With the 2023 NFL Draft on the horizon (April 27-29), NFL Network analyst and former All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew eyes the RB class. Here are MJD's top 30 prospects at the position, factoring in what he's seen on film, at the NFL Scouting Combine and during pro days.
Day 1 starters
Many view Texas' Bijan Robinson as the top running back in this class, but Gibbs is my choice. The Alabama product is a three-down back with a lot of upside. With his play often compared to New Orleans' Alvin Kamara, Gibbs is all about speed -- evidenced by his 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine -- but also possesses great start/stop quickness and is extremely elusive in the open field. As a receiver, Gibbs is a mismatch with soft hands and solid route-running ability. He's the type of player who can fit into any system and make any NFL offense better.
After amassing the sixth-most rushing yards (1,580) and tying for the fifth-most rushing TDs (18) in the FBS last season, Robinson was named the 2022 Doak Walker Award winner as college football's top running back. With all the tools to be a three-down threat, Robinson should be an uber-productive player from the jump with his strong and elusive running style and run-after-catch ability. He makes big-time plays look effortless as a shifty, do-it-all talent and will immediately impact whichever NFL team drafts him later this month.
My fellow Bruin lit up the field in 2022, averaging 7.0 yards per tote, fourth-most in the FBS. Charbonnet is strong with great contact balance, allowing him to consistently break tackles at the line of scrimmage and in the open field. The physical back has good vision and the ability to contribute in the pass game. Scoring 27 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons, his game tape says it all.
Vaughn may be undersized (5-foot-5, 179 pounds) but he's versatile, productive and durable. He possesses playmaking ability between the tackles and as a pass catcher, and is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field with the ball in his hands. He has all of the tools to thrive at the next level, but his size is the only thing keeping Vaughn from being in the top tier.
An All-American sprinter for Texas A&M's indoor and outdoor track and field teams, Achane's speed is something to be desired. He blazed to a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he's not just fast. Achane makes sharp cuts, displays shiftiness in the open field and has the ability to catch out of the backfield. My colleague Charles Davis recently classified Achane as a bigger version of Bears running back Tarik Cohen, and that's spot on.
Spears amassed an impressive 1,581 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in 2022 before winning the Cotton Bowl MVP Award with a 205-yard, four-TD performance in the comeback win over USC. He is explosive and powerful at the line of scrimmage yet elusive and quick when reaching the second level. Spears has potential to contribute in the pass game but must work on his consistency as a pass catcher to stay on the field for all three downs.
McIntosh led the national champion Bulldogs with 829 rush yards and tied for a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns in 2022, while also hauling in 43 passes for 504 yards and two scores. He is shifty with great hands in the pass game and shows burst at the line of scrimmage as a runner. He should provide an NFL team with a solid RB2 option with upside to develop into a full-time starter down the line.
Miller has explosiveness, speed and contact balance to make multiple defenders miss. His abilities were on full display during TCU's run to the national title game with 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns on 224 carries. Without much experience as a pass catcher, Miller poses as an early-down back for teams at the next level.
The dynamic playmaker amassed 2,900 scrimmage yards and 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons at East Carolina. Measuring 5-8, 179 pounds, Mitchell's 4.37 40 time illustrates partly why he led the FBS with 54 runs of 10-plus yards last season, per PFF. He gets to top speed quickly and is shifty with the ball in his hands. NFL teams that need extra juice out of the backfield might jump at the opportunity to select the big-play threat, especially considering he poses a challenging matchup for linebackers in the pass game.
Johnson split carries with Bijan Robinson in 2020 before being his backup the last two seasons, averaging 94.5 carries and 561.5 rush yards and scoring 10 rush TDs since 2021. Johnson has a good feel for a zone-blocking scheme and is physical with the ability to gain the tough yard and break tackles. He also brings special teams value.
Averaging 27.3 carries per game in 2022, the Illinois product is a solid all-around running back. He is an asset in the pass game with soft hands and can gain yards between the tackles by getting skinny through the hole. Though not exceptional at any one thing, Brown could be a reliable backup with the skill set to contribute on all three downs.
Despite lackluster results at the combine, he possesses the build (6-foot, 210 pounds) and big-play ability (SEE: 50-yard TD run vs. Ole Miss) to help an NFL team wear down defenses. Bigsby finishes with a low pad level, is slippery in a phone booth and tough to bring down in the open field. He'll need to develop as a pass catcher to earn a bigger role at the next level.
