We have arrived at the time, where I’m ready to present my top ten draft prospects at every single position. Leading up to the final weekend of April, I will put my top ten list for all of them – along with some honorable mentions – one after the other, alternating between offense and defense, basically as counterparts to each other.
Concerning the criteria, this is purely based on tape study, while I back up my case for the final spot in the rankings with advanced statistics and testing numbers to some degree. Injuries and off-field situation can/will not be taken into account, although it may reflect itself in my finalized big board, as long as I have enough information on physical conditions.
With that being said, let’s kick things off with my top ten running backs:
1. Breece Hall, Iowa State
5’11”, 215 pounds; JR
One of top 500 overall recruits in 2019 and the cousin of 49ers legend Roger Craig, Hall put up 1150 scrimmage yards and 12 TDs in 12 games as a true freshman. He already exceeded those statistics through seven games in 2020 and ended the year with 1752 yards and 23 touchdowns from scrimmage, powering the Cyclones to a Big-12 title game appearance and finishing sixth in the Heisman voting. This past season the ISU program took a big step back, going 7-6 overall, but Hall put up basically identical numbers, with slightly better averages and more of it coming in the receiving game (36-302-three), which made him a first-team All-American.
Hall is a tremendously patient runner, who will let creases develop and slice through them. Thanks to that, combined with high-level vision, he can make linebackers pay for shooting the gap too quickly on several occasions, routinely coming up with answers against quick penetration. Seeing the kind of start-stop quickness Hall has for being a big back is absurd. You routinely watch defenders trying to desperately reach out for him, as he makes them come up with nothing but air in tight spaces. Hall can literally move completely sideways as he tries to get the defense to flow and then gets vertically without any pause. If you give him a runway out to the edge, he will take it even if the cutback is more so the designed option. Like he’s deceptive with his speed out to the sideline almost. At the same time he has the peripheral vision to see the end-man on the backside crash inside, jump-cut behind that, but stay tight enough for the edge-setting defender to not get a clean shot at him. Hall usually gets more than what is there and is one of the very best at getting something when nothing is available.
What’s apparent when you watch Hall’s tape is how balanced he is within himself, even when making more drastic direction-changes. He has the contact balance to spin off defenders and regain his momentum. So many times you see him stumble momentarily and he doesn’t go down, often times not even needing to put a hand in the ground. He makes the first defender miss with the dead-leg or force himm to stop his feet with a little stutter step on several occasions or hitting a little one-two on the safety to make him do the splits. That ability to string moves together seamlessly has an artistic element to it. Yet, he also has great balance and power to run through arm-tackles and break wraps. That always shows up in his ability to convert in short-yardage situations. Along with that, he has much better breakaway ability than you would expect when you see him take the handoff, with 25 and 22 carries of 15+ yards respectively over these past two season.
The Cyclone standout steps up into his blitz pick-ups with urgency and he has that girth in the lower body to hold his ground. He gets the job done as a personal protector on rollout concepts, at times getting wide edge defenders to the turf with technically sound cut-blocks. Hall was designated with a lot of check-releases, where he would work out to the flats if he didn’t have anybody to pick up and produced positive plays consistently when nothing was available downfield. He has that shake to him to get linebackers to have their feet stuck in the turf and then he creates an angle for the ball breaking either way on option routes. Hall finds the open space as a receiver and displays fluid transitional skills after the catch. Plus then as a defender sprints at him, he can dip underneath and get positive yardage quickly.
On the negative side, Hall certainly needs some room to build up speed, as doesn’t have that zero-to-100 in-the-flash-of-an-eye ability. And it’s not like he’s trying to hit the hole at full speed a whole lot anyway. There’s potential for Hall to utilize the stiff-arm more frequently and at times I’d like him to just drop the pads instead of trying to work around guys. In pass-pro he needs to be alert for green-dog blitzes for a little longer, before committing to help out his offensive line and giving up the inside position, and he tries to mid-point it when there’s two rushers coming his way. While his drop numbers wouldn’t suggest any issue, as a receiver down the field, he claps at the ball rather than letting it drop into his hands usually, which makes it more likely that it’ll squirt out.
There was a lot of eyes on Hall in that Iowa State offense, with some of the struggles his quarterback Brock Purdy has had, but he continued to produce in a big way time and time again, handling the most touches of any back in college football over these last two years (590 times). He has that slow to it – blow through it type of approach, while being able to put some wicked moves on defenders, but also the power to drive ahead for yards after contact. At the combine he finished top-three in the 40 (4.39), vert (40 inches) and broad jump (10’6”). Hall has the potential to be a special player at the next level, because he has impeccable quicks in short areas, along with has the size to gain yards through contact and top-end speed to finish long runs.
2. Kenneth Walker, Michigan State
5’10”, 210 pounds; JR
Having ranked outside the top-2000 overall recruits in 2019, Walker started his college at Wake Forest, where – weirdly enough – he had exactly 579 rushing yards in each of his first two years of college, although the TD total rose from four to 13. He transferred over to Michigan State ahead of the 2021 season and quickly made an impression, with a 268-yard and three-touchdown debut for Sparty against Northwestern, including a 75-yard house call on the first play from scrimmage. He finished the year with 1646 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns over 12 games, averaging 6.2 yards per carry despite his high work load, earning himself first-team All-American honors and being among the Heisman front-runners for most of the year.
This kid has excellent short-area quickness. He just hesitates a little but and then finds that cutback in the zone run game with high efficiency. Yet he can also drop those hips and make cuts at a large radius, often times to bounce out to the edge. You see him literally jump-cut two gaps or get all the way outside the tackle when the defense is caved in at times. Walker uses his off-arm well to guide blockers and kind of sort through traffic. I think his ability to force defenders to commit and put them at the wrong side of blocks is outstanding. He didn’t benefit from Wake Forest’s weird option run game, where the quarterback rides the mesh point for forever, but rather when he was able to hit holes, that burst through the line of scrimmage really started to shine.
