Do the Los Angeles Rams need a running back? Do running backs even matter anymore? Pro Football Focus points out that the answer is no, in fact, only centers have less positional value than running backs. Yet over the past 10 years, 229 backs have been selected in the annual conscription, only surpassed by wide receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs.
In full disclosure, only 68 have been the first three rounds. 12 in Round 1, 27 in Round 2, and 29 in Round 3. Well over half of the 229 are out of the game or barely hanging on. Since 2013, the Rams have taken nine running backs, with only Cam Akers and Kyren Williams currently under L.A. contracts.
Speaking of Akers and Williams
Akers has shown he can be RB#1, if he can stay on the field. Even as part of a rotation since coming to the Rams, he missed three games as a rookie, all of 2021 and last season, was involved in a much-publicized beef with Head Coach Sean McVay. I would have given odds that Akers would be moved, but cooler heads prevailed, for now. It’s the last year of Akers rookie contract and a draft day trade or outright release would put $1.5 mil back into L.A.’s coffers. Williams was a 2022 Round 5 pick and struggled to gain traction after a preseason ankle/foot injury. The Rams liked his college production and the cut of his jib, but he’s on the small side and didn’t test well for athleticism at the NFL Combine. Undrafted Ronnie Rivers fills out the current unit, another high-effort player who is size and speed challenged..
In today’s Part 1 of profiling running back draft prospects, the categories are Top of the class, Versatility value, and Pure electricity. Tomorrow covers In between the tackles and All-Coast, almost. Included are the draft grades off of my board, if you are interested in other draft grades, ask in the forum and I’ll do my best to find the answer.
These are capsule profiles, meant to give a taste of each players traits. In the Fanpost section, Ferragamo15 has submitted many thorough running back profiles and the whole Turf Show Times crew regularly weighs in with draft information.
Top of the class
Bijan Robinson, Texas - 5’ 11” / 215 lbs.
His tools are obvious and make him the type of running back that goes on Day 1. Who knows?, with the NFL currently enamored over Cover2 defenses, bell cow backs might be in bigger demand. Round 1 grade
Bijan Robinson College Football Highlights 2020-2022 Chronological Order All Games Texas Longhorns— NFL Study (@NFLStudy) December 25, 2022
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Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama - 5’ 9” / 199lbs.
Not really in the bell cow vein. Gibbs is an outstanding prospect for a pass-centric, quick throw scheme. He doesn’t need to pound the ball 20 times per game, the value of his touches could be spread across the field. Good chance he’ll be around at #36, but I put his value late Round 2/early Round 3.
Zach Charbonnet, UCLA - 6’ / 214 lbs.
A naturally powerful runner, has a slightly high running style but does lower his frame when anticipating contact. Very good vision and patience, he’s a foot down and cut back, not a lot of wiggle or fancy footwork. That’s not to say that he cannot run in space, because he can. Very strong contact balance and has an aggressive style without looking overextended or out of control. In a class without a lot of three down backs, Charbonnet shows he can both catch and block, as well as run. Round 3 grade.
Kenny McIntosh, Georgia - 6’ / 204 lbs.
Smooth, versatile athlete that could be a slot receiver. Played a lot of special teams while waiting his turn at ‘Bama, both on coverage units and as a kick returner. He looks faster, with better burst on film than he tested at the NFL Combine. Built similar to a receiver as well, has lean body. One cut, downhill style runner. Not built for power, can break tackles, but needs to get moving. More of a contact balance physicality runner, who’s best at attacking edges and doesn’t have the lower body build to create short yardage torque. Late Round 3 or early Round 4, right around #100.
Eric Gray, Oklahoma - 5’ 9 1/2” / 207 lbs.
