NFL Draft Prospects Watch – Running Back Focus: Part 1

NFL Draft Prospects Watch – Running Back Focus: Part 1
Reading Time: 7 minutes.

Want to know what offensive players to keep an eye on for draft season? @CFBBritBaller has you covered with his weekly ‘Prospect Watch’ series. With each article, he will be keeping you up to speed with the draft-eligible offensive skill position players that are either trending up or down on a week-to-week basis in college football.

Using his own bespoke grading system, he’ll also tell you his current draft grade on each player.

In a change to the usual weekly ‘trending up/trending down’ article, in this mini-series Rob breaks down the top running back prospects and their current outlook for the draft in April.

Prospect Watch – The best of the 2022 RB class

Kyren Williams – Notre Dame Fighting Irish

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Kyren Williams in 2020. He came out of nowhere to all of a sudden become one of the better backs in college football. It certainly helped that he had an All-American offensive line in front of him as well as a blocking tight end in Tommy Tremble who was capable of creating gaps the size of the grand canyon for him to exploit.

However heading into the 2021 season, I was concerned that the holes wouldn’t be there for him considering the majority of the offensive line, including Tremble, had graduated to the NFL. I was right to be concerned too. After the first 5 games of this season, he was averaging 57.8 yards rushing per game at just 3.6 yards per carry. This was a far cry from his 93.8 rush/game and 5.3 YPA averages from last season.

Improvement

But all it needed was a little time for the new-look offensive line to gel. Since Notre Dame’s Week 5 loss to ranked Cincinnati, the Fighting Irish offensive unit as a whole has looked a lot better. After that loss, Williams’ rush yards per game has jumped to 116.6, and his YPA to 5.9. He’s also found the endzone 13 total times this season, 8 of which has come since that Cincinnati game. He’s currently back on track to gain back-to-back 1,000+ yard rushing seasons.

Despite his small frame, Kyren Williams regularly displays his athleticism – Photo Credit: Courtesy of the ACC

Not only is Williams a solid rusher, but he also offers plenty of upside as a pass-catcher. Since the beginning of last season, he’s amassed 621 receiving yards and 4 TDs. That’s currently more than any of the top prospects likely to be drafted in this class.

Williams has also got another weapon in his arsenal that could propel him above others in this class. His ability to block, especially his keen eye to pick up blitz plays, will stand out to NFL scouts. At just 5’9″ and 195lbs, you wouldn’t expect his to necessarily be a strong area of his game. However, his efficiency as a blocker is very impressive.

All-in-all, Kyren Williams is the most well-rounded, dual-threat running back in this class. He’s shown he can still be successful behind an inexperienced and underperforming offensive line. He’s effective as a runner and as a pass-catcher and he’s got elite-level blocking skills. In my book, he’s the number 1 RB in this class.

@CFBBritBaller’s Draft Grade Projection: 2nd Round

Breece Hall – Iowa State Cyclones

After the first couple of games this season, I wasn’t sure if Breece Hall was going to live up to the hype he’s carved out for himself during his college career. He started the season with just 69 rush yards in both games whilst not adding much else through the receiving game.

My questioning was soon answered, however. Since week 3, Hall has had 6 games of over 100 yards rushing, and only 1 where he hasn’t had over 100 yards from scrimmage. That was this past week in the loss against Texas Tech, where he still managed 3 total TDs!

Continuing to Impress

The Cyclones’ bell cow has now already recorded his second 1,000+ rush yard season in succession. This is off the back of taking the most rushing yards title in College football in 2020 (1,572). Hall has also had reasonable success as a receiver over the last couple of years. This season he has 246 yards through the air and has found the endzone 2 times as a result.

Hall is a consistent blocker who has on occasion made some key blocks this season too. Although he’s not quite as well-rounded as Kyren Williams, scouts will be drawn to his rushing ability. He’s not the fastest, nor the most powerful. But, he uses his 6’1″, 220lbs frame to his advantage where he’s able to make the most out of any opportunity that presents itself to him. That’s what makes Hall an early day 2 pick for me.

@CFBBritBaller’s Draft Grade Projection: 2nd Round

Kenneth Walker III – Michigan State Spartans

It’s been a whirlwind year for KWIII. After transferring from Wake Forest where he had moderate success in 2019 & 2020, Walker has exploded onto the scene this year. Week 1 versus Northwestern saw him rush for a scintillating 264 yards and 4 touchdowns. Surely that would be the only highlight for an averagely good transfer from the Demon Deacons, right? No. Walker has 4 games over 170 yards rushing so far this season.

