This year’s running back class is largely unproven after many players missed out on full seasons in 2020. However, a few of the top dogs have the kind of all-around skill sets NFL teams should covet in the 2022 NFL Draft.
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1. Breece Hall, Iowa State (Junior)
Running backs very often get described as having “contact balance” in the draft process. They don’t have it like Hall has it, though.
In two seasons as the lead dog for Iowa State, Hall has shown that he refuses to go down on first contact. The only Power Five running backs with more broken tackles over the past two seasons were Travis Etienne, Javonte Williams and Najee Harris — all top-35 picks last April.
Breece Hall’s insane 2020 campaign continues
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 5, 2020
While that may remind you of former Cyclones standout David Montgomery, there’s one massive difference: speed. Hall regularly flashes the ability to run away from defenders and generate big plays. His 25 carries of 15 or more yards last season were seven more than Montgomery ever had in a season at Iowa State.
2. Jerrion Ealy, Mississippi (Junior)
Ealy is the type of running back that is becoming more and more commonplace in the modern NFL. At 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, Ealy is quite obviously not going to be your every down bell cow. What he is, though, is a threat to make a house call every time he touches the rock.
JERRION. EALY. COULD. GO. ALL. THE. WAY. pic.twitter.com/wHURhk18bt
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 14, 2019
He’s got that combination of speed and quicks that will keep linebackers up at night in the passing game. Ealy has broken 78 tackles on 250 carries for the Rebels in two seasons, and he broke seven more on 36 receptions. What separates him from many smaller “scat back” types is that he has shown he’s willing to run with power.
However, it’s still unclear if he’ll even make it to the NFL draft, as he was a starter for the Ole Miss baseball team as a true freshman before undergoing shoulder surgery this past spring.
3. Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M (Junior)
It’s a running back class chocked full of big boys, and Spiller stands out at the top in that category. The biggest reason for that is that Spiller doesn’t solely rely on running through people; the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder has not only been dragging defenders ever since his true freshman season for the Aggies, but he's also been making them miss. He’s got quick feet and tremendous short-area burst for a man his size. It shows up repeatedly on tape.
Isaiah Spiller is my top RB at the moment.
♦️Great contact balance
♦️+ 10 yard burst
I’d like to see him featured more as a pass catcher but spiller is arguably the purest runner in the nation!
— Damian Parson ???? (@DP_NFL) June 17, 2021
That’s a winning combination at any level of football. It's why it’s so easy to project him to the NFL. The biggest worry for him so far comes in the passing game, where he dropped four of his 24 targets last season, but I’d expect that to improve the more he plays.
4. Zonovan Knight, N.C. State (Junior)
Knight has a solid returning offensive line and flashed on film in 2020, so I expect big things from him this season. While he’s still learning how to run with consistent pad level and correctly pace his runs, he has flashes of brilliance all over his tape. The explosiveness he runs with for a 5-foot-11, 206-pound back is tremendous. It’s why he had one of the best forced missed tackle rates in the country last year, with 48 broken tackles on 143 attempts.
Say hello to @knight_zonovan.
— Bally Sports South (@BallySportsSO) September 7, 2019
Now we just want to see it on a bigger workload after he got only 137 carries as a freshman and 143 carries as a sophomore.
5. Chris Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky (Redshirt Junior)
Rodriguez was a bowling ball wreaking havoc through the SEC last season. The 5-foot-11, 224-pounder earned the highest rushing grade in the conference last season — yes, higher than even first-rounder Najee Harris.
Rodriguez pounded his way to 6.6 yards per carry, with 3.9 of those coming after contact. He pinballs off would-be tacklers with his low center of gravity and doesn’t try to run like somebody he’s not. While he lacks the top-end juice to really be in contention for the RB1 spot in this class, Rodriguez has more than enough to succeed in the NFL.
2️⃣2️⃣ TO THE HOUSE ????
A career-long 74-yard rush TD for Chris Rodriguez Jr. ???? pic.twitter.com/Zrel7RC0vF
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 14, 2020
Wild card: Kenny McIntosh, Georgia (Junior)
While we haven’t seen a lot of McIntosh, we’ve been impressed every time he’s touched the ball. In fact, his advanced data trumped that of teammate Zamir White on a per-touch basis last season, as he averaged 1.2 yards more after contact per attempt (3.98 vs. 2.78) and was twice as likely to break a tackle (0.38 missed tackles forced per attempt vs. 0.19). So now, we just want to see more of the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Junior than his 83 career touches.
