NFL Draft Running Back Rankings 2022: From The College Perspective

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Draft Running Back Rankings 2022: From The College Perspective

College Football Features

NFL Draft Running Back Rankings 2022: From The College Perspective


Who are the running backs who’ll matter in the 2022 NFL Draft, and what’s the college perspective on all of the top prospects?

2022 NFL Draft Running Back Rankings

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It’s unfortunate that running backs have become so devalued now in the modern NFL that prefers to throw it 50 times a game and get rushing production – if possible – out of the quarterbacks. Or, find any running back, hand it off, repeat.

The good ones can obviously become gamechangers, and a few can step up in key spots and make a difference, but no, you don’t win Super Bowls with running backs.

On the plus side, running back has turned into one of the best value picks in the draft.

There’s no need to invest a high first round pick in one when you can always find a mid-rounder who can step in and produce.

Jonathan Taylor (2nd round), Nick Chubb (2nd), Joe Mixon (2nd), Najee Harris (1st, 24th pick), Dalvin Cook (2nd), Antonio Gibson (3rd, as a wide receiver) were the leading rushers in 2021 and all were taken after the first 20 picks. Right after those six was Ezekiel Elliott – selected fourth overall in 2016 – but after him was Elijah Mitchell (6th), Derrick Henry (2nd), and. Damien Harris (3rd).

There isn’t a Zeke or a must-have top ten guy in this draft, but there are a whole slew of talented options who’ll play big roles right away …

For a nice draft price. You can’t use the word value enough with this class.

2022 Top Quarterback Prospects: From The College Perspective

Jashaun Corbin, Florida State

Size: 5-11, 202

The Good: There’s good power to his game and a whole lot of carries left in him. He started out at Texas A&M and transferred to Florida State, averaging close to six yards per carry and coming off a nice year. He’s an underutilized receiver with a little more wiggle than he’ll get credit for.

The Not-So-Good: There isn’t the burst you might like. He’s not a WOW runner who’ll do anything amazing, but he shouldn’t be thrown into the Just A Guy category. Yeah, he can do a little of everything, but he never ripped it up against a good team after cranking up a few dashes against Notre Dame.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: There’s nothing to what he does that’s going to scream MUST HAVE, but he’s got a great combination of skills, should be able to do more as a receiver, and there’s a chance he blows up if he gets more work.

NFL Draft Projection: Sixth Round

Rachaad White, Arizona State

Size: 6-0, 214

The Good: There’s a nice all-around combination of things with his game. He’s got the size, he brings the pop, there’s good speed in the open field, and he can catch – 43 grabs last season. Best of all, he might be just getting started after getting the ball just 275 times in his 15 games at Arizona State. When he was on, he took over games and dominated. However …

The Not-So-Good: There’s way too much to not like. There’s not enough of a burst when the hole isn’t there to blast through, he doesn’t always play up to his strength, and he might need a little time after being underutilized until late in the year. He’ll have to prove he can hold up after getting 20 or more carries just four times.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: It’ll be fascinating to see where he goes. The guess is that he won’t even be on the board for some teams – it’s easy to find the flaws and holes in what he does – but someone will see a guy with a whole lot of upside with a chance to hit a late round home run.

NFL Draft Projection: Fifth Round

Pierre Strong, South Dakota State

Size: 5-11, 207

The Good: FAST. He cranked it up at the combine with a 4.37, exploded through the other drills, and showed that all the big runs at South Dakota State were for a reason. There might not be a ton of wiggle or power, but give him the ball, let him make one cut, and boom.

The Not-So-Good: He’s built a bit more like a sprinter than a durable back, and he’s not going barrel over too many tacklers. The receiving production should be fine, but he’s not the smoothest of receivers – he’ll have to work being a consistent third down back.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Anyone who moves as fast as he does can find a spot in the league. He has to stay healthy – he toughed it out at times last year through injuries – and he needs to be in an offense that utilizes his wheels, but he’s too dangerous to pass up.

NFL Draft Projection: Fifth Round

Abram Smith, Baylor

Size: 6-0, 213

The Good: Part linebacker, part running back over his first three seasons, he turned into a whale of a back in his senior season with over 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s what you’d expect out of a linebacker/running back – the power is thundering. He brings the toughness to the attack, he can block, but …

The Not-So-Good: Yeah, he runs like a linebacker. There’s no wiggle to what he does, he’s more seek-and-destroy than find the daylight, and he’s a project as a receiver. Throw in a history of knee issues and the need for a whole lot of technique work, and …

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Welcome to one of the biggest boom-or-bust picks in the draft. There’s a shot that he’s just starting to scratch the surface. Once he gets more carries and his game is broken down a bit to be built back up, look out. Or, he finds a role right out of the gate as a short-yardage back who turns into a hammer to close out games.

NFL Draft Projection: Fourth Round

Ty Chandler, North Carolina

Size: 5-11, 204

The Good: A flash, he went from being a good part of the Tennessee puzzle to a big-time playmaker for North Carolina with close to 1,100 yards with 13 touchdowns last season. He’s a good receiver who wasn’t used enough – he could explode as a third down back at the next level. Few backs in this draft do a better job of working around the blocks.

