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Top 2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Rookie Running Backs

Top 2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Rookie Running Backs

Top 2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Rookie Running Backs

As we enter the college football bowl season, it’s time to shine a light on the top NFL prospects around the country. Over the next couple of weeks, our SGPN crew will provide a top 10 list at each position. It’s never too early to look ahead, so let’s get started looking at the top rookie running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft.

We all know the Running Back position has been devalued in recent seasons and that has been reflected on draft day. Over the last five NFL drafts, only eight running backs have been drafted in the 1st round. Compared to the other skill positions over the same period, we’ve seen 18 QBs and 18 WRs taken off the board in the opening round. Additionally, over the last three seasons, the highest draft pick used on an RB has been the 24th pick.

With that said, the best teams in the NFL usually roll out at least a solid ground game. Looking at the 10 worst rushing offenses through Week 14 of the NFL season, only two of those teams (Bucs and Rams) have an above .500 record. This year is not a great draft for RBs but the position is still important and there are several prospects who will make an impact in the NFL. Here’s a list of several 2022 draft running backs that you’ll want to keep an eye on.

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Top 2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Rookie Running Backs

1. Kenneth Walker III – Michigan State

Measurables: 5-10, 210 lbs
Projected Round: 1st or 2nd
Potential NFL Landing Spots: Tampa Bay, Arizona, Buffalo

Kenneth Walker burst onto the national scene this season rushing for over 1,600 yards and 18 TDs for Michigan State. For anyone that watched the Michigan vs MSU game, Walker basically single-handedly carried Sparty to victory over the rival Wolverines. See the highlights for yourself.

For folks that follow the college game closely, the Wake Forest transfer’s success should have come as no surprise. Before arriving in East Lansing, KWIII ran for a combined 17 TDs over two years for the Demon Deacons. Transferring to the Big 10 was a wise move as it placed the RB on a bigger stage and allowed him to showcase his skills in a more traditional offense.

As a prospect, KW III can do it all. He has a complete skill set and projects to serve as a three-down back at the next level. With less than 20 receptions over his three-year college career, there could be some concern about Walker as a pass catcher but he’s a gamer who will figure it out. Most mock drafts don’t have many RBs being taken in the first round, but KW III might find himself plucked off the board in the mid to late 20s by a team looking to bolster their backfield.

2. Brian Robinson Jr – Alabama

Measurables: 6-1, 228 lbs
Projected Round: 1st or 2nd
Potential NFL Landing Spots: Tampa Bay, Arizona, Buffalo

The other RB that I have seen being taken in the late first round of some mock drafts is Alabama’s, Brian Robinson. He’s next up in a long line of Crimson Tide RBs sent to the pros. Obviously, the Titans hit a homerun with Derrick Henry and it appears rookie Najee Harris also has a bright future. However, not every Bama RB has been productive at the next level. Josh Jacobs has been solid but unspectacular. Eddie Lacy ate himself out of the league and others like Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon, and Kenyan Drake never overly impressed.

With that said, Brian Robinson should be judged on his own merit. After playing in a reserve role most of his college career, he finally got the chance to be the main dude this year and he delivered – running for over 1,000 yards and 14 TDs. He’s a rock-solid RB with good size and strength but he lacks top-notch speed and explosiveness. Robinson is a downhill runner that picks up yards after first contact, has only fumbled once in his college career, and should have lots of tread left on his tires. If taken late in the first round, his potential landing spots would be similar to Kenneth Walker’s.

3. Isaiah Spiller – Texas A&M

Measurables: 6-1, 215 lbs
Projected Round: 2nd or 3rd
Potential NFL Landing Spots: Miami, Houston, Atlanta

Over the last couple of seasons, the Aggies have used a running back by committee approach due to the amount of talent in the Texas A&M backfield. Even with having to share touches, Isaiah Spiller has cracked the 1,000-yard barrier in consecutive seasons and has caught over 20 balls in three straight years.