Racking up 1,366 yards and 11 touchdowns on 213 carries (6.4 yards per attempt) in his 2022 breakout campaign for the Sooners, Gray is shifty and quick with instant acceleration when he gets the rock. His elusiveness in the open field makes it extremely difficult for defenders to get a clean shot on him. Add that to his effective route-running ability and soft hands and Gray should be a solid three-down backup option early in his career with the chance to become a future starter.
Dye was a productive running back for a pair of Pac-12 programs, but the fractured ankle that prematurely ended his 2022 campaign at USC has prevented him from working out for NFL teams this spring. When healthy, Dye routinely keeps is pads square to optimize contact balance, making him a tough tackle, and though he doesn't possess elite speed, he is explosive and quick. Dye's ability to catch out of the backfield could give him a leg up on others.
Tucker is a solid rusher with good patience, but his biggest strength is his ability as a receiving threat. He adjusts well to the ball, has soft hands and is quick with long speed.
Demercado has great burst and short-area quickness. He has all the attributes of a three-down back, doing everything well but nothing exceptionally well. He does a great job protecting the football (one career fumble) and has plenty of tread on the tires after toting the rock just 338 times at TCU.
Evans enters the NFL after posting 6.9 yards per carry for his career at TCU. He's an explosive, home run hitter who pulls out of tackles with good contact balance and quick feet (SEE: 51-yard run vs. Texas A&M). As a powerful and physical runner with potential in the pass game, the 5-11, 202-pounder has the upside to become an RB1 at the next level. However, he has dealt with a number of injuries, which is a concern.
With 120-plus rushing yards in 10 of his 11 games in 2022, McBride displayed just how well he can finish runs, routinely falling forward on contact. He has good vision and gets skinny through the hole. He must clean up the fumbles and develop as a pass catcher, an area where he had very little experience at UAB.
Abanikanda burst onto the national scene in 2022, tying for the FBS lead with 20 rushing touchdowns and ranking seventh with 1,805 all-purpose yards in 11 starts for the Panthers. With a great feel for a zone-blocking scheme, the 5-10, 216-pounder shows good vision and acceleration at the line of scrimmage and makes explosive cuts to get to the next level. He has soft hands in the pass game but has room for improvement there based on his minimal contributions in his final season at Pittsburgh (12 catches, 146 yards and one rec. TD). Abanikanda also provides NFL teams with return abilities as he averaged 19 yards on 12 kick returns in 2022.
The NDSU fullback does a lot of things well. He is a downhill runner with great contact balance, a sound blocker and a capable pass catcher who also has special teams experience. Luepke will be a great piece if utilized in the right system.
Need time to develop
Coming from a pro-style offense, Valladay is a good zone runner who accelerates through contact and breaks tackles in the open field. With solid catching ability, Valladay is another guy who does a lot of things well but doesn't stand out in any area.
Thompson has a nice combination of size, speed and power, which helps him break a lot of arm tackles. He has good catch ability but doesn't consistently gain yardage after the catch.
The Louisville product has good acceleration and reads stretch plays and zone-blocking schemes well, but needs to be more patient to allow blocks to develop. Dealing with several injuries in college, Evans does a good job finishing at the goal line as a rusher yet doesn't provide much in the pass game.
The 5-10, 209-pound back is a strong, physical runner who excels in the pass game, as he posted 55 receptions for 546 yards in 2022. He can be a viable third-down option with improved pass protection.
Ibrahim is a downhill runner who drives his feet on contact. He wasn't utilized much as a receiver at Minnesota but has the tools to be an asset in the pass game. Ibrahim has a knack for the end zone but his injury history is a concern.
The long strider has a Latavius Murray-like running style. Averaging 6.2 yards per carry in his college career, Peoples possesses good vision and drives his legs on contact. He has little pass-catching experience, which could limit his role in an NFL offense.
Prince has good size and acceleration and can be powerful when running downhill. However, the 6-foot, 216-pound back must be more consistent.
The 6-foot, 217-pounder is a powerful, downhill runner and a physical blitz protector, which could help him carve out a role on third down at the next level.
Mims is patient and quick with a knack for the end zone, as he compiled 19 total touchdowns in his final season at Fresno State. He needs time to develop into a more well-rounded running back but could do well in a zone scheme.
A tough-to-tackle and physical ball-carrier, Thomas will likely be a short-yardage/goal-line specialist at the next level.