Zach Charbonnet draft profile

This is an good RB draft for teams or fans that prefer bigger, more physical runners. We've already covered guys like Chris Rodriguez Jr, Roschon Johnson, Tavion Thomas and Camerun Peoples. Now we've arrived at Zach Charbonnet from UCLA, who on all the draft boards is the consensus best "big RB" in the 2023 draft class. I like Charbonnet better than many of the 4th round RBs that have been drafted over about the last 5 to 10 years, but I don't like him as much as many of the RBs who have gone in the 3rd round. So, I come out with Charbonnet as a late 3rd to early 4th round type RB prospect.

My NFL comp for Charbonnet is James Conner of the Arizona Cardinals. Conner was one of the last picks in the 3rd round in 2017, taken in the compensatory section, 105th overall. ESPN currently has Charbonnet ranked 107th, almost exactly where Conner was drafted. If they were in the same draft, I would take Conner ahead of Charbonnet. While Charbonnet might be slightly faster, Conner is the bigger player and for their running styles, that extra weight has value. The 2017 draft was abnormally strong at the RB position (e.g. Christian McCaffrey), so in a normal draft it is possible that Conner would have gone higher than the bottom of the 3rd round.

The most productive season Conner has had as a pro was his 2nd NFL season when he had nearly 1,000 rushing yards and just under 500 receiving yards. The Steelers had the number one ranked offensive line in the NFL that year, per PFF. Conner has battled a long list of nagging injuries throughout his career, but he's still a good player. Arizona was 6th in run block win rate in 2022 and Conner, despite dealing with injuries, posted the 2nd best statistical season of his career, trailing only that 2018 season with the Steelers. In between those 2 years, Conner wasn't as efficient and a key reason for that was his OL both with the Steelers and for Arizona weren't as strong in run blocking, ranking in the bottom half of the league.

Charbonnet was the beneficiary of some outstanding OL run blocking by UCLA in 2022 and I think he'll need good blocking at the NFL level to be effective. He's a dangerous player when he builds up to full speed, because his size makes him difficult to tackle. When the blocking isn't there he isn't nearly as dynamic, because at low speed he's relatively easy to bring down. For an NFL team that wants to add more size and toughness to their RB room, Zach Charbonnet is a good candidate. On the other hand, I don't feel that he has a particularly high ceiling, so I would caution against overvaluing him in the draft. He has the potential to be a starter, but I don't see him as a Pro Bowl level guy.

One of the most concerning things about Charbonnet isn't his talent, it is a knee injury that has bothered him since high school. So, the medical evaluation could be more important in determining where he gets drafted than his game tape. If he's gets a clean grade, he could be a Day 2 pick, if teams have concerns, I could see him sliding all the way into the late rounds.


Name: Zach Charbonnet. 22 years old. Nicknamed "the Terminator".

School: UCLA, transferred from Michigan in 2021. Studied political science.

Size: Listed 6'1'' tall, 220 pounds. Sports Illustrated has him at 6' 1/4'' tall, 220 pounds, with a 4.61 sec 40 time. NFLDB has him with a 4.41 sec 40 time.

James Conner at the Combine was 6'1 1/4'' tall, 233 pounds with a 4.65 sec 40 time.

Charbonnet is from Camarillo, CA. His mom is part Cambodian, Chinese and French. He played in HS for Oaks Christian (Westlake Village), where he was teammates with Kayvon Thibodeaux. His final year in HS, he missed multiple games with a right knee injury. Was a 4 star recruit. He enrolled early at Michigan in January of 2019, but had knee surgery and missed spring practice.

In 2019 as a true freshman for Michigan, he flashed potential, but was inconsistent. He piled up some yards early in the season against weaker opponents, but as the season went on his knee seemed to be bothering him and there were many games where he only had single digit rushing attempts.

The following year, his playing time was limited in a crowded backfield that included Hassan Haskins, Chris Evans and Blake Corum. With yet another top RB recruit set to join the team, Charbonnet transferred to UCLA, probably a very wise choice. Another factor in his decision to transfer was to be closer to home. He has a younger sister with special needs, who has a rare genetic condition.