One year starter for the Sooners who spent his first two seasons at Tennessee. Wins at both running and receiving and has stood in as a punt and kickoff returner. Hard not to like his take no prisoners style, but he’s not a brutish runner, just high effort. He accelerates quickly and can make sharp cuts at speed off hard head-and shoulders fakes, messing up defensive angles and leaving arm tacklers in his wake. So, was 2022 his breakout stardom? Or an outlier in an uneven college career? I don’t see him as an NFL game breaker, not enough elite in any of his traits, but there is plenty to be said for hard-charging solid football players. A nice addition in Round 4.
Evan Hull, Northwestern - 5’ 10” / 209 lbs.
Natural low center of gravity with his blocky, thick-cut frame, would be enhanced if he consistently ran behind his pads. Good footwork, keeps feet moving with choppy steps while pressing the the line and has the patience and vision to recognize holes and the instincts to go where they should open. Burst isn’t stellar, although I thought his 2021 film showed better. Although not a game breaker in any facet, return experience tied with his third down back potential make him a good prospect in Round 6.
Devon Achane, Texas A & M - 5’ 8 1/2” / 188 lbs.
Explosive playmaker. The traits that make him a weapon spill out of the backfield, into the passing game, and on kickoff returns. Vision and ability to makes cuts at speed set up defenders, burst and long speed to buzz around them, and instincts for cutbacks and angles. Size limits his ability to be a plus blocker and creates questions about his standing up to every down wear-and-tear, likely limiting him to a rotational role, but his talent grade is Round 2 and an innovative coach could unleash him.
Keaton Mitchell, Coastal Carolina - 5’ 8” / 179 lbs.
Liquid fast and fun to watch. Now, how to project him to the NFL? If he can find a role returning kicks (only six in college) and as a change-of-pace back, Mitchell could garner enough touches to show his playmaking ability. A coach that can scheme the ball to him in a little space, could get paid dividends. Has a serpentine running style, but can cut sharply and has stellar acceleration. Does not generate enough power in short yardage or pass blocking, although that’s not why you draft a player of his ilk. Needs to improve hands in pass game, but did run routes down field. Round 5.
Duece Vaughn, Kansas State - 5’ 5” / 179 lbs.
773 touches in three college seasons. Any tread left on those tires? All-purpose consensus All-American in in 2021 and ‘22. First a word on his blocking, the thing you would think wouldn’t be big enough to do. He actually squares up and sticks his nose in there on pass pro and strikes very well on the move. Good footwork, burst, and contact balance. Strong between the tackles, he scurries, slithers, and ducks through the smallest of holes. Catches with hands away from body and transitions to run from reception in a blink. Fun to watch, but hard to put a high grade, because of his frame. Round 6.
Chris Smith, Louisiana - 5’ 9” / 200 bs.
Longshot who comes out of a program that has provided the NFL with running backs in the recent past. Smith chipped in 4400+ all-purpose yards. Fast with quick feet and deft cuts and moves, patient behind blocks and shows good vision. Lacks elite power as a running back, but has good contact balance and can break arm tackles. Played on special teams coverage units as well as kick returns. Versatility rates a Round 7 grade.
It all depends on your opinion of the Rams running back room. Personally, I like Cam Akers game and if he has kissed and made up with Sean McVay, great. Grab a couple of late players to compete for RB#2 and use those early picks elsewhere.
In that scenario, I would certainly get one of the guys with return potential, Keenan Mitchell or Chris Smith. If you like Mitchell, be prepared to pull the trigger earlier than where I have him graded. He’s been a bit of a draft darling and lost any sleeper value. Chris Smith is a sleeper and will likely go undrafted. He can tote and catch the rock, with brings four-unit special teams potential.
If the Rams decide to move on from Akers, then Charbonnet, McIntosh, and Gray would seamlessly fit into the Rams scheme. Charbonnet has three down traits, but to assure his addition, you would have to seriously consider taking him at #36. Gray and McIntosh could give L.A. the versatility they want out of their backs, at a very good use of draft capital. Somewhere around pick #100. A trade back/up would be necessary, but jumping up and down the draft roll is not new ground for General Manager Les Snead.
What would you do with the Rams running back room? And look for Part 2 on top running back prospects tomorrow.