Walker displays the hip mobility and short-area agility to execute any type of cut – pivot in space, jump-cuts to navigate through traffic, but also make some dramatic moves in the open field. And the difference between him and many other backs is how quickly he can re-accelerate to actually get away from defenders. He can get opponents to stop their feet with a shimmy on the fly and get to the sideline even if it initially looked like they had guys out there in contain. Walker has a natural feel for navigating around defenders with curvilinear movement, reducing his area to grab, turning his upper or lower body away from flailing arms, and using the pursuit of defenders against them. He doesn’t look very big, but when he’s rolling and drops the shoulder on an awaiting defender to finish the run, he can bring some thunder. I thought you saw him bounce off some tackles and keep his balance at Wake Forest, but now he actually runs through those and gains yardage after contact, by shrugging off tackling attempts from the side. His 1168 yards after contract led the entire nation.
At the same time, when he sees that open space in front of him, he has the extra gear to run away from the pursuit, where you often see safeties try to dive at him, after getting too aggressive with their angles downhill. That led to an equally nation-leading 30 carries of 15+ yards this past season. And he was highly consistent with hitting big plays and producing numbers, as he rushed for 126 yards or more in eight of twelve games. As a pass-protector, Walker does a good job of securing the inside and at least pushing blitzers off track a little bit. Along with that, he’s pretty effective on his cut-blocks, really working through the legs of charging linebackers, to put them on the turf.
The biggest question mark on Walker as a runner is his tendency of cutting all the way across the formation or bouncing out wide as much as he tends to. He doesn’t yet understand how to freeze contain defenders to actually beat them to the corner, when they have NFL quality athleticism, needing to incorporate dips to the inside, to create that angle for himself. And he needs to understand when he’s outleveraged by multiple defenders and should just drive ahead in traffic, to get what he can. Walker isn’t necessarily looking for work if he’s not directly assigned to a defender in pass-pro and his approach in that regard is not very pro-active altogether. I’m not sure if I can remember a back being first off the board with just 19 career receptions – especially in the modern era. And on the few targets that he did have, I saw him stop his momentum or go to the turf to haul in catches.
In terms of the quickness, ability to make whatever cut is necessary, power to break arm tackles and speed to take it to the house, I think Walker ranks at the top of the class. Unfortunately with him, we just haven’t seen him produce at all as a receiver and the flashes we have seen, haven’t been great. Walker will have to become more disciplined with not relying on his speed to the edge as much, but he has all the tools to bleed out runs and get the most out of them. The top two names are just more complete players at this point, but Walker has the chance to being the most dangerous big-play threat among this group, which was backed up by beingh just one hundredth of a second off the best 40 time for a back at combine (4.38).
3. Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
6’1”, 225 pounds; JR
A top-200 overall recruit in 2019, Spiller quickly turned into a workhorse for the Aggies’ dominant rushing offense, already going for 1149 scrimmage yards and ten touchdowns on 203 touches as a freshman and then putting up even better numbers the following season, with 1229 scrimmage yards on 207 touches and eight TDs, cracking the 100-yard mark on the ground in six of ten games. In 2021 he put up nearly identical numbers in two more games, even though the Aggies only went 8-4 and he personally went from first- to second-team All-SEC.
Spiller presents a thick lower body, he runs with a lot of power and consistently falls forward for an extra yard or two, extending himself as he’s already going down even. You also see several defenders slip off his legs. However, for a 225-pound back, he has incredibly quick feet and can get around defenders at a high rate. His ability to lead opponents one way and forcing them to overrun plays, as he sticks that foot in the ground and slips underneath them is highly impressive. He routinely uses the jump-cut/-stop to shift into the right lane, as he takes the handoff, and gets downhill. And in the open field you see some violent plants to cut across the grain, along with tilting away from defenders trying to get a hand on him.
This young man is so quick to translate information from his head to his feet and can adjust his running path rapidly whilst on the fly. He makes good use of stutter steps, as he approaches the line of scrimmage and wants to time things up appropriately. I love the way he runs power concepts, showing urgency initially to get his landmarks, but then being able to navigate around blockers by changing up his stride length and sliding past closely to his teammate, so he can maximize the space available. Spiller can make an unblocked linebacker miss in the backfield better than a lot of sub-200 pound backs and he does an outstanding job of reducing his surface area and contorting his body to squeeze through creases, where at times his upper body is leaning a different way than his legs are already taking him.
Spiller can absolutely stone-wall blitzers, who try to run right through his chest, and he doesn’t shy away from putting hands on defensive tackles even as a pass-protector. He can redirect and push blitzers off track just enough as he sees the man get through. His loose hips are on displays when he steps up one way and has to quickly transition to a different rusher, as the defense runs some kind of twist with the linebackers. And he sells out on play-fakes, to where you actually see him drop the shoulder on guys who try to wrap him up. He also takes his job as a lead-blocker seriously and does a great job of breaking down against safeties working upfield. While his usage as a receiver was rather limited at A&M, there’s no indication that anything is wrong with Spiller’s hands and he becomes a pretty tough tackle, if you flip it out to him, with everything that I already described, showing a plan on what to do with it. Spiller Came up with two enormous catches on third-and-long in the 2021 Colorado game, including the game-winning and only A&M touchdown on the day with three minutes left, to avoid the upset. And that was one of quite a few grabs, where he showed great focus on slightly underthrown wheel routes.
With that being said, Spiller tends to trust his speed a little too much and tries to bounce out to the edges more often than he should. He can get a little too eager and gives away cutbacks pretty early, where his body is already tilted that way as he takes the handoff. He doesn’t yet have the between-the-tackle vision you’d like to see from, having run as much zone as he has. Spiller gets a little too cute at times, where I’d just want him to use his size and go through people, especially when there’s traffic in the backfield. And as much as you like the creativeness in space, Spiller lacks the top-end speed to rip off explosive runs routinely. I feel like 90 percent of the routes he ran at Texas A&M were swings or chip-and-hooks over the middle. So we don’t know much about his ability to actually aim at linebackers and set them up in that area.
