When discussing the Los Angeles Rams offensive shortcomings, the run game and offensive line play are at the top of the list. In the up coming draft, if the Rams decide to bolster the front wall, a few players standout as possibilities. Running back is another question, passing is the name of the game nowadays. Or is it?
With NFL defenses trending towards Cover2 and Cover3 shell coverages, there’s a small upward trend of teams using running backs to take advantage of the lighter boxes and attacking more with the ground game. In 2022, over half of teams ran the football as a higher percentage of their offensive plays than the previous season and 16 players ran for over 1000 yards. The largest amount in the past 10 years.
Running backs are still being drafted, but in the later rounds. In the past 10 years, only 5.24% have been taken in Round 1 compared to 13.00% in the previous decade. Over the first three rounds, its down to 29.69% ( 2013 to ’22) from 34.08% (2003 to ‘12).
Here in Part 2 of 2023 NFL Draft running back profiles, the focus is on larger “bell cow” style candidates and some others that have some really good traits, but seem to be missing that certain something that keeps them out of the top tier of prospects.
For more context, review Part 1: Top of the class, Versatility value, and Pure electricity
In between the tackles
Tank Bigsby, Auburn - 6’ / 210 lbs.
Could a three-year SEC starter be considered a sleeper? Yes, particularly If you take into account that Bigsby played for five different head coaches and four offensive coordinators over three seasons. Will turn 22 in training camp. Solid runner who has improved his receiving and blocking over his college days. You have be physical to run in the SEC and Bigsby fits that bill. Even though his legs don’t look large, he generates plus power. On film, he looks much faster than he tested, the 10 yard split was solid, but I think that with his long strides, he won’t be caught from behind. A personal favorite in Round 3.
Kendre Miller, TCU - 5’ 11” / 215 lbs.
Smooth, upright runner with stellar contact balance. He does have a forward lean to his style and doesn’t get cut in half. He often bounces or slides off tacklers. I read other profiles that say he doesn’t have great speed or burst. On film, he appears to have both. Of course, some can be explained, by the below NFL standards, angles and speed of his opponents. This is not some small conference player, he vied against some top competition. Willing and strikes well as blocker, but needs locking up polish.Seems to have good hands and catches away from his body, just didn’t get of attempts. Round 3 grade.
Great blitz pickup by TCU RB Kendre Miller who delivers a nice blow to the blitzing LB. pic.twitter.com/YsgInnOi7l— Alex King (@AKing_Evals) November 13, 2022
Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh - 5’ 10” / 216 lbs.
One cut and go runner with stellar burst and long speed. Creative runner who is not a sharp cutter, but navigates through traffic well with jump cuts, spins, and acceleration. Good vision and patience. Good, not great blocker. Not a lot of receiving production, mostly screens and check downs into the flats. Round 4 grade.
Chris Rodriguez, Kentucky - 6’ / 217 lbs.
Old school power runner that wins between the tackles. Good pass blocker who could earn a short yardage/goal line role and/or backfield pass protection role. He’s an effort runner that stays low behind his pads, has good contact balance, and powers through first contact for more yards. Not much production as a receiver, his value is as a hammer in a downhill attack. To start 2022 season, had a suspension for allegedly turning in false time cards at his summer job. Round 6.
Lew Nichols, Central Michigan - 5’ 10” / 220 bs.
Little-known back with the physicality and athleticism to play at the pro level. Had tremendous 2021 season but struggled with minor injuries (missed three games) last year. Patiently presses the line and accelerates through holes. Good ball security and receiving hands, transitions quickly from catch to run. Did not run a variety of routes, mostly flares and check downs. Solid, all-round zone back, just not a game breaker. May go undrafted, I put a Round 6 grade on him.
Roschon Johnson, Texas - 6’ / 219 lbs.
Four year backup, who converted from quarterback as a freshman. Runs with competitive grit and has decent burst. Wins when he gets north/south, just doesn’t have the juice to break runs outside in the NFL. Strikes me as a player that will play special teams, block and every offensive touch like he’s on fire. Not sure if there’s a ton of value to his game unless you can nab him in the later rounds. Round 7 grade.
Chase Brown, Illinois - 5’ 9 1/2” / 209 lbs.