At 6’1 and 220 pounds, Spiller has the prototypical size and has shown the durability to excel at the next level. He checks all the boxes when it comes to vision, balance, and body control. His speed is good enough but not top end. The Spring, TX native should be able to carve out a long professional career but his upside is somewhat limited. Currently, it appears Spiller could be taken in the 2nd round of this year’s draft and there should be several teams looking for backfield help in that range.

4. Breece Hall – Iowa State

Measurables: 6-1, 220 lbs
Projected Round: 2nd or 3rd
Potential NFL Landing Spots: Miami, Houston, Atlanta

Breece Hall has simply been one of the best RBs in college football over the last few seasons. You’d be hard-pressed to find another player with over 4,675 yards from scrimmage and 56 TDs over the last three years. He’s also crossed the goal line in an absurd 24 straight games. Hall’s productivity at the collegiate level has been unmatched.

The Iowa State RB is a multi-dimensional talent who has excelled in the running and passing game. Proof of his effectiveness as a pass-catcher, Hall totaled 82 career receptions for 734 yards and 6 TDs.

As a runner, Hall’s quickness, elusiveness, and shiftiness define his rushing style. One area of concern is the fact that the former Cyclone was much more effective on the outside rather than between the tackles. He’ll need to be more effective on inside runs at the next level to reach his full potential. Although we may be looking at a 2nd or 3rd round selection Hall is in the mix to be one of the first 2022 draft running backs taken.

5. Kyren Williams – Notre Dame

Measurables: 5-9, 195 lbs
Projected Round: 4th
Potential NFL Landing Spots: Baltimore, Las Vegas, Carolina

As the bell cow in the Notre Dame backfield for the last two seasons, Kyren Williams has registered back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with a combined 17 TDs. He’s also proficient in the passing game, catching at least 35 balls for over 300 yards in each season. Williams primarily played wide receiver in high school so his pass-catching abilities should come as no surprise. Additionally, he may be the best RB in the draft at pass protection.

As a runner, it seems the ND RB is good at everything but perhaps great at nothing. He has a decent mix of size and speed without being the biggest or fastest RB in the draft. His vision and elusiveness are above average but not other-worldly. He’ll consistently run through arm tackles and has the shiftiness to make the first man miss, but isn’t exactly Earl Campbell or Barry Sanders either.

Add all that up and Williams is a prospect that will at least serve as a fine 3rd down back at the next level if not more. I’ve been a big fan for a couple of years now and I believe he has a very bright future. If he falls to the third round or later, some NFL team will be getting a steal.

T6. Zamir White/James Cook – Georgia

Measurables: 6-0, 215 lbs (White) / 5’11”, 190 lbs (Cook)
Projected Round: 4th or 5th
Potential NFL Landing Spots: NY Giants, Washington, LA Chargers

Here are two-thirds of UGA’s 3-headed monster at RB this season. Both are squarely on NFL radars so it will be interesting to see who separates themselves as we get into the College Football Playoffs and onto the NFL combine.

Zamir White was 1A in the Dawg backfield most of this past year, receiving 34 more carries for 99 more yards and 3 more TDs compared to James Cook. However, Cook averaged more yards per carry and caught 21 balls for 157 yards and 3 TDs compared to White who only reeled in 7 receptions for 65 yards.

If what we witnessed at UGA corresponds to the next level, White projects to only be a two-down back as he lacks experience in the passing game. As a runner, White utilizes a physical style and doesn’t shy away from contact. He’ll move the chains using his size, toughness, and a downhill approach. While he projects to be a fine NFL-caliber player, White isn’t a home run hitter and lacks top-notch elusiveness in the open field.

Coming in at 25 pounds less than White, James Cook is a quicker and shiftier runner that’s more comfortable in pass protection and as a route runner/pass catcher. As this season progressed, the UGA offense began getting the ball to Cook with more regularity, often taking away touches from Zamir White. As the more explosive running back, one could argue Cook has the higher upside at the next level. However, due to his diminutive stature, Cook probably isn’t a 3 down back either.