The Not-So-Good: He’s not going to do much to power over defenders. He’s certainly not soft, but can he get that one hard yard needed? That’s not his game. He’s not built like a durable workhorse back and has to be a part of a rotation.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Likely to be way undervalued because of his body type – he’s missing the bulk – and his lack of punch, he’s good enough to be used in a variety of ways. On the high side, he might be a faster Javonte Williams.

NFL Draft Projection: Fifth Round

James Cook, Georgia

Size: 5-11, 199

The Good: He plays fast, he cuts fast, and he comes up with a whole lot of big plays in the open field averaging 6.5 yards per carry and making 67 career catches. He might not power over anyone, but for an offense that needs a one-cut and go guy – or a possible third down playmaker – he’s as strong as any of the backs in the draft. But …

The Not-So-Good: There’s no power. That worked fine at Georgia where Zamir White handled the thunder part of the running game, but Cook is a true quick back who might need a certain type of attack to maximize his style. He’s not going to be a goal line runner or a back who’ll get the hard yard at the next level.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: It all depends on what you want him for. He doesn’t have his brother Dalvin’s physical ability, but he’s got the wheels with an upside to carve out a nice niche for himself in a rotation.

NFL Draft Projection: Fourth Round

Jerome Ford, Cincinnati

Size: 5-10, 210

The Good: With a good combination of size, speed, and burst, he’s got the potential to be an all-around back who can fit just about any role. Best of all, he’s got a ton of work left in him with only one big year of work and only 350 total touches.

Good around the goal line, great in the open field, and with a burst to take off and hit the home run, there’s a ton of upside. However …

The Not-So-Good: The lack of touches and carries isn’t necessarily a total positive. It’s almost as if he needs even more work and more at-bats to start maximizing all he can do at a high level. He can catch, but he only has 30 grabs in his 31 games of work.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: The former Alabama back has the tools and the upside to be a strong option after the first wave of backs. It would be nice if he was more of a sure thing as a receiver, but he’ll be a good value option who’ll get plenty of chances.

NFL Draft Projection: Fifth Round

Brian Robinson, Alabama

Size: 6-2, 225

The Good: Great size, great heart, great ability to work in a rotation and bring at least ten good carries a game. There might to be a lot of finesse or juking, but he’ll always come up with the hard yards and can become a workhorse if needed. He was a bit feast or famine last year, but he still took over the with a strong season that balanced the national championship-level attack.

The Not-So-Good: There’s not a whole lot of quickness or dazzle to what he does. He’s not going to be a receiver, and he’s not going to do a lot of popping outside – he’ll take a ton of monster hits with the way he runs.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: There’s a chance he gets lost in the shuffle of running backs, but he’s going to be there after the third round and someone will pounce. He’ll be the occasional lead back, but he’ll be at his best in a rotation with a lot of speed. Value-wise, he’s going to be the rare later round pick who can start.

NFL Draft Projection: Fifth Round

Tyler Badie, Missouri

Size: 5-8, 197

The Good: Ultra-productive, start with this – the guy produced at a high level in the SEC. There were times when he was shut down to a dead stop, but you don’t run over over 1,600 yards with 14 rushing touchdowns from that league if you can’t play.

He’s tough as nails, plays with an attitude, has great hands for the passing game, and he’s never going to hurt you with a fumble.

The Not-So-Good: There’s just enough missing to be concerned. He’s tough, but he won’t play with any power at the next level. He’s fast, but he’s not a blazer. He’s quick, but he’s not quite as decisive as you might want. While he’s a willing blocker, that’s not going to be a thing.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Opinions are probably going to be all over the place on him, but don’t try too hard looking at what’s not there. He’s a tough guy’s football players who’s happy to handle the workload, can catch, and he’ll be a surprising three down back.

NFL Draft Projection: Fifth Round

Dameon Pierce, Florida

Size: 5-10, 218

The Good: There’s a whole lot to like. He looked the part, plays the part, and has the attitude and personality to be a No. 1 back who wasn’t used like one at Florida. A part of the Gator attack for four years, he only got the ball in his hands 329 times a runner and wasn’t used nearly enough as a receiver – he can catch.

He’s a powerful runner who never gets cheated on a carry – you’re never going to get a negative yard out of the guy.

The Not-So-Good: He doesn’t play with a whole lot of speed or suddenness. There’s power and pop, but he’s not going to make NFL defenders miss and isn’t going to be all that shifty as a receiver.

On the plus side, he didn’t get a whole lot of work and should bring fresh legs. On the down side, he didn’t get a whole lot of work with only two games last year with double-digit carries – he isn’t a proven full-load runner.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: An interesting back who might need the right fit, he’ll drop because of his lack of receiving production – that could be a mistake by teams that can’t see his potential. He’s got a whole lot of carries in him and could turn into a surprising workhouse who quickly grows into someone’s No. 1 back after a great camp.

NFL Draft Projection: Fourth Round

Zamir White, Georgia

Size: 6-0, 214

The Good: Oh, you want power, do you? He’s a blaster of a physical back who destroys would-be tacklers and is always moving forward. You need a hard yard? No problem. You need a goal line run? 22 touchdowns in the last two seasons. You have speed backs? Here’s your pop and power.

