In recent years, running backs have been more of an afterthought in the 1st round as teams opt for more core pieces rather than a running back due to the uncertainty around their future and if they will fit well into their system. A couple players have been the exception to this such as Najee Harris, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette who have shown some success. We don’t expect any teams taking the risk on a running back in the 1st round of this year’s class, but the ones lucky enough to grab one of these top 5 prospects in the 2nd or 3rd round of the draft will be very grateful they did.
#1: Kenneth Walker III – Michigan State
With the 2nd fastest 40 yard dash time in this year’s running back class, Kenneth Walker III clocked in at 4.38 seconds. Walker III is an explosive back who accumulated over 1,600 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in his junior season on his way to a well deserved Doak Walker award. Despite winning this award, Walker III was often overlooked for his smaller stature which led him to only being a 3-star recruit out of High School going to Wake Forest before transferring to the Big Ten to play at Michigan State where he built a name for himself as an elite talent. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and is arguably the most agile backs in this class. Walker II should hear his name called early on day 2 of the draft.
#2: Breece Hall – Iowa State
With a 40 yard dash time of 4.39 seconds, Hall was .01 seconds from Walker III and that’s about how close this race is between who will be the #1 running back drafted from this class. Hall and Walker III both are speed demon running backs who can put on a highlight reel. What Walker III lacks in size, Hall has but doesn’t put it to best use and how to play into it to his advantage. Hall is another explosive runner who can put up 1,000 yard seasons in the NFL, but he needs to use his size to become more of a workhorse which can ultimately make him the #1 back from this class, but right now he sits a hair behind Walker III and should be drafted in the early 2nd round as well.
#3: Isaiah Spiller – Texas A&M
The 3rd elite running back in this class is Isaiah Spiller out of Texas A&M. While Spiller isn’t as explosive as Walker III or Hall, he is a much more physical runner. Spiller won’t make as many big plays as the other two, but he is an every down back. Spiller will fight for extra yards and can break tackles better than most, he is a starting caliber running back. Spiller is someone we can see thriving in the red zone, but when you need someone to convert on that 3rd & long, we would rather turn to someone like Walker III or Hall who are more dynamic playmakers. Nonetheless, Spiller should end up as the 3rd running back from this class drafted also going in the 2nd round.
#4: Brian Robinson Jr. – Alabama
Alabama has a knack for producing high quality running backs from Derrick Henry to Mark Ingram to Josh Jacobs to most recently Najee Harris. There’s something in the water down in Tuscaloosa and Brian Robinson Jr. is on it. Robinson Jr. touts similarities to the former Rolling Tide alum in Derrick Henry, both are workhorse power backs. Outside of his pure physicality, Robinson Jr. needs to improve in the passing game and blocking capabilities. With doing that, Robinson Jr. can be a great prospect and potential starting back in the right system, but for now he has shown he has the potential to improve and learn from a team with a proven back. Robinson Jr. should be a mid-3rd round pick.
#5: Kyren Williams – Notre Dame
Another player on this list who is limited by their size, Kyren Williams standing at 5’9” is a well-balanced back, but lacks the physicality to get him in the upper echelon of running backs. Williams is less than 200 pounds and while he can take a beating, he doesn’t have what it takes to be a true power back. Williams is fast with a 4.65 40 yard dash, but not explosive like his counterparts. Williams caught for over several hundred yards in his 2021 campaign, but route running could use improvement. Williams has a lot of natural talent that other backs don’t have, but needs to add muscle to be more of a force in the big league. Williams still would fit well into a committee approach or used as a rb/wr combo similar to how the Atlanta Falcons used Cordarrelle Patterson this past season earning him a 2-year deal to stay with the Falcons.