I don’t know what exactly it is, but Spiller somehow went from one of the top two backs in the draft entering the 2021 season to a bit of an afterthought in that conversation, as people fell in love in with other names. Really the two only concerns I have with him are the fact he’s a bit too much of a dancer and that he doesn’t have breakaway speed. Everything else is excellent. While he needs to learn how to read gap-schemes more cleanly and decisively, he has the goods to play in any system, with the footwork to navigate around bodies in tight areas. He was probably underutilized as a receiver, he’s a super-creative open field runner and he has the size to go through defenders as well, when needed.
4. James Cook, Georgia
5’11”, 190 pounds; SR
Once a top-50 overall recruit in 2018, this brother of Vikings superstar running back Dalvin Cook never quite became a featured option in the backfield for the Bulldogs, because of all the other talented guys they had there. However, on 157 touches through his first three years, he amassed 1221 yards and nine touchdowns from scrimmage, And then in 2021, when he finally did receive more work, he turned 113 carries and 27 more receptions into 1012 yards and 11 TDs on 7.2 yards per touch, while playing a key role in Georgia winning the National Championship.
Cook reminds me a lot of his brother with the way he can kill linebackers, who flow a little too hard and leave the gap behind them uncovered for a split-second, because he can shoot through it. When he has a defender flashing in the hole, he can add a little head-nod that way and slip underneath, to not allow that guy to get a hand on him. He can incorporate those small hops to get over trash and fluidly play with his acceleration almost. Cook is very efficient with his footwork behind the line of scrimmage and can slice through the crease between the furthest blocker on the backside and the edge defender, who he tries to stay home on zone schemes against boots or guys sneaking into the flats. At times it seems this guy has greased up his hips, when you see tacklers slip off him, and he’s very elusive once he gets out into space.
Watching Cook’s burst through the line of scrimmage is scary for defenders. He has the speed to get out to the edge and defeat secondary pursuit consistently. That’s why Georgia had him aim outside on some invert veer plays, where even if the end played it pretty well and looked to have a shot at him, Cook was able to bubble around and get wide. You see plenty of defenders not take conservative enough angles to get to him at the sideline. Yet when someone in pursuit overruns it, he can also cross that guy up and completely make him whiff. It’s kind of crazy how often you see defenders land flat on their face that way. If the play-side linebacker leverages himself outside a little too much and backside stays home, you better hope your deep safety is a great open-field tackler, because Cook will cut underneath the backer and may just bang his head on the goal-post. There was a 29-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half in the 2020 South Carolina game, where the defense has two stack linebackers and a two-high safety look out there, Cook goes right through the middle and literally splits the entire defense so to speak
Over the last couple of years, Cook was the ying to the steady yang of Zamir White, as more of the receiving option and big-play guy. He is so natural at catching the ball on the run with those soft hands and not having to slow down at all, as well as staying focused on higher-arcing balls on routes down the sideline, as he provided some big play on wheels. That is backed up by having dropped just one of 68 career catchable targets. When catching the ball with his back to the defenses, Cook quickly IDs defenders around him and gets past them effectively. He has innate feel for how guys try to leverage him and dip the other way. His coaches really liked using him as a jet sweep threat and on swing routes/screens. Georgia legitimately put Cook out wide in empty sets and had him run fades, where he attacks straight and then slightly widens, to avoid contact. He was kind of the Alabama killer these last two year, catching an 82-yard touchdown in 2020 against linebacker Christian Harris on one of those go routes, and then ripping off a season-long 67-yard run against them in the ’21 Natty, to set up the first touchdown of the day.
Unfortunately, Cook simply doesn’t have the build to be something like a workhorse back. His brother was 20 pounds heavier coming into the league for example. James will have to add some more muscle to his frame, which may come at the cost of some ease in his movement skills. While he does extend forward routinely, there’s not a ton of power to actually gain yards through contact. In particular when the B-gap on the front side of zone runs is open, but his only real option is to power through the linebacker in it, too often it’s just a one- or two-yard gain. Cook only carried the ball more than seven times once until this past season and even than his highest total was 12. While you like the ability to get to blitzers across the front, Cook is rather timid as a pass-protector and he just doesn’t have the natural girth to really anchor down against 240+ pound linebackers.
Even though he wasn’t heavily utilized at Georgia, Cook always displayed fresh legs and plenty of juice when he was on the field. You always want to see more of a power aspect to his game, but he has that slashing running style and can make those one-step cuts in the open field, to punish pursuing defenders, who have to take respect his speed. I don’t believe he’ll ever handle the ball 18-20 times a game, but if you give low double-digit touches and allow him to operate in space, with the way he can catch the ball and run with it, he can add a very dynamic element to your offense. And he actually bested his Dalvin with a 4.42 at the combine.
5. Dameon Pierce, Florida
5’9” ½, 220 pounds; SR
A former top-ten running back recruit from 2018, Pierce immediately was involved in the Gator offense and increased his production throughout his career. However, he was still heavily underutilized, especially as a senior, when he touched the ball just 119 times, even though he turned those into 790 yards and 16 touchdowns. That made up for a little less than half of his career production at Gainesville.
This dude runs the ball with apparent violence and contact balance, to where you even see him shake of defensive linemen in the backfield a few times, and he always finishes strong. He looks like a wild horse trying to be corralled once he gets going, while having the build of a bowling ball, where people are bouncing off his thighs and torso or twisting away. That clip of Pierce losing his helmet, but still running through tackles against Florida State was one of my favorite moments from last year’s college football season. And while the overall production throws up question, Pro Football Focus gave him the highest rushing grade (93.5) of any FBS running back in 2021.
