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Statistical rankings below are courtesy of PFF and Football Outsiders. Team run block ranking* based on 70 draft-eligible FBS RBs in my database (sub-divisions not included). All other rankings are based on 80 draft-eligible players with PFF grades. RAS size-adjusted athletic composites are provided by Kent Lee Platte. RAS scores should be read as percentiles - i.e., "5.0" is 50th-percentile.
*This is a metric of mine that combines various tools – including FOA’s average line yards, opportunity rate, power rate, and stuff rate, and PFF’s run-blocking grades – to give an all-encompassing depiction of 2021 blocking quality received. This can help show which prospects were in advantageous and disadvantageous collegiate situations (in this case only, the lower the ranking, the better).
1. Breece Hall | Iowa State | 5112/218
2021 PFF grade: 15
Elusive rating: 31
PFF receiving grade: 6
PFF pass blocking: 51
Team run block rank: 58
2021 gap runs: 75
2021 zone runs: 175
Hall ended the RB1 debate for me at the NFL Combine. He’d always been an underrated athlete, going back to high school, but I didn’t realize just how much I’d personally undersold him. Hall’s 40-yard dash, broad jump, and vertical jumps all finished in the 91st-percentile or above.
A two-time first-team Associated Press All-American, two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, and two-time top-10 finisher in the Heisman voting, Hall dominated in Ames despite being a marked man in non-ideal circumstances. He played behind a poor offensive line, beside a quarterback who couldn’t stretch the defense vertically.
Hall was a heaven-sent gift for that offensive line. He’s patient behind the LOS, allowing his blocks to set up, never forcing the issue. Emphatic one-cut authority into holes. Plays cat-and-mouse games with linebackers behind the LOS, coaxing overcommits or indecision that erases them from plays.
Pedal-to-metal accelerator when the opportunity presents itself. Hall gets through holes and into the second level faster than any 210-plus pound runner in the class and decelerates just as suddenly. So many collegiate defenders were on his doorstep but got a fistful of nothin' because of Hall’s stop-start machinations and short-area footwork.
A tackle-breaking power runner with outstanding balance, Hall runs through arm tackles and absorbs contact without losing his equilibrium. He had rampage plays in college where he decided he wasn’t going down and broke tackles at every level en route to the end zone. A headache at the collision point for anyone. Hall chooses violence, accelerating into contact with bad intentions. Rarely takes the worst of it.
Not only a ludicrously productive bell-cow runner, Hall is also one of the best receiving backs in the class. He caught an incredible 82-of-93 collegiate targets (88.2%). After dropping three balls as a true freshman, Hall cleaned up this area of the game and dropped only two over 66 targets the ensuing two seasons. He’s not as versatile in this area as he is as a runner, though.
Hall doesn't scare the defense lined up out wide, and he doesn’t threaten downfield. Hall caught only three balls 10-19 beyond the LOS in college, and none 20-plus yards downfield. Some of that was usage, but he didn’t appear as comfortable adjusting for balls upfield in his limited looks. On short targets, he aggressively makes plays for the ball, uses his body to shield defenders, and spears balls clean. The deeper downfield you go, the less aggressive and smooth he is, with balls descending on him quickly, and his hands used to corral and control instead of cleanly pick.
That’s more of a nitpick – don’t put him into those situations and it goes away. Hall’s pass-blocking is the only legitimate quasi-weakness in his profile. He’s engaged and willing but can become tentative with his assignment when defensive fronts get exotic and blitzes come from unexpected directions. He also has a bad habit of getting over his skis and lunging forward at pursuers.
Hall is a reliable bellcow who’ll add value to an NFL passing game if used correctly. He piles up enormous all-purpose yardage in college while taking care of the ball, with only one fumble every 200 touches. Projecting as an immediate three-down difference-maker in the NFL, Hall has a shot to breach late-Round 1. If not, his name will be called very early on Friday night.
Comp: Matt Forte
2. Kenneth Walker III | Michigan State | 5092/209
2021 PFF grade: 7
Elusive rating: 3
PFF receiving grade: 53
PFF pass blocking: 56
Team run block rank: 38
2021 gap runs: 84
2021 zone runs: 177
Walker began his career in Wake Forest’s slow-mesh RPO system, the most uniquely wonky offense in the FBS today. Stuck in a timeshare in a scheme that wasn’t showcasing him doing NFL work, Walker decided to transfer in the offseason.
He’s one of the great success stories in the transfer portal’s short history. Running behind a lead blocker in a more traditional offense last year, Walker won the Walter Camp Player of the Year and Doak Walker Award (top RB) after running for 1,636 rushing yards on 6.2 YPC. Michigan State improved from 2-5 to 11-2.
As with Breece Hall, Walker dispelled any concerns about his athletic profile at the NFL Combine. Walker’s 4.38 forty drew a lot of chatter in Indianapolis. Along with a 95th-percentile 10-yard split and a 75th-percentile broad jump, Walker almost assuredly guaranteed himself the honor of being one of the first-two RBs off the board later this month.