In 2022, he missed 2 games due to undisclosed injuries. One of the games, it was speculated to have been both a left leg and a left arm injury. Opted out of the team's bowl game.

2019: 149-726-11 (4.9 ave), 1 fumble, 8-30 receiving

2020: 19-124-1 (6.5 ave), 6-41 rec

2021 (12 games): 203-1,137-13 (5.6 ave), 24-197 rec

2022 (10 starts): 195-1,359-14 (7.0 ave), 2 fumbles, 37-321 rec

Only 3 career fumbles on 641 touches, a very good rate of one per 214 touches. Didn't have a single receiving TD in college.

Chip Kelly, the HC for UCLA, said he has "off the charts work ethic." Charbonnet is very polite in interviews, team oriented, professional in answering questions.

ESPN 4th RB, 107th overall (4th rd)

CBSSports 10th RB, 136th overall (late 4th rd)

PFF 2nd RB, 54th overall (2nd rd, he's ranked higher than Gibbs)

PFN 7th RB, 83rd overall (3rd rd)

NFLDB 4th RB, 70th overall (3rd rd)

Sports Illustrated, 3rd RB, 2nd round

Shane Hallam 6th RB, 60th overall (late 2nd to 3rd rd)

Brian Bosarge 6th RB, 89th overall (3rd rd)

Drafttek 6th RB, 82nd overall (3rd rd)

PFN: Impressive contact balance, shrugs off arm tackles, leg drive. Easy acceleration, enough lateral quickness to bounce outside. Hits holes with unparalleled violence. A runaway freight train. Patient behind LOS, good vision. Punishing stiff arm. Solid hands with drop rate below 10%. Wide base in pass protection. Had knee, calf and biceps injuries. A bit stiff in change of direction, lacks fluidity. Clunky switching the ball between arms. Wasted motion when pressing the hole and bouncing. Lacks 2nd gear in open field. A checkdown receiver. Lacks wiggle. PFN said they would "bang the table" for Charbonnet, but only projected him to be a Day 3 pick back in November.

NFLDB: Reliable short yardage RB. Strong interior runner. Classic north/south runner. Tracks the ball over his shoulder, can adjust to poorly thrown pass. Very physical and patient. Indecisive, dances too much at the LOS. Loses momentum changing directions, then has to accelerate back up to speed. Lacks quickness. Doesn't make tacklers miss. Drops passes, hands not great. Offers little in pass protection, poor technique. Projected as 3rd to 4th rd pick.

TDN: Very good size and strength. Downhill runner. Excellent vision and patience. North/south runner. Outstanding contact balance. Knack for making defenders miss. Decisive cuts while not losing any acceleration. Hands are more than serviceable, a 3 down RB. Lacks breakaway speed. Tends to dance at LOS when blocks not perfect. Runs with high pad level. A zone scheme RB, Elijah Mitchell comp, 2nd round grade.


Muscular upper body with definition, clearly put in the time in the weight room.

An intelligent player on the field. Sees field well and processes the action around him quickly. Physical and confident style in overall play.

Once he gets up to full speed, a load to try to bring down in the open field. Too big for DBs, intimidating size and run strength.

Sugar Ray Leonard. Charbonnet absorbs hits, but stays balanced and on his feet. Defenders bounce off of him. Doesn't just shrug off hits from the front, even when he gets hit from the side he still maintains good balance and can continue to run. Uses his off hand to stiff arm or dips his shoulder to knock away defenders and shrug off contact and protect his legs from diving tackles. DT hits him square from front, but RB stays up, legs churn, the DT slides off an RB keeps on running. Able to spin or twist his body, causing smaller defenders to fall off tackle attempts.

