receiving back, or a guy to take over after a veteran hits free agency. This running back class is full of talent and a lot of teams may find a mid-late round guy that ends up being starting material. In this article Sportsvival writer Logan Lepiscopo brings to you the top 10 running backs to watch for in the 2022 NFL draft.
Kenneth Walker – Michigan – Sportsvival’s number one running back for the 2022 draft class, and their 38th ranked overall prospect. This guy was in the Heisman trophy voting for a reason, he has the abilities to take over a game. Walker has his shifty jukes but ultimately, he wants to put defenders trying to tackle him onto the turf. Walker will need to work on his pass catching abilities to become a true every-down back, he has the basic capabilities they just need to be polished off. Despite Walker’s physical running style he is very careful with the football and held the longest streak of carries in NCAA without a fumble.
Breece Hall – Iowa State – Sportsvival’s number two running back for the 2022 draft class, and their 49th ranked overall prospect. Another guy that earned Heisman consideration (2020 season) and has had arguments to be the number one RB in this class. Breece Hall has one attribute that really separates himself from the rest of the draft class, his vision. Hall’s vision is the highlight of his game, not just finding a hole in the offensive line, but even in open space he seems to be able to see the entire field. Elusiveness comes as second nature to Hall but lacks a strong ability to lower his shoulder and run through a defender.
Isaiah Spiller – Texas A&M – I could truly see any of these top three running backs being the first guy off of the board at their position, it all depends on what a team wants. Spiller comes in with some significant use in college, but do not let that take away from everything that he does great. Spiller is a physical back that is more likely to absorb a hit and keep his feet turning than get sent backwards. Spiller lacks top speed in the open field, but his ability to catch the football should get NFL scouts to put that lack of speed to the side because of his ability to be a true three-down back from the jump.
Kyren Williams – Notre Dame – Standing at 5’9” and about 200 pounds Kyren Williams is not the prototypical size to be a workhorse back in the NFL. Williams may be the most elusive back in this draft class, and possess every skill needed to make a defender miss. What really sticks out other than Williams’ elusiveness is his abilities to block in the passing game, he shows to be more than willing to throw his body at an oncoming blitzing linebacker or a chip block on an edge rusher. The only downside to Kyren Williams’ game is due to his smaller frame he is not as physical with his running style, resulting in him relying on his explosiveness to make big plays down the field.
Zach Charbonnet – UCLA – Charbonnet is a very physical runner, you are lucky if this guy goes down on the first hit. Charbonnet gets up and through the line quickly, and once in open space he showcases his speed. Charbonnet is a running back that does not have a ton of moves in his arsenal, more of just a head down straight-line runner. Charbonnet has shown an ability to be a strong pass catcher but has had multiple instances where passes are dropped. They may be coming his way unexpectedly but that comes with needing to have better awareness when coming out of the backfield.
Zonovan Knight – NC State – The way Knight waits patiently behind the offensive line to find an open lane is very Steelers Le’Veon Bell-esque. Knight was one of the best running backs in making tacklers miss and his tape shows it usually takes multiple defenders to bring him down. Though Knight is not the biggest running back he has shown to be more than willing to sit in pass protection and protect his quarterback. Knight has not been proven to be able to take on a role in the receiving game, not having a receiving touchdown in his three years at NC State.
Dameon Pierce – Florida – One thing to look at with Pierce is his versatility being used in the special teams unit and as a pass blocker. Pierce does not have a lot of college usage despite playing since 2018, which is something NFL teams have started to look for in running backs. Pierce does not have any outstanding athletic abilities if anything he is average or slightly above average with his skillset. I do not see Pierce handling a lead back role in the NFL, but then again nobody saw Elijah Mitchell doing so in San Francisco.
Kennedy Brooks – Oklahoma – If it were up to me (Logan Lepiscopo) Kennedy Brooks would be my number one running back in this class. I do not know what it is but watching Brooks film in 2020 I fell in love with what he can do as a runner. Though he was rarely involved in the Oklahoma passing game when he did get the ball in the receiving game, he averaged 7.2 yards per reception. The only knock I have on Brooks’ game is his lack of participation in pass protection, if a team develops Brooks as a pass catcher and a blocker they have an every down back that is currently projected to be a day three pick, which I think is absolutely absurd. I would go on and on about Kennedy Brooks and how great I think he is but there are two more running backs to cover.
James Cook – Georgia – Cook’s lack of usage in college is going to be an eye catcher to NFL scouts, especially since Cook averaged 6.5 yards per carry over his 4 years collegiate career. Cook brings versatility and a three-down running back skill set with his ability to run, block, and catch. Cook’s receiving ability is what separates himself from the rest of the running backs in this class because not many possess this natural ability that Cook has. The only thing NFL scouts may write down to prevent Cook from being considered a three-down back is his small frame, adding some muscle would put Cook in the mix as a top five running back in this draft.
Brian Robinson Jr.– Alabama – Another running back that is coming into the draft with little college work, 2021 was Robinson’s first true season as the focal point of the Alabama backfield and he made the most of it. Alabama has had some great running backs come out of its program and Robinson is another to keep an eye on, despite the attributes that need to be heavily worked on. Robinson lacks full-field vision, often missing open lanes or missing opportunities to bounce a run outside and get a larger gain, Robinson will just dive or plow up the middle for a minimal gain. Robinson has the potential to live up to that Alabama running back hype, but he needs to develop more as a pure runner, part of those missing traits could be due to his lack of play in college.