Walker has a slalom-skier running style. He changes directions violently and suddenly, buckling the ankles of defenders. Twitchy mover, elite lateral agility. Explosion out of cuts helps free him from danger. Cutback king who thrives in chaos. Walker’s style keeps defenders guessing, and can disconnect them from their teammates and glitch their mainframes. He is constantly moving the goalposts, turning group pursuit into an every-man-for-himself exercise.
What separates Walker from other jukestick agility backs from recent years is the speed/acceleration combination in a muscle-bound frame. Walker has very good field vision and makes sound decisions behind the line. He detonates through holes and accesses his top gear quickly. Physical when he needs to be, especially at the end of runs, dropping his shoulders and barreling through contact.
Walker is a rancid pass blocker, and Michigan State knew it, holding him to 66 reps. Walker got tagged with five pressures and four hurries responsible-for, anyway. He makes business decisions and doesn't put himself in harm's way. As a receiver, Walker is a last-resort dump-off guy who doesn’t run routes. Over his three-year career, Walker was targeted beyond the LOS a mere eight times, and he converted only four into catches.
As a pure runner, Kenneth Walker stands alone in this class, a proven workhorse with high-end NFL athleticism and a deep grab-bag of tricks for defenders. But he loses out to Breece Hall for RB1 because I’m doubtful Walker will provide anything to an NFL passing game. It speaks to Walker’s specialness as a runner that he’s entering a passing league without passing-game utility as a top-50 overall prospect at a devalued position.
Comp: DeAngelo Williams
3. Isaiah Spiller | Texas A&M | 6003/217
2021 PFF grade: 22
Elusive rating: 7
PFF receiving grade: 8
PFF pass blocking: 59
Team run block rank: 30
2021 gap runs: 49
2021 zone runs: 129
Three-year workhorse at Texas A&M that averaged a tick over 1,000 rushing yards per season. The Aggies’ backfield was loaded throughout his time but nobody challenged Spiller's spot at the top of the pecking order. In contrast to Hall and Walker, Spiller’s stock took a hit during pre-draft testing. He ducked the 40-yard dash and probably should have ducked the rest. Spiller posted sub-10th percentile vertical and broad jumps.
Athleticism isn’t his game. All-purpose, every-down reliability is. You sacrifice home run plays for situation-controlled efficiency. Spiller is a fluid tempo-runner with a Terminator-like wide-angle field of vision. Works in concert with his line, following their push. Bursty accelerator through creases.
Spiller doesn’t have Walker’s ankle-breaking agility, but he makes guys miss with his quick cuts. Will string together footwork combos that disarm pursuers. One of his best attributes is the ability to make these cuts without losing speed, forcing a lot of off-angle tackle attempts. Spiller, who runs with good pad level and a wide, fortified base, brushes those off like mosquitoes.
The jury is out on Spiller’s passing game utility. But he could ultimately turn out to be a plus in this area. His pass-blocking needs a lot of work, but he’s shown enough promise in that area to be worth the developmental effort. Spiller takes the work seriously and tries to be of service, but he prioritizes initial force of impact more than technique and keeping a sturdy base, and he can get caught zeroing in on one area of the line while missing a newly-emerging threat elsewhere.
As a receiver, Spiller made a ton of progress on campus. After dropping six balls his first two seasons, he caught 25 passes with zero drops in 2021. As is the case with him as a runner, he’s not a big-play threat after the catch, but Spiller's vision, footwork, and power lead to reliable YAC yards.
Spiller may not be one of the first-three backs off the board due to his disappointing testing. And he may ultimately have to settle for Round 3 instead of Round 2. But he’s going to be an immediate starter for his NFL team. If his untapped passing-down upside is realized, Pro Bowls are in his future.
Comp: Deuce McCallister
4. Dameon Pierce | Florida | 5095/224
2021 PFF grade: 1 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 4
PFF receiving grade: 3
PFF pass blocking: 12
Team run block rank: 48 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 42
2021 zone runs: 57
A top-200 overall recruit in the class of 2018, Pierce chose Florida over Auburn. Pierce saw the field off the bench as part of a rotation his first two years. He took over the starting job during the COVID-shortened 2020 season and held onto it over a 13-game sample in 2021. Pierce benefited from Florida’s recent fealty to backfield committees as an underclassman. He probably didn't appreciate it as much once he’d entered the starting lineup as a junior.
Pierce was the nation’s most-underutilized back last season. On a team that desperately needed offense, Pierce provided, posting 5.7 YPC and 11.4 YPR with 16 total TD. He caught all 19 targets with no drops. But due to Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson gobbling up designed-carry attempts, and HC Dan Mullen’s stubborn insistence on a three-man committee, Pierce only received 119 touches over 13 games. In other news, Dan Mullen is now unemployed.