In fact, Walker only has 3 games under 125-yard rushing of which one was against an FCS team where he was benched at halftime thanks to a large winning margin. The accolades for this season don’t just stop there either. Week 9 saw State rivals Michigan come to East Lansing. What should have been a tough game for KWIII ended up one of his most fruitful. In scoring 5 rushing TDs, he became the first-ever running back to score that many in a single game against the Michigan Wolverines.

Kenneth Williams making it look easy in Week 10 against rivals Michigan. Photo Credit: USA Today

The Scouting

Walker is a good all-round back considering he’s got excellent short-distance burst yet good long-track explosiveness. He uses his frame to become a kind of hybrid power/one-cut back which will be desirable in the NFL. Being able to alternate between these two styles and his ability to make defenders miss will certainly catch the scout’s eyes.

He’s certainly a joy to watch, especially with those snake-like hips and elusiveness when navigating through defensive lines. For me, he’s another back who could quite easily be the first RB off the board. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of these 3 players winds up being taken on day 1 either.

@CFBBritBaller’s Draft Grade Projection: 2nd Round

Isaiah Spiller – Texas A&M Aggies

Heading into this season, Spiller was probably my RB1. He’s had an excellent college career and has seen well over 1,000 yards from scrimmage each season. The problem is – and this is nitpicking – is that he has remained on the same level as the previous 2 seasons. The other 3 currently ahead of him have improved from year to year which is why at this point of the season they find themselves ahead of Spiller in my opinion.

That doesn’t mean I’m down on the Aggie’s workhorse. Far from it. He’s an incredible talent that showcases his impressive skillset on a near-weekly basis. In more than half of his games this season, Spiller has rushed for over 100 yards.

The downside to this season for Spiller has been the touchdowns. He’s only found paydirt 6 total times in 10 games. Also, there has been a correlation in 2021 which skews the current season statistics for him. Against ranked teams (Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss), Spiller has only 1 game over 100 yards rushing. His best games have come against Mizzou, New Mexico and Kent State which were the easiest matchups on the schedule.

The Difference

For me, this is one of the main differences between an elite back that is more likely to succeed in the NFL as opposed to a player that might flop in the pros but had good stats at college. Again, this is not me saying I’m necessarily down on Spiller as a draft prospect, but it might be the difference between being a day 2 or a day 3 pick.

This year we’ve seen Kenneth Williams III, Breece Hall and Kyren Williams literally become the entire offense on their respective teams. Michigan State, Iowa State and Notre Dame respectively have been bang average offensively as a general rule of thumb this season. Those players make these teams’ offenses tick. Even when their o-line or fellow offensive skill players aren’t on the same level, they go above and beyond. That’s what defines an elite back in my opinion.

I’m not completely convinced you could say this about Spiller. He’s a key piece of this offense, but he’s not the only cog that turns the wheel, and therefore doesn’t stand out as much.

@CFBBritBaller’s Draft Grade Projection: 3rd Round

Brian Robinson Jr. – Alabama Crimson Tide

I was naive at the beginning of the season because I had all but written off Brian Robinson to be in contention as a decent draft prospect at the end of the season. My thought process was “how can a 4-year backup all of a sudden be the prototypical Bama stud RB?” Because since his freshman year in 2017, he served as Damien Harris’, Josh Jacobs’, and Najee Harris’ backup.

But, in true Alabama fashion, Robinson has been the out and out starter this year as “the next guy up”. Although the super senior didn’t appear before this season to have any specific stand-out traits, Robinson has looked better and better as the season has progressed.

Brian Robinson has had to wait his turn to become the lead rusher for the Crimson Tide. Photo Credit: rolltide.com

Currently, Robinson has a 114 scrimmage yard per game average and has found himself in the endzone 16 times (14 rushing). It certainly helps running behind an always stout Alabama offensive line, but he’s following in the footsteps of a long list of RBs that have successfully transitioned to the NFL.

What the scouts will see

Although Robinson isn’t the fastest of players, he’s got excellent vision and utilises his patience to find the right gaps to exploit. I don’t think he’s going to blow up the combine and certainly isn’t the most exciting prospect in this class. But scouts will like the fact that Nick Saban stuck with him throughout his 5 years in college football and teams will know they’re getting a pro-ready back who will serve as a move-the-chains/goalline back.

He’s likely going to be a career backup in the NFL, but he’s definitely a draftable asset that has a desirable history in college football.

@CFBBritBaller’s Draft Grade Projection: 4th Round

Up next week….

The best of the 2022 RB class: Part 2

Tyler Allgeier, BYU Cougars – Chris Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky Wildcats – Tyler Badie, Missouri Tigers – Sincere McCormick, UTSA Roadrunners – C.J Verdell, Oregon Ducks

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