With the 2022 NFL Draft on the horizon (April 28-30), NFL Network analyst and former All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew eyes the RB class. Here are MJD's top 36 prospects at the position, factoring in what he's seen on film, at the NFL Scouting Combine and during pro days.
Day 1 starters
Hall is a three-down back who combines great footwork and patience in the run game with good hands and elusiveness in the pass game. The 5-foot-11, 217-pounder is tough to tackle and likely climbed draft boards with his impressive outing at the NFL Scouting Combine -- some even have him projected to go in Round 1. Plus, he knows how to score. At Iowa State, Hall set an FBS record by scoring a rushing touchdown in 24 straight games. That's a player any team can use.
After amassing the second-most rushing yards (1,636) in the FBS last season, Walker was named the 2021 Doak Walker Award winner as college football's top running back and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Needless to say, the former Spartan will bring a lot of ability to an NFL backfield. He showed excellent speed at the combine with a 4.39-second 40-yard dash; I was quite surprised because Walker didn't display that kind of top-end juice on game tape at Michigan State. That said, Walker can play in any system as a player with a great feel for his blockers, good vision and electric ability in the open field with the ball in his hands.
Just like in 2018 with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, the Georgia Bulldogs send a pair of talented running backs into the NFL this year in White and James Cook. White is a powerful downhill runner with an explosive first step, someone whose physicality will show up in the red zone and late in games. He'll be a tremendous asset on first and second down, but will have to prove he can provide in the pass game -- an area in which he wasn't used much for the national champions -- if he wants to stay on the field for all three downs in the NFL.
The younger brother of Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook, James sits here as a Day 1 starter due to his versatility. Racking up a career-high 1,012 scrimmage yards and 11 TDs for the national champion Bulldogs in 2021, Cook is an electric back who gets to the second level quickly thanks to his explosive cuts at the line of scrimmage. He has great game speed and good vision, but his greatest assets are his soft hands and route-running ability. NFL teams will be able to use him in the passing game out of the backfield and lined up out wide.
Robinson (6-1 5/8, 225) is a physical, downhill runner with long strides and good quickness. He made the most of his opportunities as a starter in his senior season at Alabama, as evidenced by his impressive production against top-tier competition. He'll help wear down defenses and has the potential to be an asset in the pass game at the next level.
You wouldn't expect the former Baylor Bear's injury history after watching him perform in 2021, a season in which he amassed 1,601 yards and 12 TDs on 257 carries (6.2 yards per carry). Smith is a nightmare to tackle, as he regularly drives through contact. Also, his good vision, footwork and patience behind blockers make him an ideal fit in a zone-blocking scheme at the pro level.
With the NFL being a pass-centric league, the Florida State product is enticing due to his acceleration and elusiveness in the open field. With just one year of high-level production in college, though, Corbin (5-11, 202 pounds) is likely to come off the board in the middle or late rounds, making him a potential steal for whoever drafts him.
I'm not as high on Spiller as many others, but I do like his game. He's an Arian Foster-like back, as a one-cut runner who can get to top speed quickly while also offering good hands in the aerial attack. A consistent producer who averaged 5.5 yards per tote over three years at Texas A&M, Spiller will be a force in an outside-zone scheme at the pro level.
Pierce is a strong runner with good speed for a guy of his size (5-10, 218). I like Lance Zierlein's NFL comp for Pierce: Isaiah Crowell. This Florida product is a tackle-breaking back who can also help in the pass game. In the right system, Pierce will get an opportunity to play and excel on first and second down. In the wrong system, he'll be limited to short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Strong climbed up the draft boards with an impressive combine performance, showing his ability as an all-around back. He consistently produced during his four seasons at South Dakota State as a one-cut runner who wastes no time getting north and south. And the part of his game that really sticks out is his work as a pass protector -- it's the best I've seen from a college back in recent memory.
Williams has a big box of tools and can be used as a runner or reliable pass-catcher (either out of the backfield or when lined up in the slot/out wide). He lacks speed, but makes up for it with his high pass-pro IQ, an area where he ranks just behind Pierre Strong in this class. I see Williams' NFL role in the James White or Dion Lewis vein.
An all-around football player, Rivers did everything and more for the Fresno State Bulldogs. He has good hands, short-area quickness and could contribute initially as a first- and second-down back. I personally think he has the ability to play on all three downs, though some will say he's undersized (5-7 1/2, 195).
Badie changes pace quickly and has great stop-start quickness. He produced against top-tier competition and would likely see his best results in a zone running scheme like a raft of others in this class. He has the goods to be an asset in the pass game, as well. His size (5-8, 197 pounds) could be a sticking point for some evaluators.