Pierce has the change-of-direction ability to bounce all the way around the backside edge defender, when he crashes down blindly and there’s no lane to hit front-side for Pierce. At the same time he can stutter, nod inside and then as he sees defensive linemen peak inwards, point the toe outside and beat them around the corner on a original play-direction. Pierce shows the suddenness to squeeze through a narrow crease between his blocker and a defender sat in the hole, to at least dive forward, when the play is covered, actively launching himself ahead on multiple occasions. And he has a phenomenal one-legged plant, along with twisting the upper body just a little bit, to run through wraps without being slowed down a whole lot. You routinely see him set up defenders, getting them to lean outside and then slice underneath, where now those arm tackles aren’t going to do much to him.
Analyzing his usage as a receiver, Pierce ran a bunch of swing routes, often times off motion, clearing out space on the inside, but showing good burst and then of course the power when he got a chance to, as the quarterback dumped it off to him. The few times they did let him go further downfield, he usually showed good concentration on the catch, even with a hit coming in. During Senior Bowl week, we got to see him run different patterns, beating linebackers across their face on angle routes and getting a couple of steps on them on wheels, after giving a little shake initially. Plus, then he was able to hit another gear once the ball was in his hands. With Florida’s RPO heavy scheme, true pass-pro reps were also limited, but he did look pretty impressive at getting in front of charging linebackers and holding his ground. He also put that on display in Mobile. In particular on day two – as they did at the end of Lions practices – he stone-walled App State linebacker D’Marco Jackson a couple of times when that matchup was called out by the coaches.
However, Pierce has to peak back inside more regularly to recognize opportunities to get upfield. He could bleed out runs some more, where he slightly overruns his blockers and isn’t ready to cut it up, after pressing a crease. Because at that point his only option is to bounce out wide and his burst isn’t at that level, where he can just outrun the defense regularly. Pierce never touched the ball more than 123 times in a season and carried it more than 13 times just once. There were complete drives for Florida, where Pierce didn’t see the field, and while you can put a lot of the blame on the Gators’ coaching staff, you have to question why he didn’t receive more chances – whether it’s understanding (protection) rules or whatever. We simply don’t have a ton of tape of him on passing downs, being used in any diversified role, and while he flashed ability in that regard down in Mobile, he also dropped a couple of potential over-the-shoulder grabs, where the timing of him stretching out the hands was a little bit off.
This was one of the most underutilized backs throughout his college career. Pierce put on a show at the Senior Bowl and has a lot of people – including me – excited for an extended (three-down) role. There are things he has to clean up in the way he approaches the line of scrimmage and we really only saw him run inside zone, HB sweep and a bunch of swing routes, but the short-area quicks, power and mentality are all there. NFL teams will have to sit down with him (and the Florida coaches), to figure out why he didn’t get the chances it seems he should have, but if there’s no red flag due to that, I’d love to bring him in later on day two.
6. Jerome Ford, Cincinnati
5’11”, 210 pounds; RS JR
After originally committing to Alabama as a four-star recruit in 2018, Ford transferred two years later because he didn’t get the chances to show off his skill-set for the Crimson Tide. In 2020, he was still sharing touches with Gerrid Doaks (81 touches for 534 yards and eight TDs), but Ford eventually became the Cincinnati’s workhorse as a senior, touching the ball 236 times for 1539 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Ford approaches the line of scrimmage with some urgency on more vertical schemes and takes the direct lane, when it’s there. He can pull in his shoulders to squeeze through to narrow openings and there’s a lot of occasions, where other backs would try to navigate their way around traffic, as defenders are leveraged to either side of him, but he just slices right through it. Ford does a nice job of adjusting his path ever so slightly on the move and pairs it with excellent burst, to make swinging arms at him look like they don’t affect him at all. He displays some impressive start-stop quicks in crowded areas. When going off-tackle and seeing the edge defender peak inside, he will not hesitate to punish poor contain and get to the corner, where he becomes a tough tackle for flat defenders, while forcing guys to overrun stuff with his burst as well.
This guy becomes a freight train, when you give him a runway, where he can pull through wraps and push off defenders in his way, with tremendous leg-drive and contact balance, quickly getting his feet back down. I really appreciate the violence to his game and how hard he runs from the first to the very last snap. Ford utilizes a well-placed stiff-arm against diving tackling attempts, putting his hand right at the crown of the helmet. He doesn’t fool around in short-yardage situations, probably bruising his own blockers on plenty of occasions with the way he plows ahead. Often times he will take a negative play and at least pull himself back forward to the line of scrimmage. At the same time, he has the top-end speed to go the distance, which you saw on a 79-yard touchdown against Georgia in the 2020/21 Peach Bowl, where he was actually gaining ground on fast DBs. On what PFF calls “perfectly-blocked runs”, nobody averaged more yards per (11.2).
Due to the mobility of quarterback Desmond Ridder, Ford is very familiar with the option run game (zone read and speed option), along with some duo and Y/H-lead. He’s also one of the better draw runners I’ve watched in the class. His burst out to the edge and quick footwork to hit cutbacks was on display during Senior Bowl practices. Ford does not shy away from sticking his face in the fan when picking up blitzers, although his take-on technique needs some work to actually maintain blocks, and when you get this guy rumbling, he can quickly gain yardage after the catch, as you flip it out to him out in the flats, where he shows good focus on extension grabs.
With that being said, I would like to see him plant harder on lateral run schemes, to really punish the flow of the defense. There’s room to become more efficient with his footwork overall and there’s a lack of patience to some degree, where he runs into his own blockers, when it’s not necessary (even if he has improved there). Rarely does Ford actually make guys flat-out miss and while I appreciate the fight, he has to understand the importance of protecting the ball when he’s pushing forward with bodies around him. You love the physicality Ford brings to the table, but you have to question the durability long-term with that kind of style, since he did come in 10 pounds lighter at the combine than expected. Ford didn’t have a ton of passing down work, often being subbed out in those situations and being limited to swings, flat routes and screens.
