NFL Draft News & Analysis

2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the top 10 running back prospects

Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Texas Longhorns running back Bijan Robinson (5) runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Kansas Jayhawks at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

• Assessing a loaded running back class: Multiple backs in the 2023 class who didn’t even make this top 10 would have cracked the top five in the 2022 class.

• Texas' Bijan Robinson easily claims top spot: A projected first-rounder, Robinson blows the rest of the running back class out of the water.

• Michigan's Blake Corum gets MJD comp: His ability to avoid being taken down easily, in addition to other traits, earns him a Maurice Jones-Drew comparison.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

To say the 2023 NFL Draft running back class is loaded would be an understatement. There are multiple backs who didn’t even make this top 10 that would have cracked the top five in the 2022 class. While many of the backs listed below are underclassmen with looming draft decisions, this will be a running back class for the ages if all end up declaring.

10. Roschon Johnson, Texas (Senior | 6-2, 222)

  • 2022 Grade: 81.6
  • Play Style: Power Back
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 3

Playing second fiddle to the No. 1 running back on this list could not have been easy for a player as talented as Johnson, but he still brought it every single time he touched the rock. While he’s a little high cut at 6-foot-2, Johnson has a knack for taking away his plant leg just before contact, leaving defenders nothing solid to hold onto. It’s why he has the highest broken tackle rate in the country over the past two seasons (85 broken tackles on 189 attempts).

While he’s likely the slowest running back on this list, that’s not going to be his game or usage at the next level. He’s going to grind out the tough yardage consistently in the NFL.

9. Keaton Mitchell, ECU (Junior | 5-9, 184)

2022 Grade: 87.5
Play Style: Space Player
Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

There may be no back in the country more difficult to touch in space than Mitchell. He’s got the best combination of quicks and speed in the draft class. He earned an absurd 93.3 rushing grade this past season because he was ripping off big runs left and right. Twenty-nine of his 179 carries went for 15-plus yards, and he averaged 7.4 yards per carry. 

The worries are his size and running style. At 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds, Mitchell is never going to be a bell cow at the next level. You’ll have to go back to Warrick Dunn in 2007 to find the last time a sub-190-pound running back saw at least 150 carries in a season. Don’t take that to mean we should write Mitchell off completely, though. We saw the 5-foot-6, 181-pound Tarik Cohen make a considerable impact with the Bears before injury ended his career. And Mitchell may be even more athletic than that. 

8. Kendre Miller, TCU (Junior | 6-0, 220)

  • 2022 Grade: 85.4
  • Play Style: All-Purpose Back
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

With former five-star running back Zach Evans transferring to Ole Miss last offseason, it was Miller’s time to shine for the Horned Frogs. And shine he did, to the tune of 1,342 yards on 216 carries (6.2 yards per carry) with 17 scores. He plays with an uncoachable tenacity that makes him unwilling to go down on first contact. For his career, he’s broken 109 tackles on 353 carries and averaged 3.8 yards after contact per attempt. While he’s nothing special athletically, Miller is more than athletic enough for a full-time role at the next level.

7. Devon Achane, Texas A&M (Junior | 5-9, 185)

  • 2022 Grade: 82.3
  • Play Style: Pure Speed
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

Achane has verified track times that are unparalleled in the draft class. He’ll be drafted highly because his speed (10.14-second 100-meter PR) has to be accounted for on every play. 

While he’ll certainly be pigeonholed into a certain role at only 185 pounds, Achane is far tougher than your average back that size. He doesn’t shy away from contact by any means, as he’s broken 104 tackles on 369 career rushing attempts and averaged 3.9 yards after contact. We just wish he was a tad more reliable to be featured in the passing game, where he dropped five balls on 65 catchable targets the past two seasons.

6. Tank Bigsby, Auburn (Junior | 6-0, 213)

  • 2022 Grade: 82.5
  • Play Style: Jump-Cut King
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Bigsby’s ability to plant one foot in the ground and immediately fire away in the opposite direction is second to none in the class. He has LeSean McCoy-esque lateral burst out of his cuts. It’s why Bigsby, playing behind the third-lowest-graded run-blocking offensive line in the SEC this past season, earned a 90.4 rushing grade with 60 broken tackles on 178 attempts for 976 yards and 10 scores.