Size and run strength provides value in short yardage and GL situations. Fights for tough yards. Team is up by 7 points late in the 4th quarter, facing a critical 4th & 2. The RB is hit by a safety one yard behind the LOS, grabbed by the legs, then 2 additional defenders hit him at the LOS, but the RB stays up, gives 2nd and 3rd effort to stagger forward and gets the ball right near the line to gain.

Good vision, creatively sets up safeties, can dupe them into filling inside gap or anticipating cutback, then he bounces run outside. Eyes up, patiently will pick his way forward, looking for a gap. One of his go to moves in open field is inside/out fake. Head and shoulder fakes effective in open field to juke safeties. Vision doesn't expire once he passes the LOS, he is able to locate 2nd and 3rd level defenders in front of him and create a plan in his head for how to attack them.

Gap run with pulling linemen. The RB fakes like he's going to cut back, sucking the LBs into the middle, but then bounces it back outside to follow the path of his pulling OL, where the run was originally designed to go.

Jumps sideways to probe for holes while behind LOS and to get away from at least some tackle attempts. The DT beats the guard on an inside run, but the RB feels it and jumps laterally, turning it into a solid gain.

Sufficient initial burst to get through holes at the line. Athletic enough to hurdle a defender. Not heavy feet relative to size, light enough to float and glide sideways when looking for a running lane.

A big target with good effective catch radius. Can catch pass over his head. Caught passes with hands extended out in front of him. Good flexibility and body control to adjust to passes thrown behind him in the flat, able to turn around and catch the ball. Nice acrobatic catch in flat, turning and jumping to catch high throw. Caught low pass that was just below his knees. Good quick reaction on pass thrown behind him. Used stutter step fake to win leverage on angle route. Maintains disguise on screen passes. Releases out of the backfield with urgency. Flashed ability to read the coverage and sit down vs zone. Scanned for potential blitzers prior to releasing out to the flat.

Often maintains points of contact when carrying ball, has hand over point, bicep on ball and tucks it towards chest. Needs to be more consistent with ball security and run with lower pad level, but he appears to have good grip strength and the right build to secure the ball as a pro. Seems to prefer the ball in his right hand, though he shows the ability to secure it with either hand. With ball in his right hand, when he gets to the hole at the LOS and there is a LB coming from the side, he does a good job shifting his body to move the ball away from the LB, shielding it with his body.

On a couple of the plays where it looks like the RB is dancing behind the LOS, what I interpret going on is the RB is playing "hide and seek" with the LB, trying to trick the LB into going one way, then jumping into a different hole. This doesn't concern me as much as if the RB had poor vision and was confused how to read the blocks or didn't see the LBs. I see it more as a decision making problem and a style issue that a RB coach potentially could fix. Charbonnet is a bigger RB and he gets too cute some plays, he tries to fake out LBs and safeties when what I want him to do is use his size and just run through them. Attack downhill with a head of steam. There are times where Charbonnet plays like he's the prey and the defenders are the predators. I want him to play more like a true Terminator, that every single safety and LB he sees on the field is just his next victim.

Grounded, mature personality. Strikes me as a smart guy who cares about other people, not a self-centered or lazy player. Asset not just on the field as a player, but also would represent the franchise well off the field.

High floor. Unless he get hurt, hard to see him not at least making a roster as a backup player.


Very upright with his pad level, which exposes the ball to hits and attempts to punch or rip it out. Also exposes his upper body to hits. Made cut to get by a DE at the LOS, and the 2nd defender coming at him is just a LB, but the RB's pad level is so high he cannot drive through the tackle, the LB hugs him tightly and he's done, the LB pulls him to the ground for a short gain, the RB unable to fall forward for an extra yard. Similar thing happens at the 2nd level too, not just the LOS. If his head and shoulder fake doesn't fool the defender, they stuff him by hitting him under his pads and he can't move forward, just stoned, forward progress gets halted.

High cut build with higher than optimal center of gravity. Has longer legs and I think it is better for an NFL RB to have more of a compact build.

No 2nd gear, not able to burst in open field when it is necessary to beat the pursuit. Average initial burst. Doesn't have the explosiveness of other RBs in this draft class.

