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2022 NFL Draft: 4 college star running backs who may fall into LA Rams’ day three range

They starred in college, now they’re just looking for a chance to keep their careers alive

Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl - UAB v Brigham Young Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

While this is not true for every position, and not true for every prospect at this position, I tend to like seeing a lot of rushing yard production from running backs in the draft. There does tend to at least be some correlation between the backs who go early and the “best backs in college football”.

Najee Harris rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns prior to being a first round pick in 2021. The nation’s leading rusher that year, Breece Hall, could be the first running back selected in 2022.

The 2019 college season saw four running backs top the 2,000-yard mark, including J.K. Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor. Sixth and seventh in rushing yards that season were A.J. Dillon and Travis Etienne. The nation’s leader in 2018 was Taylor, followed by Memphis running back and current LA Rams’ complement, Darrell Henderson, who had 1,909 rushing yards with 22 touchdowns.

There will always be college backs who simply landed into an ideal system at the right time, against the right opponents, on the right days, but there might not be anything wrong with simply choosing a running back who proved himself on Saturdays.

If he lumps that in with a great combine, all the more reason to expect him to be one of the first backs drafted in April.

Then when the Rams are drafting on Day 3, perhaps Les Snead will reach into the backfield for another prospect once again. Would he favor, like he did with Henderson in the third round of the 2019 draft, a back who had a lot of production in college? Cam Akers has proven that he needs to come with a competent handcuff option, if anything, and there could be a few backs of note that we see on Day 3.

Running Backs Go On “Strike” at Combine

One interesting twist this year is something that I’ve been hinting at for the last few years as a possibility of happening, which is that running backs would eventually grow tired of the fact that they’re treated as so “disposable” by the media and teams. They have the shortest careers, the most injuries (because by the rules of the game, they take the most hits), get paid the least, get drafted the latest, and yet at the same time are touted as some of the most famous names in the NFL.

You might watch the Colts because of Taylor, or the Vikings because of Dalvin Cook, or the Browns because of Nick Chubb, or the Titans because of Derrick Henry. And yet if a running back gives a team three and a half seasons of starting production, then blows out his knee, his entire career salary could come down to the third round rookie contract he signed four years earlier. Potentially no pension or post-career help either.

I’ve written and said in the past several times that eventually running backs would have to band together and go on some type of positional “strike” until they secured better protections and incentives for their careers. In the meantime, I believe we’ve seen a mass exodus of talent change positions from being high school running backs to becoming receivers, cornerbacks, safeties, and linebackers; why else do you think the “prototypical first round receiver” has morphed from Calvin Johnson to DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle?

In 2018, Quavaris Crouch switched from running back to linebacker despite being the top-ranked high school player in the nation at his old position. Steele Chambers was a four-star running back recruit who chose to play for Ohio State in 2019, but has since transitioned to linebacker and may have greater odds of making the next level on defense. Moves like this may also open the door for the cream to rise to the top and for standouts to stand out like they have in recent years with prospects like Taylor and Hall.

On Saturday, the entire running back group declined to participate in the three-cone and 20-yard short shuttle drills for NFL scouts at the combine. Change may or may not happen for these running backs, but they’re finally starting to see that their greatest odds of success will come from banding together and putting “competition” aside for a while.

Could this work in the Rams’ favor, a team without any picks until the compensatory section of the third round? I wrote about the free agent route to potentially replace Sony Michel this year. What about the Day 3 route?

Tyler Allgeier, BYU

5’10, 224 lbs

2021: 276 carries, 1,601 yards, 23 TD, 28 rec/199 yards

Allgeier entered the season as a name to watch after rushing for 1,130 yards and 13 touchdowns on only 150 carries in 2020. He hadn’t done much in his first two campaigns but has rushed for over 2,700 yards and north of 6.0 YPC in the last two seasons combined.

That included 218 yards and three touchdowns against Utah State, and 266 yards and five touchdowns in a game against Virginia. Allgeier was consistently productive for the Cougars, but has not elevated his stock with the 2022 combine: 4.60 and 4.64.

Only Kyren Williams of Notre Dame and Leddie Brown of West Virginia had slower times.

But this isn’t the end of the line for Allgeier. As noted below by Tosh Mackintosh on Twitter, players like Le’Veon Bell, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kareem Hunt, and James Conner all had slow 40-yard dash times at their respective combines. It’s certainly not good news for Allgeier but he’s far from finished.

