Making a start on the 2023 NFL Draft season, Owain Jones takes a look at some of the hottest names who are draft eligible heading into the college football season.
As summer moves quickly on, and after a short break, Summer Scouting is now in full flow. Is it too early? It is never too early in the never-ending NFL draft cycle! This season our NFL Draft editor Owain Jones is upping the difficulty, introducing a grading scale for the first time, which will hopefully provide even more clarity on the analysis he provides.
Making our way through positions, running back is our starting position, we see how the class stacks up and who is standing out as some of the names to watch in preseason.
The 2023 NFL Draft eligible running back class in general is extremely good. There is a diversity of prospects from the big to the tiny, plus there is a lot of potential among the class. Among the group there are even a few names who are even NFL ready now! The RB class will be exciting to follow throughout the season.
This list really can be separated into 3 tiers. Tier 1 is the clear front runner and tier 2 is an easy runner up. But tier 3, containing the rest of the group, is congested and rankings are extremely close.
Here are just some of the names that stand out towards the top of the 2023 running back class.
1. BIJAN ROBINSON – Texas – 6’0” 221 lbs
In the 3 years of our draft analysts scouting prospects, Bijan Robinson is by far the best running back they will have seen. Not only is he exhilarating to watch, he also checks all the boxes. If you were to build a running back prospect in terms of size and skills, you may just come out of the lab with Bijan Robinson.
You name it, Bijan Robinson can do it. He is a game changing back who has a chance to be the highest draft running back for some years. He has perfect size, his change of direction and speed transition is flawless, he is physical, athletic, versatile, you just need to turn on the tape and let it speak for itself. It is men against boys when he is on the field and you can expect to find him high up on everyone’s big board.
2. JAHMYR GIBBS – Alabama – 5’11″ 200 lbs
Transferring from Georgia Tech to Alabama ahead of the 2022 college football season, big things are expected from Jahmyr Gibbs this season. He transfers as a player who can affect both the running and passing game and at Alabama he should be able to show his skill set more.
Gibbs is an explosive athlete who is an extremely powerful runner. He may not possess the top end strength, but he runs with power and purpose. He is a speedy back who has both good instant acceleration and good staying pace. It makes him excellent in short areas where he can use his stop/start ability to create space. Then you add in his ability as a pass catcher where he offers strong hands, a good catch radius and elusiveness after the catch, then you have a player who can make things happen.
3. BLAKE CORUM – Michigan – 5’8” 200 lbs
This may be a surprise having Blake Corum this high. But, he is a player who is super easy to fall in love with. Slippery, agile and electric, Corum possesses the skill set to really grab people’s attention with a bigger workload now Hassan Haskins has left for the NFL.
Corum’s biggest strength is his sheer agility. He is extremely slippery and his compact frame makes it difficult for defenders to get a hold of him. But, he is also extremely twitchy and he has insane footwork to quickly change direction. He can also get up to a deadly top speed within just a couple of steps. Corum has a knack for finding space. You then have the agility and elusiveness to match and he is a big play threat on every down.
He also has kick return ability and can be a threat as a pass catcher. Although, he will need to add more receiving reps in the upcoming season. A serious playmaker, watch out for Blake Corum throughout the 2022 College Football season.
4. SEAN TUCKER – Syracuse – 5’10” 209 lbs
Sean Tucker has the clear ability to be one of the top backs in the 2023 NFL Draft. But, also a top notch, productive player at the next level. He led the ACC in almost every major running category in 2021. Cementing his place as one of college football’s top running backs.
You take Tucker’s home run hitting speed, then you then add in his contact balance and sharp change of direction and you have yourself a spicy recipe for success. He has the ability to shake off opponents and is able to avoid and ride through tackles, picking up extra yardage.
Tucker still needs to work on his strength and power if he is to prove he can be a 3 down back at the next level, his lack of strength shows up specifically in pass protection. But, if he can add that strength and solidity, as well as adding to his pass catching repertoire, then expect Tucker to be a name spoken about highly throughout the season and heading towards the 2023 NFL Draft.
5. DEVON ACHANE – Texas A&M – 5’9 185 lbs
Devon Achane has all the skills that you look for in a modern day NFL running back. The problem is he is still very much a project. But, a promising project at that.
Achane is the definition of speed. He has insane, electric, track star speed. He still runs for the A&M track team and has posted a 100 metre time of 10.12 seconds. That is a trait that you cannot teach. For how impressive that is, it doesn’t mean anything unless you can demonstrate it on the field.
Achane has certainly done that. His ability to smoothly and fluidly go through the gears, transitioning through speed is sensational. But, he has explosive burst, elusiveness and decent vision. Achane is also a promising receiving threat where he shows strong, sticky hands when catching the ball and is slippery after the catch.
If Achane can build off what he has done already at A&M, then he is an exciting prospect who will be liked by NFL teams ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.
6. TANK BIGSBY – Auburn – 6’0” 213 lbs
Tank Bigsby is a tough north/south runner who displays powerful physical attributes. His size is ideal and it is most notable when you see Bigsby doing his best work, attacking between the tackles. It allows him to use his best traight, his contact balance.
He fights through contact and rebounds off grasping defenders. Bisby can use his good centre of gravity and lower body strength to plough through defenders, breaking tackles and doing the dirty work. Bigsby is more than that though, he may not have the speed that some others do, but he has good change of direction, he can bounce into opening up lanes.
Bigsby does have some things to clean up on though as he works through the 2022 season. He does have some fumbles and he needs to add better technique for a player of his size when in pass protection. But, the signs are promising for Tank Bigsby to improve and gain traction heading towards next year.
ZACH EVANS – Ole Miss – 6’0” 215 lbs
Evans is a good all round back who does everything to a good standard. He has 3 down potential in the NFL due to his great size which still has room to add more. He finds gaps and is able to make defenders miss but he just needs to add more. Transferring from TCU to Ole Miss for the 2022 season, hopefully Evans can show improvement and if he can improve as a pass protector and open up his ability as a receiver out of the back field he could shout up the board. He shows good promise, but more is needed.
DEUCE VAUGHN – Kansas St – 5’6” 176
One thing stands out about Vaughn before even turning on his tape. That is his size and whether some teams will even put him on their board. But, Vaughn is a player with explosive speed and is a dynamic runner who has the vision and creativity to make things happen. He is a natural pass catcher who is outstanding with the ball in hand.
The problem comes to his size and whether you can look past it. The size issue does have ramifications throughout his game, while on one hand it makes him nimble and tricky. Defenders struggle to get their hands on him, but he can’t really fight through contact and while he tries he is just too easy to run over in pass protection. He is an extremely exciting runner and someone will find room for him on their roster.