Tight hips, not able to cut fluidly or at sharp angles. Too mechanical when making cuts. As he slows down, his legs become inviting targets for defenders to grab or trip him. Not often, but on rare instances he lost his balance and tripped and fell on his own, one time it was when he had to turn around to make a catch and when he tried to turn back around to run downfield he tripped himself up. Seems like he lacks elite body control when required to make high degree of difficulty change of direction movements.

Limited jump cut range. Not going to erase many TFLs in the backfield if there is early penetration. Not elusive in 1 vs 1 situations in flat, can be tripped up or tackled. Doesn't have sudden feet, so when faced up with a defender it is difficult for him to escape.

Slows down, losing momentum when he cuts. Lacks wiggle, too much of a straight line runner in open field.

More dangerous at the 2nd and 3rd level than behind the LOS. Since he loses speed upon changing direction and runs with a high pad level, what happens is he doesn't carry enough forward momentum and run power when he is at low speed, making him considerably easier to tackle, even by a smaller defender. Defenders can drag him down, wrap him up or stand him up.

The inability to generate more forward momentum behind the LOS causes him to not be a true short yardage hammer. Not as effective as his listed size on some plays. Ball is at 1 yard line and the OL pushes the DL backwards into the end zone. The CB crashes down from the edge, this should have been a TD, but the CB grabs the RBs legs and the RB is stopped short of the GL. That should not happen to a big back.

If he has to change his hip angle to slalom around trash in his way or diving tackles, he loses speed. Todd Gurley was an outstanding hurdler in high school. One thing that made Gurley a unique RB was he had great hip flexibility, he could change his running track by swiveling his hips and not lose any speed, an amazing trait for such a big RB. Charbonnet cannot do this, he's too tight. Might seem like nitpicking, but this actually made all the difference on one of his runs. He tried to slalom through trash, but slowed down, leading to him getting tackled at the half yard line instead of scoring a TD. As they say, football can be a game of inches.

Too predictable in his running style. He frequently uses the exact same moves to try to juke defenders, so if you study his tape it shouldn't be difficult for NFL pros to figure out how not to fall for his tricks.

The offensive system was a great fit for his style. Played for a Chip Kelly team. Space was artificially manufactured for the RB going up against lighter box counts, with an RPO based offense. Dual threat QB (DTR) influenced defense. Very good offensive line pushed defenders backwards or out of the way and climbed up to 2nd level to take out pursuit, inflating his stats and making him look better as a RB. With multiple WRs spreading out the defense, able at times to run against only 5 defenders in the box.

Better on gap runs than zone runs. Lacks instincts on wide zone runs. On a wide run, he's going to his left and he should make one cut to go behind the LG or behind the center. Instead, the RB jukes to the inside, then cuts back to the outside of the LG, an odd and inefficient decision. Wide zone, there is a nice lane, but he turns it down and continues to press outside before finally cutting inside. A RB can't run wide zone like that, you have to put your foot in the ground and hit the hole with trust and conviction. Could have some scheme and gameplan limitations.

Doesn't always make clean catches. Double catches passes. Ball slipped slightly in his hands on catch. Team faced a critical 3rd down play late in the 4th quarter, RB runs angle route and the pass is right on his hands, but he drops the ball. Not much of a route runner. In the games I watched, he didn't catch a single pass or even run a route more than 5 yards past the LOS.

Sometimes allows the ball to drop away from his chest so that the point is directed forward and that space creates opportunities for defenders to punch or grab at the ball. Doesn't cover the ball with 2 hands in traffic. One play, he's heading for a potential TD, but only one hand on the ball and a defender nearly rips it out of his hand just short of the GL. Going towards 3rd level, he didn't sense defender behind him, who slapped down and knocked ball out of his hand, causing fumble.

I didn't feel I could evaluate him at all as a pass blocker. In their RPO scheme, he almost never had to block. I'm just going to say that he likely is inexperienced, doesn't have demonstrated command of protection assignments and technique. His has good size for blocking, but it is possible his lack of quickness (no sudden feet to change directions) could cause him to be inconsistent as a blocker.