His overall combine performance could lower Alleier’s stock to day three and make one of college football’s most productive backs available to L.A. well late in the draft.

Sincere McCormick, UTSA

5’8, 205 lbs

2021: 299 carries, 1,479 yards, 15 TD, 22 rec/184 yards

McCormick has never not been a good college running back. He rushed for 983 yards with 5.6 yards per carry as a freshman, then 1,467 yards and 5.9 YPC as a sophomore. Coming off of his junior season, McCormick finished his UTSA career with 3,929 yards, 5.4 YPC, and 34 touchdowns in only three seasons.

This still did not put him anywhere near the upper echelon of 2022 draft running backs, but McCormick decided to test his luck this year and the combine hasn’t helped his case: 4.61 and 4.60 in the 40-yard dash.

His vertical and broad jump were about as bad as Allgeier’s too.

But he made a nifty one-handed catch and some people still see McCormick as a legit prospect who would make a great complement in a backfield to another back, like Aaron Jones or Devin Singletary in their current roles.

McCormick has been projected to go somewhere in rounds six or seven and that could make him a cheap “Jake Funk-like” option in value for Snead. But maybe with a much higher ceiling and no injury history.

Abram Smith, Baylor

6’, 213 lbs

2021: 257 carries, 1,601 yards, 12 TD, 13 rec/75 yards

Whichever team drafts or signs Abram Smith this year, the fans will be told of an extraordinary tale about his path to the NFL: he didn’t start playing running back until 2021.

At least, not very much.

Abram Smith was more of an athlete when he started his Baylor career in 2017. Though he was recruited as a back, he only had 12 carries through his first three years at the school, then they converted him to linebacker (see?) in 2020. Smith had 48 tackles and five tackles for a loss that season, but then Baylor needed a running back and moved Smith back to offense.

He exploded for 6.2 yards per carry, but hasn’t done anything to show off any skills as a receiver, limiting him to maybe just one defined role as a running back prospect. That lack of experience—and almost no showing at the combine because he’s declined most drills—will likely make Abram Smith a seventh round or undrafted free agent back in April.

Smith was invited to the Senior Bowl and had a good week, but didn’t do anything to raise his stock at the combine—at least not that we’ve seen from outside of closed doors.

He’s been described as a “zone scheme” back.

With some seeing him as potential having the “Elijah Mitchell breakout” in his future.

Here’s a pre-combine interview with Smith with some interesting facts about his journey.

Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma

5’11, 209 lbs

2021: 198 carries, 1253 yards, 13 TDs, 9 rec/73 yards

Another back who doesn’t offer much as a dual-threat, Brooks rushed for over 1,000 yards in all three of his starting campaigns with the Sooners. He averaged 8.9 yards per carry as a freshman in 2018, and 7.0 yards per carry over his career at Oklahoma.

But Brooks has been ranked even lower than McCormick and his 4.59 40-yard dash may neither hurt him or help him; the 4.59 is faster than many expected, but slower than Brooks’ own estimation that he’d run a “4.4”.

There’s a huge difference between those two numbers and while a 4.4 might have put him in the round three conversation, a 4.6 seems like he’s going to fit in as a sixth or seventh rounder—with a really impressive college resume at a Power 5 school.

Of course, Brooks has some mega-fans out there. What you have to keep in mind with all of these running backs is that thanks to the internet, there are “mega fans” for literally every NFL draft prospect. Whether they have some connection to that school or not, any player with a sniff of getting drafted will have someone out there telling you, “THIS GUY IS GONNA BE A STEAL.”

They might not be wrong either, but we have know way of predicting when they’ll be right.

The only thing with Kennedy Brooks that we seem to know for sure is that he’ll be available and that could slide him all the way down to Snead’s ‘take a chance’ area in the sixth or seventh rounds, if not being a UDFA signing.

Some more:

Kyren Williams, Notre Dame

Ty Chandler, UNC

Zonovan Knight, NC State

Tyler Goodson, Iowa

Max Borghi, Washington State (Read Ferragamo’s scouting report)

Mataeo Durant, Duke

Leddie Brown, West Virginia

Which back could you most get on board with for the Rams’ last pick of the draft?