Names to Watch
TYLER ALLGEIER, BYU (Redshirt junior)
Allgeier is the highest-graded returning runner in college football from a season ago, but we’ll have to see how he fares behind a much different offensive line. Allgeier lived the good life behind the fourth-highest-graded run-blocking line in the country last season and averaged nearly 3.0 yards before contact per attempt. He’s a perfect fit in the Cougars' outside-zone scheme and is the definition of a one-cut runner at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds.
BRIAN ROBINSON, ALABAMA (Redshirt senior)
The Alabama offense didn’t really miss all that much when Najee Harris came off the field last season, and that’s thanks to Robinson's work on the ground. There was no thunder and lightning for the Crimson Tide — it was all thunder. Robinson is listed at a hulking 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds, and it shows in his 4.0 yards after contact per carry. He’s a power back through and through, and he will get more opportunities to shine after receiving only 91 carries last season.
KYREN WILLIAMS, NOTRE DAME (Junior)
Williams burst onto the scene for the Irish as a sophomore in 2020 and was crucial to their playoff run, not only because of his work in the run game but his production in the passing game. He was particularly impressive in pass protection, where he is already adept at identifying blitz schemes. Unfortunately, he’s just not the type to consistently break arm tackles. He broke only 38 tackles on 211 carries last year.
SINCERE MCCORMICK, UTSA (Junior)
One of the most intriguing backs in the class, McCormick is an explosive 5-foot-9 200-pounder. He’s already amassed nearly 2,500 yards in only two seasons for the Road Runners, with 99 broken tackles on 426 carries. He’s already shown he can carry a massive workload, too, as he had games with 30-plus carries last season.
ZAMIR WHITE, GEORGIA (Redshirt Junior)
White is a size-speed dynamo at 6-foot and 215 pounds. He accelerates at an impressive clip for a man his size, and it’s why he was the lead back for the Bulldogs last season. Unfortunately, he hasn’t shown much of anything in the way of shake; he’s not going to make a man miss in the hole or threaten a linebacker in the passing game.
KEVIN HARRIS, SOUTH CAROLINA (Junior)
Harris is the type of back that may not get you too excited but will almost certainly have a healthy career in the NFL. He runs with great pad level and consistently stays square to the line of scrimmage. That’s ideal for a 5-foot-10 225-pounder.
MOHAMED IBRAHIM, MINNESOTA (Redshirt senior)
Ibrahim was a massive surprise to come back to Minnesota after three straight seasons of productive play and 80.0-plus rushing grades as the lead dog for the Golden Gophers. He’s nothing special athletically but a very tough all-around runner with ideal size for the position at 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds.
Home-run threat: SINCERE MCCORMICK, UTSA
McCormick notched 24 carries of 15-plus yards last season, second only to Iowa State’s Breece Hall among returning backs. McCormick did it on 30 fewer carries, however, and had more 15-plus-yard runs as a true freshman (15 vs. 13). Get to know the name.
Plays for little known UTSA but Sincere McCormick is a dude. 1000 total yards as a tFr last year and looking better this year
This was his *checks notes* 3rd TD pic.twitter.com/lyu0RXuMLa
— AlfredJF (@AlfredJF) October 25, 2020
Toughest to bring down: BREECE HALL, IOWA STATE
The stats on this one aren’t particularly close. Hall has broken 33 more tackles than the next closest returning Power Five back over the past two seasons and 21 more than any other returning back in college football. What a start to his career.
Breece Hall is going to be a special one – only a sophomore but one of the best RBs I've seen this year pic.twitter.com/FiMw4MJmfu
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) October 6, 2020
Scatback: JERRION EALY, OLE MISS
The term scatback is synonymous with being undersized, but I feel that Ealy can be more than what that term implies. Getting Ealy out in space is quite obviously a focal point of the Ole Miss offense, and with good reason. He’s as good as it gets in the open field.
Hey y’all, meet Jerrion Ealy! Touchdown, Ole Miss! pic.twitter.com/0PjItJ74nd
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) October 20, 2019
Goal-line back: BREECE HALL, IOWA STATE
Hall has that ideal combination of elusiveness and power around the goal line that all the top goal-line backs possess. He found the end zone 10 times in goal-to-go situations last season. The man can really do it all.
— cyclone.sports (@clones_sports) November 27, 2020
Best receiver: KYREN WILLIAMS, NOTRE DAME
Williams has the type of route-running and ball skills that could translate seamlessly to the slot should a coaching staff want to make such a change. He’s not overly dynamic, but he is very crisp in his breaks.
#NotreDame RB Kyren Williams with a ridiculous catch here.
Video: @StanfieldCoach pic.twitter.com/wARay6AIoz
— Matt Freeman (@mattfreemanISD) April 4, 2020