His vision at the 2nd level narrows to the specific defender he's trying to beat. If he cuts away from that guy and a different defender hits him from the side, Charbonnet sometimes will have no clue that guy is there and gets completely blindsided by the hit, sometimes taking huge shots. I see this as creating potential injury risk and also fumble opportunities.

One thing that concerns me is there are several plays in his games where he plays scared at the moment of truth, when the potential for a big collision is coming from a smaller defender. It is a passive approach to running that doesn't match some of his other plays where he fights through contact and breaks multiple tackles. Excellent trap block by the OL, there is a gaping hole and only a safety is there to try to fill, but instead of bursting forward, the RB tries to break down and jump cut laterally to beat the S, getting tripped up. There are a couple similar plays like that where the RB tries to slow down and jump to the side, like he's afraid of getting hit in the knees. This makes him play like a smaller RB at times, not like a 220 pound runner. Wide zone run, the safety is coming up in support and an undersized LB is trying to make an arm tackle from the side. The RB has built up speed as he runs wide, but instead of cutting downhill and blasting through the defenders, he tries to jump stop, ducking his head, trying to cut back when he sees the safety. It is like there is some type of "ghost" in Charbonnet's head that haunts him and I don't understand why. Does he need to talk to a "football counselor"? It is frustrating to watch him leave yards out on the field.

Has less special teams value than a player like Roschon Johnson, because he's has limited speed and agility. This becomes more of a factor if he's not the number 1 RB on the depth chart. Not a good candidate to use as a kick or punt returner.

Limited developmental upside. Might never be a bona fide starter, could end up having a long career in the NFL, but only as a backup.

Durability questions. Was wearing some type of wrap on his right knee in at least one of his 2022 games. Details of his prior injuries require additional investigation and medical evaluation.

Draft Grade and Pro Comp

3rd round grade. James Conner (Compensatory 3rd round 2017, Steelers, Pitt Panthers)

It feels like Zach Charbonnet has been in college forever, because it was so long ago he emerged as a freshman at Michigan. He's finally in the draft. I think he's a solid prospect who could handle a starter's workload of carries on an NFL team, especially if you paired him with a faster or 3rd down type RB, to create a thunder and lightning duo.

On the other hand, Charbonnet isn't a prospect who excites me. Unlike PFN, I wouldn't "bang the table" for him. If Brian Robinson Jr. and Dameon Pierce were in the same draft as Charbonnet, I would take those other 2 guys ahead of him. BRJ was a late 3rd round pick last year and Pierce went at the top of the 4th round. If you had a good OL, I think a team could use him as part of a RB rotation that just pounded the rock over and over until the opposing defense get too tired and waive the white flag. But, if your OL isn't as good, I don't see Charbonnet as the type of player who is going to elevate the offense to a higher level. He's not a very elusive runner and he has limited value as a receiver.

Cam Akers was a better prospect than Charbonnet. Even though I wasn't a huge Akers fan when he was picked in the 2nd round, Akers has more speed and explosiveness, and he could fight for tough yards, finishing runs going forward to create yards after contact. Akers could create home runs, while Charbonnet doesn't have the same big play long speed.

The Rams don't hold a draft pick at the top of the 4th round. They lost that pick in the Sony Michel trade. I have a hard time coming up with draft scenarios where I'd target Charbonnet, because the area where I feel he should get drafted falls in this large hole where the Rams don't hold any picks.

That is an issue I'm having when doing some of the draft sims, it feels like you aren't getting great value by taking a certain player early in the 3rd, but if you pass at that slot, a bunch of guys who looked interesting are all gone by the time the next Rams pick comes up. How to navigate this problem could be a challenging decision for Snead. If the right prospect is there in the 3rd, it isn't an issue, but if the board doesn't fall our way, how Snead handles it could be critical to whether the 2023 draft goes well or goes poorly for the Rams.