Ford could probably rank higher on this list after doing a little big of everything for the Bearcats in 2021. With good vision, elusiveness and game speed, Ford racked up 1,319 yards and 19 touchdowns in the run game. He's also an asset as a checkdown option with soft hands and good speed through contact.
Ealy was a three-time second-team All-SEC all-purpose player, racking up 2,780 scrimmage yards in three seasons at Ole Miss. At 5-8, 189 pounds, he's not the biggest back, but he's quick, shifty and can be an X-factor in an NFL offense with the ball in his hands.
Coming off a 1,000-yard rushing campaign for the Tar Heels, Chandler is all gas, no breaks. He aims to score every time he gets the rock. Chandler can be an asset for an NFL team in the screen game and as a kick returner.
The 5-10, 221-pounder is a big, strong runner who carries defenders for yards after contact due to his leg drive and low pad level. Harris is going to make his living running through guys.
Having set a school record with 20 rushing touchdowns in 2021, the Michigan product has a nose for the end zone inside the 10-yard line and will be used as a goal-line weapon. Haskins is a workhorse who is not necessarily the most explosive back, but he will wear defenses down late in games.
Davis-Price is a strong, physical runner who is best in a downhill gap scheme where he doesn't have to run with patience and feel out the offensive line. With size (6-foot, 211 pounds) and a solid skill set, the LSU product will help move the chains as a role player.
Ebner won't likely be a huge rushing threat at the next level. However, his exceptional pass-catching and route-running ability should get him on the field in certain packages. He has great feel for defenders in open space and will be a mismatch out of the slot.
Brooks was very productive during the three seasons in which he played at Oklahoma (he opted out of 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns), thanks to his well-rounded skill set. He has good contact balance, patience and vision in the run game and adequate hands as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Brooks could be a sleeper in next week's draft.
Warren is a compact back (5-8, 204) who is very explosive, has good feet in the hole and consistently falls forward on contact. He's a good zone runner and shows promise in the screen game, but the Oklahoma State product needs to work on creating for himself when the hole isn't there.
White enters the draft process with a lot of tread left on the tires (only 125 touches in four years of college ball), but he'll likely be a developmental backup at the next level. He is shifty and explosive with the ball in his hands and tough to tackle in the open field. He lacks some consistency throughout the duration of a game -- an area that can be improved in the right role and in the right system.
With a mean stiff arm in the open field, Borghi has good acceleration and straight-line speed but lacks shiftiness and ability to create. He has a limited skill set, though he does have a nose for the end zone.
Allgeier enters the NFL after two productive campaigns for the Cougars. He is a strong, physical, one-cut runner with good vision. While he could be a solid backup as a rusher, he lacks pass-catching ability -- a must in today's NFL.
The 6-1, 210-pound FIU product runs fast (4.38 40) and high, but doesn't take many big hits. Price has the potential to develop into bell-cow, though he isn't much of a pass-catching option.
Conner has straight-line speed as a physical, north-south runner, and he has the explosiveness to break a 40-yard-run at any given time. He's a compact rusher and will break some (not all) tackles, but lacks the traits to be an asset in the pass game.
Need time to develop
Measuring 6-foot, 213 pounds, Brown is a big back who hits the hole with decisiveness and toughness. He's a guy who can get the tough gains in short-yardage situations but lacks the speed (4.64 40).
McCormick's low center of gravity, patience and physicality were on full display at UTSA, as he amassed absurd production in his final two years with the Roadrunners. The question is how will he fare at the next level after playing against lesser competition in Conference USA.
Knight is a strong runner with good acceleration and would fit well in a gap scheme. He has good footwork and uses his contact balance to break tackles.
Pacheco was part of the speedy showing for RBs at the combine last month, posting a 4.37 40. He's a tough runner and will fit well into a shotgun zone scheme, but he lacks high-end production.
Bell is quick, good in the open field and can make defenders miss in a phone booth. His health history, including a freak injury back in 2019 that nearly cost him the vision in his right eye, is a concern.
Verdell is a smaller running back (5-8, 194), but he is super quick, has good vision and is tough to tackle to space.
Ingram has decent vision and patience as a runner, and his size (6-foot, 221) makes him tough to tackle. He loves the cutback and doesn't always commit to developing holes.
The ASU product is a big, physical, downhill runner who had good production as a full-time starter in 2021. Though he is strong and can offer help in the pass game, White is often tackled on the first attempt.