The Not-So-Good: There are two glaring concerns. He’s not a receiver – he caught just 17 passes in his career – and he’s had major knee injuries. He was able to get past the injury issues to be a mega-producer in the Dawg rotation, but he’s not going to be your every down back.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Zeuuuuuuuuuuus. Arguably the best power back in this draft, White’s the tone-setting runner who could – at worst – specialize as a short-yardage back who’s automatic when needing a yard. Throw in the good times speed along with the toughness, and there’s a whole lot to like.

NFL Draft Projection: Third Round

Kyren Williams, Notre Dame

Size: 5-9, 194

The Good: He’s not going to get cheated on his carries. He might not have the size or the bulk, but he’ll fight for every play, will get jacked up to do whatever Is needed, and he’ll sell out to come up with a block.

Fantastic as a receiver, he made 79 grabs in the last two seasons to go along with two straight 1,000 yard rushing years.

The Not-So-Good: The want-to is there, but he doesn’t have the raw speed – the 4.65 in the 40 is alarming in this class of backs – and he might not be a true No. 1 back. The combination of the missing size and ball security concerns are just enough to knock him down a few pegs.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: There’s just enough missing to keep him from being a top 100 pick, but there’s just enough there to think he could be a monster value get in the mid-rounds. At the very least, he’ll be a strong, dependable, three-down part of any rotation.

NFL Draft Projection: Fourth Round

Kenneth Walker, Michigan State

Size: 5-9, 211

The Good: A natural scorer with the want-to for the hard yards, he’s great around the goal line with 32 touchdowns over the last two years with the sub-4.4 burst to hit the home run.

He was terrific in the fast-paced style of attack at Wake Forest, and last year he took his game up a few notches with his Heisman-caliber season at Michigan State, taking over against Michigan and showing off his ability to produce inside and out.
Unlike some of the other top backs in this draft, he doesn’t need the perfect block. He’s got the all-around quickness to get out of jams, and he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty and deliver the blow.

He’s got everything as a ball-carrier, but …

The Not-So-Good: Can he grow into a receiver?

The short answer is yeah, he should be able to, but he didn’t do much as a target with just 19 catches in his three seasons. To be fair, that’s more about how he was used than any major deficiency, but he’s going to have to prove he can handle the job after second downs.

He’ll do anything needed, but he might not be quite as ready out of the box as an all-around back as other options.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: As soon as he proves he can be a dangerous receiver – he’s got the speed and shiftiness to grow into a killer on third downs – he might be the No. 1 back in this draft.

His running style works with everyone, he’s got the home run hitting ability, and best of all, he’s got a lot of life still in him with fewer than 500 touches in his three seasons. As a rusher, he’s an instant starter and lead back.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M

Size: 6-0, 217

The Good: Always productive, Spiller ran for close to 3,000 yards and caught 74 passes in his three seasons.

He’s not a huge banger, but he’s got good enough size to bring a little bit of power to go along with a great first cut that always gets him positive yards. There might not be a big home run hitting element to his game at the next level, but that’s a bit overrated.

As long as he can be secure with the ball and do a bit more as a receiver, he’s a fit as a possible No. 1 back who might be far stronger at the next level.

The Not-So-Good: He still has to prove himself a bit more as a receiver and, again, he has to make sure that ball security isn’t an issue.

His production fell off the map late in the season – he didn’t get enough carries and was often lost in the A&M gameplan shuffle – failing to get to three yards per carry in two of his last three games. The O line was part of the problem, but he didn’t take over.

For his size, he should’ve been more of a scorer and automatic around the goal line, but he only had six touchdowns last year.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: He’s a great fit to be a part of whatever an NFL offense needs – and with plenty of tread still on the tires. He’s a good enough blocker to be counted on, he should develop more as a receiver, and he’s got the tools to be one of those guys who goes after the first 50 picks and then becomes a key piece of an attack.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

Breece Hall, Iowa State

Size: 5-11, 217

The Good: A workhorse who can do a little of everything, he got better and better as his career went on.

Targeted by every defense – and the Big 12 Ds were solid over the last few seasons – he still managed to become a stronger receiver to go along with close to 3,000 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns over the last two years.

Size isn’t an issue – he’s got a compact frame to bring the pop – and he’s got the deep speed with sub 4.4 wheels, but he’s at his best when he needs to get the key yards. Great around the goal line and almost automatic on third and short, he gets the job done.

The Not-So-Good: How much do you care that Iowa State pounded him into the ground? He touched the ball 800 times in his three years and might not have the shelf life you might want.

Even worse, there’s not enough wiggle. He’s a contact runner who can fly when he gets into the open, but he’s going to get popped and he’ll have to hold up through the long haul of the season. Durability isn’t an issue, but he’ll always get his yards the hard way.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: He’s not going to be Najee Harris, but he’s a back who can instantly solve your running back issues. The all-around ability is there, he’ll carry it 30 times if needed, and he’ll be a must-have fantasy back for the next three years. Again, there might be a short shelf life, but he’ll be fantastic when he’s rolling.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round


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