Bigsby has been singlehandedly trying to prop up Auburn’s offense ever since his true freshman season when he broke 47 tackles on 138 attempts and averaged 4.0 yards after contact per attempt.  

5. Sean Tucker, Syracuse (Junior | 5-10, 210)

  • 2022 Grade: 77.6
  • Play Style: North-South Runner  
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

You won’t find many players as shredded at 205 pounds as Tucker is. He somehow eats arm tackles for breakfast at that size. It may have something to do with the absurd explosiveness in his lower half. Tucker has reportedly run in the low 4.3s, and his standstill burst makes it easy to believe:

While Tucker’s size-speed combination may be the most impressive in the draft class, there aren't too many strengths to write home about outside of that. He’s a linear runner who often lacks the creativity to improvise when the point of attack is jammed up. While Tucker has shown he can handle a heavy workload, with 506 touches over the past two seasons, NFL teams are only going to want to feature him on the ground. Tucker has dropped 10 of his 73 catchable passes in his career. That’s untenable to feature in the passing game outside of screens. 

4. Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama (Junior | 5-11, 200)

  • 2022 Grade: 80.2
  • Play Style: Lightning Rod
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Gibbs is another back on the smaller side for a full-time load in the NFL. He’s not too dissimilar size-wise from an Aaron Jones or Dalvin Cook, so it’s far from a death knell to his draft stock. His ideal role, though, is still in a timeshare — similar to what we saw from him at Alabama where he took a majority of the passing-game reps. That’s where Gibbs truly shines. Over the past two seasons, Gibbs has hauled in 78-of-93 targets for 848 yards and five scores with 28 broken tackles after the catch. As important as his dynamism with the ball is his reliability. He’s dropped only two passes on 103 catchable targets in his career.

3. Zach Charbonnet, UCLA (Senior | 6-1, 220)

  • 2022 Grade: 91.5
  • Play Style: Bell Cow
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Unlike some others on this list, there’s no physical trait or special skill set to really rave about with Charbonnet. Rather, there’s nothing he can’t do at the running back position. He has ideal size (6-foot-1, 220 points) paired with plus athletic tools and a complete unwillingness to go down on first contact. It’s why he averaged a ridiculous 4.15 yards after contact this season on 194 carries for 1,358 yards. He also showed well in the passing game with 37 catches for 320 yards and 15 broken tackles this season. 

2. Blake Corum, Michigan (Junior | 5-8, 210)

  • 2022 Grade: 95.9
  • Play Style: Bowling Ball
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

I could give you a full scouting report on Corum, but I think his skill set is summed up better with a player comp than any other running back in this class. Corum is darn near a dead ringer for Maurice Jones-Drew. Listed at 5-foot-8 and 210 pounds, Corum is nearly a physical replica of the low-to-the-earth MJD at 5-foot-7, 207 pounds. Both are nearly impossible to bring down alone because of their low centers of gravity combined with defensive tackle-like thighs.

Just ask Big Ten defenders. Corum finished with the third-highest single-season rushing grade we’ve ever given to a college running back (95.8). He broke 73 tackles on 248 carries for 1,461 yards this past season and punched in 18 scores. While Corum's height may limit the routes he’s going to run in the passing game, there aren't really many weaknesses to his profile.

1. Bijan Robinson, Texas (Junior | 6-0, 220)

  • 2022 Grade: 95.2
  • Play Style: Offensive Focal Point
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

Robinson's talent level is what many NFL offenses build around. Even the biggest running back haters here at PFF recognize the value he brings to the table. I wrote all about exactly why that is earlier this season. The SparkNotes version: He has ideal size, breaks tackles at a rate we’ve never seen and can pass as a wide receiver in a pinch.

Bijan is simply capable of things other running backs in this class can only dream of. The way he sinks out of his cuts is reminiscent of a race car banking around a turn. He finished with 104 broken tackles this season — a PFF college record.

Robinson is a special prospect.

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