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2023 NFL Draft: Running back rankings with pro comparisons

Oklahoma State v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

With the NFL Draft process well underway, there is a much clearer picture of the 2023 class than there was even a month ago. With exhibition games and the Combine now in the past, it is easier to build a full profile of this year’s prospects. This backfield class has a ton of really intriguing players who could step on the field and contribute immediately. After no running backs went in the first round in 2022, there are a few players who could break into day one this year.

1) Bijan Robinson, Texas

Bijan Robinson wins with everything. He is a great athlete who combines natural gifts with a great feel for the running back position to make one of the best prospects in this year’s class. He has the power to run through defenders, the agility to run around them, and the speed run by them. Robinson’s vision is excellent and his footwork is somehow better. To cap it off, he is an adept three down back who can be a serious receiving threat.

Bijan Robinson can take a leap by maybe being a bit more aggressive as a runner. Sometimes he is a bit too patient with running lanes to widen where he should just be attacking gaps. NFL speed will reduce his margin for error behind the line of scrimmage. This is nitpicking.

Pro Comparison: Ezekiel Elliott

2) Zach Charbonnet, UCLA

Zach Charbonnet wins with power, balance, and great instincts as a running back. Charbonnet has a complete game at the position, combining a tough running style with surprising long speed. He is also a very adept pass protector and receiver. Charbonnet was highly productive at UCLA and his game translates to the NFL in a very obvious way.

Zach Charbonnet can take a leap by tightening up his reaction timing. Charbonnet is very good, but not an elite athlete for the position. This will hardly hurt him, but it just means he needs to continue honing his strengths as a runner. His lack of athleticism means he will not consistently be a home run threat in the NFL, but he will be the type of guy to get five yards falling down on every carry.

Pro Comparison: Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers

3) Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama

Jahmyr Gibbs wins with game breaking speed and a polished game as a pass catcher. Jahmyr Gibbs thrived after transferring from Georgia Tech to Alabama. Being in a pro-style offense allowed him to thrive as a pass catcher where he has excellent routes, soft hands, great awareness and seamlessly transitions from catching the ball to becoming a runner. He is a modern-NFL back in that way. He flashes brilliance as a between the tackles runner too, showing he can be a complete back.

Jahmyr Gibbs can take a leap by continuing to improve his feel for the running back position. He can keep growing as a true running back in terms of how he deals with carries into traffic. With Gibbs, that will come with reps. Another hurdle will be his size. He is a bit lighter for an NFL back, but his athleticism should offset that.

Pro Comparison: CJ Spiller, Buffalo Bills

4) Devon Achane, Texas A&M

Devon Achane wins with a great combination of speeds and technical prowess for the position. Achane doesn’t really have any obvious holes in his game on the field. He is fast as hell with great agility, he can catch the ball no problem, and he shows surprising ability to run between the tackles and shake off defenders.

Devon Achane can take a leap by proving he can be a three down back in the NFL. Achane is well built, but small by NFL standards. He will need to prove that size will not hold him back from being a featured back in an NFL offense. It feels foolish to bet against him at all considering how good his tape is, but history can make things a bit trickier to project.

Pro Comparison: David Wilson, New York Giants

5) Tyjae Spears, Tulane

Tyjae Spears wins with great agility, surprising power and excellent receiving skills. Spears was the Tulane offense in their Cinderella Season in 2022. He touched the ball 251 times and scored 24 times. He averaged almost seven yards per carry and over 11 yards per catch. He is a true playmaker in every facet of the game and could be a dynamic role player in the NFL.

Tyjae Spears can take a leap by proving he can consistently shoulder the load of an offense. Spears is short, but not small. That being said, his game is built more around finesse than taking a lot of hard mileage. 2022 was his first season with over 200 carries and a lot of his fit in the NFL will be about proving he can handle a larger responsibility in an NFL offense.

Pro Comparison: Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

The Rest

6) Israel Abanikanda, Pitt

7) Zach Evans, Ole Miss

8) Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State

9) Kendre Miller, TCU

10) Tank Bigsby, Auburn

11) Roschon Johnson, Texas

12) Eric Gray, Oklahoma

13) Sean Tucker, Syracuse

14) Chase Brown, Illinois

15) Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota

16) Kenny McIntosh, Georgia

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