8. D’Vonte Price – Florida International

Measurables: 6-2, 215 lbs
Projected Round: 5th
Potential NFL Landing Spots: Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati

Stuck on a bad team with an inept offense, I wouldn’t be surprised if the casual fan has not heard of FIU’s D’Vonte Price. However, the RB from Punta Gorda amassed over 2,000 yards and 15 TDs over the last four seasons while averaging 6 yards per carry. Again, FIU suffered from poor QB and OL play so Price’s YPC is a minor miracle and a sign of the running back’s potential. On a better team, Price would have absolutely been a collegiate stand-out.

Price’s main attributes as a runner include vision, patience, and power. He won’t be the fastest and most elusive RB in the draft, but he’s a physical interior runner who will move the chains. As a pass-catcher, he’s unproven and inexperienced as the Golden Panther offense rarely called upon him in the passing game. While Price has shown the talent and willingness to excel at pass protection, we’re most likely looking at a first and second down running back only.

I think it would be wise for a team to take a chance on Price in the mid to late rounds this year. He’ll have a chip on his shoulder coming from a smaller school and has the work ethic to stick around. On the flip side, he was a “super senior” so he’s one of the oldest RB prospects in the draft.

9. Jerrion Ealy – Ole Miss

Measurables: 5-9, 185 lbs
Projected Round: 5th or 6th
Potential NFL Landing Spots: Seattle, Arizona, Tennessee

At only 5’9 and 185 lbs, Jerrion Ealy won’t be an every-down back in the NFL. While the RB has been productive at Ole Miss over the last three seasons, he’s also missed games with nagging injuries. Durability could be a concern, especially at his size.

https://twitter.com/pff_college/status/1452033269537648645?s=21

Where the former Rebel should shine is in passing situations. His route running is crisp, he’s shown good hands as a pass catcher, and has done a fine job at pass protection. As a runner, speed, quickness, and agility is where Ealy thrives. While certainly not the biggest guy on the field, he has shown toughness and a willingness to run between the tackles. He won’t be the cornerstone of an offense but could be a valuable complementary piece and brings extra value to the table as a potential return man.

10. Rachaad White – Arizona State

Measurables: 6-2, 210 lbs
Projected Round: 5th or 6th
Potential NFL Landing Spots: NY Giants, Buffalo, Baltimore

Rachaad White seemingly came out of nowhere this year to run for over 1,000 yards and 15 TDs for the Sun Devils. His trip from his hometown of Kansas City to Tempe was a circuitous one. There was a stop at the University of Nebraska-Kearney of the DII ranks and time spent at JUCO – Mt. San Antonio College before getting to Arizona State. He showed flashes playing limited minutes in 2020 before taking over the backfield this season.

Although still a little raw, White has shown natural athleticism which should serve him well at the next level. He demonstrates a good blend of size and speed while illustrating decent vision. White has also proven himself to be an above-average pass catcher which offers three-down potential at the next level. For someone currently projected toward the middle or end of the draft, White possesses a higher ceiling than a lot of other prospects. He may go near the end of the 2022 Draft, but he could be a steal among running backs.

2022 Draft Running Backs:

RB University Measurables Proj Round Possible Landing Spots:
Kenneth Walker Michigan State 5-10, 210 1st or 2nd Tampa Bay, Arizona, Buffalo
Brian Robinson Alabama 6-1, 228 1st or 2nd Tampa Bay, Arizona, Buffalo
Isaiah Spiller Texas A&M 6-1, 215 2nd or 3rd Miami, Houston, Atlanta
Breece Hall Iowa State 6-1, 220 2nd or 3rd Miami, Houston, Atlanta
Kyren Williams Notre Dame 5-9, 195 4th Baltimore, Las Vegas, Carolina
Zamir White Georgia 6-0, 215 4th or 5th NYG, Wash, LA Chargers
James Cook Georgia 5-11, 190 4th or 5th NYG, Wash, LA Chargers
Dvonte Price Florida Int’l 6-2, 215 5th Phily, Chicago, Cincinnati
Jerrion Ealy Ole Miss 5-9, 185 5th or 6th Seattle, Arizona, Tennessee
Rachaad White Arizona St 6-2, 210 5th or 6th NYG, Buffalo, Baltimore

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