You look at some of the other backs that have come out of Cincy, there has certainly been a benefit to playing in that system and having a running threat at QB next to them. However, there are a lot of redeeming qualities to Ford’s game, with the ability to set up runs with quick movement in tight spaces, the power to run through contact and the speed to rip off big chunks in a hurry. He will have to work on his technique as a pass-protector and he’s unproven as a route-runner, but I don’t see anything that would keep him from becoming a three-down back at the next level eventually, if he learns to hold onto the ball, having fumbled three times in each of the last two years.
7. Kyren Williams, Notre Dame
5’9”, 200 pounds; JR
A former four-star wide receiver recruit. after barely seeing the field as a freshman, Williams became the feature back for the Irish in 2020, combining for 1438 yards and 14 touchdowns on 211 carries plus 35 receptions, during their run to the College Football Playoff. Last season, he recorded 84 scrimmage yards less and his averages slightly went down, but he reached the end-zone three extra times, whilst his team still made it to a New Year’s Six bowl.
Williams is an excellent zone-runner, who can dip and widen off the inside foot to continue working frontside or hit the cutback when a seam opens up. Along with that, he will punish poor backside discipline routinely, as he sees somebody shifted too far inside and bends all the way across the grain. Williams has the sudden movement skills to make people miss in the backfield and turn a loss into a nice gain. He showcases the reactive athleticism to translate what he sees to his legs and he clearly doesn’t panic with bodies screaming by. He can make something out of nothing, where he is dead to rights with multiple defenders around him, but he gets away from them with his sudden bursts. He will absolutely test your discipline on run fits. Watching him get out of harm’s way on draws, as defenders are guided off track is beautiful to watch.
Watching him operate navigate through traffic, Williams gets really low in his cuts and can actually completely stop and start, to somewhat create a lane for himself, while being very well-schooled in switching hands with the ball. Plus, when he gets in the open, he can actually stop on a dime, to make defenders miss, who come in too eager. While he may not have break-away speed and will never time particularly well, he did pull away from defensive backs on multiple occasions and Clemson’s talented defense learned that at first hand, going for about a 70-yard TD just a few plays into that big 2020 regular season matchup. However, Williams also runs with a certain physicality that you don’t out of many guys his weight class. He initiates contact with good pad-level and pulls through for extra yardage consistently – and he also likes to deliver a wicked straight-arm.
This young man offers an intriguing skill-set as a receiver, with the quick twitch to separation on angle, out and pivot routes. He consistently catches the ball with his finger-tips away from his body, he adjusts to off-target throws super naturally and bailed out his quarterback(s) on multiple occasions. Williams does a tremendous job of setting the table on screen plays, stepping up with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, before working outside and then quickly getting to his second gear once he secures the catch. He was motioned out and used in the patterns quite a bit for the Irish. Along with that, this is one of the better pass-protecting backs I’ve seen at a young age in college. He shows an excellent ability to keep his head on a swivel, ID blitzes and pick up the biggest threat in protection. Then he squares up his man immensely effectively, strikes upwards to take off the initial steam and maintains active feet. And he actually takes out some guys with cut-blocks, when necessary.
The two things that Kyren lacks is great size or explosiveness. So with how the NFL is getting faster every year, he might not be able to provide big plays consistently, as you already saw him get tripped up from behind on several occasions when playing top-tier competition. And running the slowest 40 of any RB at the combine (4.65) certainly doesn’t help. While Williams can avoid straight wraps and slide forward for a couple of extra yards, you barely see him actually break tackles, in part because he’s easier to wrap around, due to not having the girthy lower body the other top backs in this class do. There’s quite a few runs for minus two yards for him, because he can drive forward to the line of scrimmage. You can argue the description “jack of all trades, master of none” applies here with Williams. And he was surprisingly subbed off a lot more last season for the light-footed Chris Tyree, particularly on longer down.
You’d like him to be a little bit bigger. You’d like to see a little more explosion. I don’t know if he’s elite at anything in this draft necessarily, but Williams does pretty much everything well. Personally, I can see him play all three downs effectively, even if he may end up sharing more touches than the top three names. What you really like about him is that you can trust him in passing situations from day one and he gives you the ability to win cleanly in one-on-one tackling spots. I understand that some people may drop him way down the board after his showing at the combine, because he may not meet certain cut-offs, but the kid can absolutely play.
8. Tyler Badie, Missouri
5’8”, 200 pounds; SR
Back in 2018, Badie was a three-star all-purpose back recruit. After moderate production as a part-time player behind Larry Rountree III through his first three years, where he primarily got onto the field on longer downs, because he might be able to make something happen if the quarterbacks checks the ball down, he became the Tigers workhorse in 2021. Overall he touched the ball 322(!) times for 1942 yards and 18 touchdowns, including 54 receptions, earning himself second-team All-American notice.
If you’re looking for a dangerous one-cut zone runner, this is your guy. It looks like Badie actually gains speed through his cuts going laterally to horizontal. He shows outstanding hip mobility, to spot penetration and change directions fluidly, getting himself out of trouble time and time again, while having the acceleration to quickly get moving again. You routinely see Badie give defenders a little head-fake and maneuver around them, when it looks like his opponent was leveraged correctly. Getting skinny through the hole doesn’t do him justice, because you literally see the him hop over the legs of blockers, to glide through that crease between two guys. He absolutely killed Vanderbilt last season for 294 scrimmage yards and a couple of touchdowns (on 39 touches). That was one of five(!) contests with over 200 yards on the ground alone.
This dude has some serious juice through the hole, where he may cut it up behind the center and the backside linebacker is shuffling along, but can’t touch him at all or someone gets a wrap from the side and he still has already ripped off ten yards – if he doesn’t go 70 to the house. The Mizzou breakout can make some dynamic cuts in the open field and is a master at setting up defenders, in order to cross them up, whilst using the off-arm to almost push them by. Yet, he also twists his body and pushes off the ground with his back towards the opposite end-zone, to fall forward on many occasions, while also having some slipperiness to him and the ability to get his cleat back into the turf after getting spun off contact.
