A deeper look at the 2023 RB class: Ranking the best bell cows, scatbacks and more

Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Jahmyr Gibbs (1) runs the ball for a touchdown against Auburn Tigers safety Zion Puckett (10) and cornerback Nehemiah Pritchett (18) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 49-27. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

  • Bijan Robinson leads the “bell cow” group: To no one surprise, the Texas product finished atop the “bell cow” group of running backs due to his rare skill set and ability to play all three downs.
  • Jahmyr Gibbs paces the “space backs” category: The Alabama back is outstanding in the open field, making him the obvious choice to lead this section.
  • Devon Achane is the draft's best scatback: The Texas A&M star will leverage his world-class track speed to create big plays in the NFL.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Running back is definitely one of the less scheme-specific positions on a football field, but their role still matters. Therefore, we are going to group each running back by their skill-set type with rankings included.

Bell cows

These are the running backs who can stay on the field through all facets of running back play. Whether it’s wide runs, downhill runs, swing passes, splitting wide or pass protecting, they aren’t particularly limited. They could obviously slot into a committee role if need be, but they don’t have to be substituted out within a series.

  1. Bijan Robinson, Texas
  2. Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
  3. Tank Bigsby, Auburn
  4. Kendre Miller, TCU
  5. Chase Brown, Illinois
  6. Eric Gray, Oklahoma

Robinson and Charbonnet are the two most complete backs in the draft class, as each possesses good size, great vision and plus athletic tools. For that reason, I’d describe both as “safe” prospects.

Bigsby and Miller have a bit more concerns but are no slouches. Bigsby can display tunnel vision at times and is limited as a big-play threat in the open field; however, he’s still a tough back who’s used to grinding out yards behind a poor offensive line. Miller may be a little more dynamic, but he’s not nearly as physical. He’ll stop his feet in the backfield and try to shake when lowering a shoulder should be his move.

RBBC — space backs

These running backs are at their best when given room to work. They may not have the size or the running style to be ideal in the more physically demanding aspects of the running back position, but each is highly valuable nonetheless.

  1. Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
  2. Tyjae Spears, Tulane
  3. Zach Evans, Ole Miss
  4. Evan Hull, Northwestern
  5. Kenny McIntosh, Georgia
  6. Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh

Gibbs is as good a prospect in this mold as you’ll see in recent years. With 4.36 speed and incredible hands, the Alabama running back was built to work in space. Spears and Evans aren’t as fast in a straight line but have similar easy dynamism. They’re all scraping right around the 200-pound mark, which gives them uphill battles in pass protection and taking on linebackers in the hole, but that’s why they are in an RBBC (running back by committee) section.

RBBC — power backs

These are running backs that you likely don’t want to feature too much in the passing game. Pull a guard on power, however, and these are the backs you want filling behind them. If you want tough yards, these are the ones you want:

  1. DeWayne McBride, UAB
  2. Sean Tucker, Syracuse
  3. Roschon Johnson, Texas
  4. Travis Dye, USC
  5. Chris Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky
  6. Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota

This is not a great class for power backs by any means, as McBride and Tucker both get put here because they are complete non-factors in the passing game despite being on opposite ends of the athletic spectrum. McBride has great vision and feet to find tight creases, though, making him ideal in short-yardage situations. Tucker is much more of a “run through you” back who needs a straight-line crease to show off his absurd explosiveness.

Johnson is easily the most prototypical power back in the class at 6-foot and 225 pounds breaking 86 tackles on 189 attempts in the past two seasons. While he shows open-field limitations, he can churn yardage in tight quarters.

Scatbacks/gadget players

While the “space backs” listed above trend toward the smaller side for the running back position, these prospects take it to an extreme. If a back is under 190 pounds in the NFL, there are only certain roles that offensive coordinators will trust them in. These players can still make a serious impact in certain ways, though.

  1. Devon Achane, Texas A&M
  2. Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
  3. Keaton Mitchell, ECU

Speed, speed and more speed. I’m not sure I’d trust any of these three in pass protection consistently, but they can all do some unique things as a receiver if an offense wants to use two-back sets. Achane has the best size of the bunch, meaning he could potentially be trusted with a heftier workload at 5-foot-8 and 188 pounds, but teams aren't going to send any of these guys onto the field on a third- or fourth-and-short. 

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