Compact frame with a natural low center gravity, Brown blends some the best athleticism at the NFL Combine with a red-hot motor. Very talented runner, who struggled mightily in pass blocking drills during Senior Bowl workouts. In his last college season, he finally began to show potential as a receiver. Early in his career, he put in some kickoff return work. Gets great burst from choppy steps and makes hard cuts at speed. Frequently uses jump cuts, head-and-shoulder jukes, and spins to navigate traffic. Not a power runner, but plows right through arm tackles. Late Round 3.
Zach Evans, Ole Miss - 5’ 11” / 202 lbs.
Five-star high school recruit. Never was able to break through as “the guy”. although he averaged 7.0 yards per rush as a collegian. Has all the tools, willing runner inside, but more dangerous on the edges and outside. Appears to lack great vision, wins when he has a set gap to aim at. I give his tools a Round 2 grade, but immaturity and vision bump him back to Round 4. Proverbial high risk/high reward prospect.
Tyjae Spears, Tulane - 5’ 10” / 201 lbs.
Slasher with plus instincts. He’s quicker than fast with sharp cutting skills. It is very hard to project Spears as an every down back, but has the traits to be a solid part of a rotation or the third down back. His open field running skills scream for him to catch passes in space and even though he is not a stellar receiver yet, some of it may be that Tulane just didn’t scheme it that way. His an aggressive blocker and trusted his protection stuff during Senior Bowl workouts. Because I am struggling projecting him into the faster, better tackling NFL and don’t see him as RB#1, grade him in Round 5.
Sean Tucker, Syracuse - 5’ 9” / 207 lbs.
Compact build with good-sized lower body. Appears to have the burst and long speed to beat defenders to the edge. Stays behind his pads and with good balance, but might need to be more physical runner in the pro’s. Tucker flashes a real upside, but needs work on consistent effort of applying vision, patience, and discipline. Ran a lot of wheel routes streaks down the sideline and created separation, just not many hookups. Not much of a pass blocker. Was a medical “exclusion” for both the NFL Combine and Syracuse Pro Day, but was able to post a personal workout. High risk/high reward prospect in early rounds. Round 4 grade.
I wasn't able to participate at the NFL combine because of a medical exclusion, something I expect to have cleared shortly. I hope this video will show you my hard work and dedication to be in the best shape of my life and how I am ready to perform at a high level in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/ZKoNeWF23y— Sean Tucker (@seantucker2020) March 18, 2023
Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota - 5’ 8” / 203 lbs.
Powerful big-legged runner with a low center of gravity and stellar contact balance. Great story about his return to football after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in the first game of 2021 and he still averaged 113.0 rushing yards per game over 41 college tilts. Not much of a receiver, but a willing and solid pass bocker. One cut and boom, he’s barreling north/south. Lacks speed and burst. Round 5 grade.
Dwayne McBride, UAB - 5’ 10” / 209 lb.
Hasn’t been called upon to catch passes or block in the backfield, so he’s a ground up project in those two categories. Used exclusively in a zone scheme, runs with good power, contact balance, and vision. Questions if his burst and long speed are up to NFL snuff and has had ball security issues in the recent past. His one-dimensional value puts him in my Round 5, but draft experts seem to like him and he’s likely go earlier.
To me, this is a smorgasbord stocked full of delights. A pair of top tier “go to” backs and any of the others would be great developmental/RB#2 candidates. The best news is that some are bound to fall down where the Rams can nab one and I mean to Round 5 or 6, without trading up or down. As I recall from their film, all of them, except Tyjae Spears, were from predominantly zone running schemes.
If pressed, my favorites are Tank Bigsby and Kendre Miller. Both are RB#1 candidates and I feel certain they will go in the top 100 picks. The coaching churn over Bigsby’s college days is just crazy, he had to be discombobulated. Miller has that smooth, easy gait and style that belies his physical play and can explode into the second level.
Two runners I’m not as high on as many others are Roschon Johnson and Spears. As late rounders, sure, but they have gotten a lot of draft run and are ripe to be overdrafted. Both strike me as package players. But I’m not selling these guys short, the Rams have a lot of vacant roster spots and roles to be fleshed out. Probably need six for camp and preseason.