Badie ran a lot of slide or flat routes at Missouri, where he caught the ball with extended arms and made fluid transitions upfield. He also shows the flexibility to pluck passes off his shoe-laces and regain his balance. Badie can make something happen on check-downs by making the first man miss, often times in creative fashion, and he is dangerous weapon in the screen game, with the way he can juke around blockers and accelerate past pursuit. The Tiger coaches put him in the slot and pop-passed him some jet sweeps off motions, to have that dynamic runner at full speed at the snap already. I also saw him do the Michael Jackson’s lean with the toes in bounds for some catches at the sideline. Badie caught multiple passes in all but the final game of last season and he had ten(!) against Kentucky. During Senior Bowl practices, he hit a wicked dead-leg move to win on an angle route once and I loved the way he operated on screen, hesitating and timing things up, in order to allow his blockers to do the work and the slip underneath them.
Taking that into account, when defenders do get a straight shot at Badie or a defensive tackle tries to pull him backwards, there’s not the type of power to drive through it. You see linebackers shoot the gap and really smack him backwards a few times on tape. He should have absolutely been more involved before the ’21 season, but handling the ball as much as he did was more of an anomaly, because there wasn’t much to rely on for that offense. Badie dips his head a lot and doesn’t have the size to really be an asset in pass-protection, making him a scat-back mostly. And as a receiver, he has to get his head around a little quicker on outlets, to be ready for the ball. While you like his potential out in the pattern, it’s not like Badie ran a very complex route-tree in college.
Badie to me is a back, whose snap count should be limited, because you don’t want him to get banged up on a bunch of first-down carries and pass-pro reps, but man, can he can give your offense some juice! He did not play in a very dynamic offense and had the ball checked down to him without much space on plenty of occasions, but he somehow consistently made things happen and ripped off chunks. There’s some power backs in this draft who might end up touching the ball more frequently in this class, but those guys are much easier to find and don’t bring the same amount of value as Badie in my opinion.
9. Cam’Ron Harris, Miami
5’10”, 210 pounds; RS JR
Once a former top-200 overall recruit in 2018, Harris racked up just under 1500 scrimmage yards and 17 touchdowns through his first two years with the Hurricanes, after an initial redshirt campaign. Then he was on pace for career-highs across the board in 2021, but a knee injury ended his season seven games in – he had recorded 82 touches for 528 yards and six touchdowns up to that point.
Harris is very smooth with his transition from East-West to North-South. He uses those little stutter-steps and sideway jukes to go along with his powerful running style, to catch defenders off balance. He can be pressing the A-gap and then bounce all the way out wide in one jump-cut. Along with, he’s able to spot color in the backfield and get upfield quickly, as well as forcing the defense to keep flowing and then cutting up right behind the next blocker, routinely nullifying backside linebackers, by getting them to overcommit. Plus, he can give a little one-two step to freeze the edge defender just enough to get to the corner. Harris displays that secondary burst to split two defenders trying to converge on him from opposite sides and he has the long speed to go the distance, including a 75-yard touchdown against Louisville in their top-20 matchup.
This guy can make some dramatic moves in the open field, juking sideways or setting up defenders and making hard cuts to cross them up. The amount of times there’s a defender charging at him at full speed on an angle and he shrugs them by or makes them run three yards past him is pretty crazy. Harris has the balance to slip off tackles, step sideways and get back downhill. Miami let him take some direct snaps in short-yardage situations, where he could just plow ahead. He has those sweet feet, so you can forget that he’s a pretty big guy and can bounce off some hits. Harris understands when it’s time to leave his feet to leap into the end-zone or levitate over a defender who’s about take out his knees by working across.
With the way he can set up defenders and get around them, Harris can consistently make flat defenders whiff and turn checkdowns into nice yardage. He ran a ton of swings and continued that way off orbit motions, to clear out space over the middle. So his yards-per-route or whatever may not look great, but it’s not actually indicative of what he may be able to do in that regard. Harris isn’t looking to sit back in protection, but rather makes up the space to rushers and strikes from below. He even gets his hands on some D-ends looping inside off twists or when the Canes do full-line slides, while having the athletic feet to guide defenders away from the quarterback loses. And he whacks some guys on the edge when chipping before getting out in the route.
On the negative side, Harris’ feet and eyes aren’t always married, when trying to naturally plant and make cuts behind the line of scrimmage. He has to become more efficient with his short-area operation to take advantage of the things he sees. When there’s traffic in the backfield, he tends to dance a little bit too much and lose a couple of yards in the process at times, along with cutting all the way back on a few occasions with somebody in position to keep contain. Harris didn’t run any intricate routes, almost exclusively working out to the flats, and he waits for the ball to get into his body and pin it against himself at times.
As I try to project Harris forward to the NFL, he could be more efficient as a mover in tight spaces, but he has that ankle and hip mobility to perfect that, while having good burst and special ability to make guys miss in open space. I would like to see him run up to his size more often and he’s unproven as a pass-catcher (beyond the line of scrimmage at least), but he has the potential to become one of the most complete backs in this draft in my opinion and is a name that gets lost a little bit in the shuffle I believe, due to missing the latter half of the season and the class being as deep as it is.
10. Tyler Allgeier, BYU
5’11”, 220 pounds; RS JR
Not receiving any stars in his recruiting profile back in 2018, Allgeier actually had the same amount of carries as tackles (26 each) through his first two years at BYU. However, he has produced big offensive numbers over the latter two, touching the 164 times for 1304 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2020, and then without Zach Wilson at QB, Allgeier became a true workhorse, touching the ball 304 times for 1800 yards and 23 TDs this past season.
This young man combines good power and breakaway speed. He had several long touchdowns for the Cougars these last two years. Allgeier takes those completely horizontal handoffs on wide zone runs and can bend well off that outside foot to get upfield, dragging that inside foot along to curve his path. You see him recognize defenders that are supposed to get kicked out, try to slip their block, and he punishes them by getting all the way outside. He can step next to a blocker almost and kind of pivot or juke sideways, to get to the other side of him. Even if he has to get to a full stop behind a teammate, he can squat down momentarily and quickly get back up to gear, as he shoots through a different lane. Yet, there’s not much dancing in the backfield or anything like that. Allgeier’s speed was also utilized on jet sweeps and taking handoffs off motions.
In the open field, you see him run a lot with his shoulders completely North and then give a defender in space a sudden acceleration either way. He really pulls those knees up high and has the galloping strides to run away from defenders. Allgeier runs with his pads out in front and lifts them up through contact, to often times slip off guys. There’s a lot of arms swinging at him and pads popping, but he doesn’t get off track too much, as well as stumbling forward. Allgeier keeps churning his legs to push the pile, which made him such an effective goal-line back for the Cougars. His 1143 yards after contact was the second-most among backs in college football last season and only five guys eligible for this draft forced more missed tackles (76).
Allgeier can give your offense some attitude with his physicality and how he keeps himself alive as a runner, while also firing up his teammates with the fight he shows. As a receiver, he was mostly limited to swing or slip routes and outlets, but he typically caught the ball and if you give him space, he will take it. My favorite play from Allgeier however was one, where he never actually touched the ball – last season he had an awesome chase-down tackle and strip on what should have been a pick-six for Arizona State last season.
While he has ability to plant and redirect, so it doesn’t come off as problematic, in general Allgeier has a bit of an issue of overrunning plays and get to the edge of a blocker too early, with a defender shaded that way. You see him stop his feet a lot and not allow himself to gain momentum, which at that point he is much easier to bring down. And his speed is more built up than explosive out of the gates. Running a 4.6 at the combine doesn’t quite match up with the fact he’s had quite a few long TDs in college, where having one of the best run-blocking O-lines and playing some inferior physical opponents comes into play. Plus he’s not a very creative open-field runner. Allgeier shows good toughness as a pass-protector, but has to do a better job of identifying the biggest threat and then actually striking up into the frame of that guy at contact. He’s not pro-active enough that area and a couple of times I felt like he wasn’t fully convinced with what he was supposed to do.
Even though I would like to see more refined pacing and setting up run schemes, Allgeier is one of the better rushers coming out of the draft, thanks to the combination of power and ability to build up speed. While there should be room to grow, he is nowhere near trustworthy on obvious passing downs and didn’t put in a lot of work as a receiver either. To me, if you have somebody to fulfill that role, he can be an explosive rusher early on, who adds an element of physicality to an offense as soon as he hits the field.
Just missed the cut:
Brian Robinson Jr., Alabama
6’1”, 225 pounds; SR
A top-ten running back in the 2017 class, Robinson had to really wait his turn, behind Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris, but improved his numbers all four years in Tuscaloosa and as a senior he recorded more than half of his career touches (306) for 1632 yards and 16 total touchdowns, which made him a first-team All-SEC selection.
+ Shows a very fluid ability to get North on those one-cut zone schemes
+ Does a nice job of adjusting his stride length and making subtle shifts in his direction, to allow the blocking to get set up
+ When he can really stride it out, Robinson can get to a better top-end speed than you’d think
+ Runs super hard and his pads are always out in front, often times rolling over defenders
+ Packs a strong stiff-arm and drags tacklers along with him on several occasions, when he has some steam, and just falling forward
+ Brings a physical toughness to an offense, with the third-most missed tackles forced among draft-eligible RBs last season (79)
+ Understands who he is and doesn’t try to pull off any dramatic moves, he isn’t actually capable of
+ Displays good ball-security fundamentals, bringing it tight into his body and protecting it with that second hand
+ Understands his assignments and packs a punch as a pass-protector, stone-walling guys at full speed
+ Caught 35 passes last year and is tough to bring down for secondary members
– Doesn’t have the explosive burst to get around the edge consistently on wide zone schemes and gets tracked down for negative yards on quite a few
– Can’t really make defenders miss in tight spaces and when he has to stop his feet, he’s much easier to get to the ground
– Doesn’t show the quick twitch to get separation on option routes
– Didn’t really catch any passes downfield at Alabama, despite the large volume of receptions
There’s nothing that really excites you about Robinson games, but everything he does is super solid. He’s physical in all aspects of the game, gets what is there and can gain yardage through contact. Due to his ability to anchor and get the job done as a protector, he can stay on the field on passing downs, but he doesn’t offer you anything dynamic as a receiver, being limited to a check-down option most likely. So you’ll probably want to pair him with somebody who can make something happen individually a few times.
Zonovan Knight, N.C. State
5’11”, 210 pounds; JR
This was a top-500 overall recruit in 2019. Other than touchdowns, Knight had three almost identical seasons with the Wolfpack, averaging 762 rushing yards and six touchdowns, despite only about 140 carries, sharing the load every year with somebody else.
+ Very much trusts the run scheme and takes what is there on the front-side, rather than being hellbent on finding the cutback
+ Literally aims towards the line of scrimmage at a 45-degree angle on those zone schemes, before planting hard but in a controlled fashion to get North
+ Rarely overruns his blocks, allowing guys to get set up and tightly navigating around them
+ Pretty violent with his jump-stops to sort of pause and let things develop
+ Does a good job of cutting behind pursuit defenders, paired with a swipe-by with his arm
+ There’s a lot of subtle shifts of his running path in general, that don’t look as cool as they are effective
+ Consistently pulls up his heels to get them out of the grasp of would-be-tacklers, rarely getting tripped up or twisted down low
+ Led the ACC with 95 missed tackles forced over these last two seasons
+ Doesn’ slowing if there’s defenders in his way and squirms through for that extra yard at the end
+ Adjusts well to off-target throws and doesn’t usually let the ball get into his frame
– Doesn’t have a ton of juice to or through the hole
– His upright running style exposes more surface area for those initial wraps to occur
– Doesn’t have any type of break-away gear, getting run down or having to try crossing defenders on the back-end
– Had the benefit of often being able to stretch runs out to the left side, with tackle Ikem Ekwonu driving his man into the sideline, along with a pretty strong run-blocking unit overall
– Has to do a better job of working inside-out as a pass-protector
Knight could be an excellent addition of a rotation in the backfield, as a disciplined runner with an understanding for how to utilize his blockers and getting positive yardage. However, he won’t give you that big play ability and he has to improve as a blocker to stay on the field on third downs. Watching him blast through defenders, but then also absolutely nailing the Deuce Staley drill at the combine kind of tells the story.
Hassan Haskins, Michigan
6’1”, 220 pounds; SR
Just inside the top-1000 overall recruits in 2018, Haskins was a pure special teams contributor as a freshman. After a good 1000 yards and ten touchdowns combined over next two seasons, he went off for 1458 yards and 20(!) TDs in 2021 alone, which earned him first-team All-Big Ten honors, as he really started to take over down the stretch last season and was tough to slow down.
+ Shows good peripheral vision and overall ability to see run schemes develop
+ Can guide defenders into getting blocked, by staying behind his teammate and then working around that guy
+ Moves well laterally to navigate around blocks and Can torque his upper body, to get really skinny through the hole
+ Gets low in his cuts and doesn’t already tilt prematurely
+ Makes good use of lead-blockers, actually putting a hand on guys on guiding them to some degree, before either committing either way
+ Utilizes that off-arm extremely to stabilize himself and be more effective with his running path, as well as swipe down the reach of would-be tacklers
+ Has some pretty good build-up speed when there’s room
+ Spins off a bunch of tackles and carries defenders on his back for some YAC a couple of times every game
+ Rock-solid pass-protector, who identifies blitzers, works inside out in a disciplined fashion, slides his feet to square up his man and doesn’t lung into guys
+ Delivers chips to the edges with a purpose, before releasing into his routes
– At times there’s too much hop to his game, when I him to just plow ahead
– Not a very creative open-field runner or somebody who will punish third-level defenders for breaking down in space
– Lack of juice that can show up a few times in tight areas, where a defender can scrape over the top of a block and slow him down
– Can turn two-yard into four-yard runs, but where others might go 80, he gets taken down after 20
Haskins is a guy I trust to get it done on all three downs, as a tough early-down runner and a physical pass-protector. Rarely will you see him hurt your team by trying to do his own thing or missing something, but he’s not somebody who will deliver a bunch of explosive plays at the next level necessarily. I look at him in sort of a Jordan Howard mold, where he might get 1000 yards in the right situation, but eventually is more of a (trustworthy) committee back.
Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma
5’11”, 215 pounds; RS JR
A former top-250 overall recruit back in 2017, Brooks had an incredible freshman campaign with 1056 rushing yards and 12 TDs on a ridiculous 8.9 yards per carry. He went over 1000 yards on the ground in 2019 as well, but the average went down by 2.4 yards and he only scored half as many times, sharing the backfield with Trey Sermon, He opted out of the 2020 (COVID) season and then was paired with another talented back in Eric Gray last year, yet he actually recorded career-highs in carries (198), total rushing yards (1253) and touchdowns (13), keeping Gray on the sideline for the most part.
+ Eyes and lower body are in sync, while being very patient at allowing the blocking to develop
+ Excels at pressing on zone plays and taking advantage of the flow with an upfield cut to the backside
+ Does a great job of attacking the outside edge of defenders and then sliding underneath them, to where he barely gets touched
+ Uses the off-arm well to almost pull himself laterally as he leaves his feet momentarily, while swiping away the reach of the tackler simultaneously
+ Routinely being first to establish contact with well-located stiff-arms in tight quarters
+ Might be the best back in this draft with the way he uses minimal movements to maximize what he can get
+ Strong runner, who won’t be easily pulled down, as he bounces or spins off several hits, and he really pulls those toes upwards, to step out of tackling attempts
+ Burst looked a little bit better this past season,
+ Excellent balance and keeps himself alive during plays
+ Basically forced Trey Sermon to transfer and left no doubt who should get the majority of work, when Eric Gray came in
– Very unproven as a pass-catcher (only 29 career receptions) and there’s multiple drops on tape on very catchable balls
– Doesn’t have that type of instant acceleration and looks almost a little lethargic at times with his approach as a runner
– Difference in burst when OU’s second running back Eric Gray got to touch the ball was apparent
– Gets tracked down a lot of times where most backs would bang their head on the goal post
You always want to see more explosiveness out of Brooks and with how fast the NFL has become, that may be the difference between him actually getting past the line of scrimmage, where he becomes a rolling train, and getting wrapped up in the hole for no gain. However, in terms of a strong early down back, who can frustrate the defense by bouncing off hits, there’s plenty to like as well. I thought the pairing between him and Gray last season worked well, because of the way they complemented each other. However, you saw who Lincoln Riley trusted to carry the load – especially in the big games.
The next names up:
Zamir White (Georgia), Ty Chandler (North Carolina), Tyler Goodson (Iowa), Snoop Conner & Jerrion Ealy (Ole Miss), ZaQuandre White (South Carolina), Sincere McCormick (UTSA), Rachaad White (Arizona State), Pierre Strong (South Dakota State)
4 thoughts on “Top 10 running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft:”
Pingback: Top 10 linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft: | Halil's Real Footballtalk
Pingback: Defy Life
Pingback: Top 10 offensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft: | Halil's Real Footballtalk
Pingback: Top 10 offensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft: | Defy Life