Not only was Pierce in a market-share, but he was playing behind a porous offensive line on a team that couldn't throw. Opponents gleefully loaded the box with no fear of being beaten over the top. Per Sports Info Solutions, 39 of Pierce’s 100 carries came with seven-plus defenders in the box. Pierce somehow scored 12 TD and gained 169 yards – 98 of them after contact – on 4.3 YPC over those 39 carries. Pierce was hit at or behind the LOS 19 times but was stopped on only eight. Over his 100-carry 2021 workload, Pierce forced 39 missed tackles while averaging 3.65 YPC after contact (No. 21 in this class).
Pierce led all FBS RBs in both overall PFF grade and PFF running grade while ranking No. 4 in this RB class in elusive rating, No. 3 in PFF receiving grade, and No. 12 in PFF pass-blocking grade. Built to last, low-to-the-ground and rocked-up. Pierce runs with a wide base and keeps his pads low. He advances in the short area with quick, choppy steps. Warrior ethos on the field, a broken-tackle machine that fist-fights for extra yardage. Will not stop until the play is blown dead. And I mean that literally.
Pierce has filthy jump cuts on film that leave would-be tacklers hugging air. When he can’t evade, Pierce has a surprise for defenders on the doorstep, a nasty stiff-arm that dropped several proud SEC defenders. Pierce sets up blocks behind the line of scrimmage and will wait them out. Decisive when a crease opens.
Sudden forward explosion from stand-still. Quickness with which he bursts through holes sneaks up on defenders. Pierce had a solid 7.04 RAS composite, mostly because he didn’t embarrass himself on any test. The one truly standout showing he had was a proof-of-life 86th-percentile 10-yard split.
Pierce is a very good pass blocker due to his physicality and fealty to playing with a wide power base. He looks for work and stays busy, but doesn’t chase shiny objects or overextend into contact. He caught an absurd 45-of-51 targets in college with only three drops. Not just a checkdown guy, Pierce can take linebackers for rides downfield and reels in balls outside his frame. Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson made sure he got plenty of practice.
How's this for versatile? Last year, per PFF’s grading, Pierce and James Cook were the only FBS RBs with receiving and pass-pro grades over 80.0 and 60.0, respectively. Both of those guys also finished in the top-10 in this class in aDOT. Neither dropped a pass nor fumbled a ball all year.
The thing Pierce lacks is long speed. He’s not a snail, nor is he a Benny Snell, but Pierce’s 4.59 forty was 40th-percentile. He’s not a threat to outrun defensive backs. And for a guy with the body and game of a three-down NFL runner, Pierce has never done anything close to handling a heavy workload, carrying the ball 10 or more times in only nine games over four seasons. Thanks, Dan Mullen!
On the other side of it, Pierce is entering the pros fresh as a daisy (329 carries across four seasons). Not many players are better in the NFL than they were in college, but Pierce should be. He's going to be a valuable committee back on Day 1 and should be leading his own before too long.
Comp: David Montgomery
5. James Cook | Georgia | 5114/204
2021 PFF grade: 21 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 33
PFF receiving grade: 4
PFF pass blocking: 30
Team run block rank: 6 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 43
2021 zone runs: 60
Unlike older brother Dalvin, James Cook doesn’t immediately profile as a carry-the-load back. We never got to see that, with Cook filling an important niche role in Georgia’s loaded backfield. Fortunately, Cook got plenty of opportunities to show off his special-sauce receiving ability in big situations.
A short-stick-takes-him coverage assignment nightmare for collegiate linebackers. Cook’s lightning-fast feet fill the shoes of opponents with cement, and he taunts them with the stringing-together of untold deceptions on the move, the subtle deeks, the head fakes, the shoulder shimmies, the whole bit. Does any of this remind you of FSU Dalvin? Both were genetically blessed with incredible feet and spinning-top centers of gravity. Both were jukeboxes in the open field, and each could return to top-speed a few steps after a nasty, direction-changing cut.
Unless you have a freak athlete with coverage chops in the linebacking corps, it’s best to let a safety handle Cook out of the backfield. While safeties could get closer to dealing with Cook’s kinetic movement downfield, Cook didn’t encounter many, even in the SEC, that could stay close enough to even have a chance to contest at the catch point.
The reliability of Cook’s hands stretches to ball security – he fumbled a mere one time in college. Cook is such a skilled receiver that Georgia rarely asked him to stay home and block. But for whatever it’s worth, Cook posted a strong 97.7% efficiency rate on 47 career collegiate pass-pro reps.
As a rookie Cook will be put into the same role he excelled at with Georgia, a team’s designated passing-down receiver. We know that area of his game will play. There also may be a little untapped potential as a runner.
Comp: Felix Jones
6. Zamir White | Georgia | 5117/217
2021 PFF grade: 10
Elusive rating: 34
PFF receiving grade: 24
PFF pass blocking: 78
Team run block rank: 7
2021 gap runs: 82
2021 zone runs: 77
Entered the pre-draft process in the mid-Day 3 range but left the NFL Combine very much in the Day 2 discussion. Zamir White’s athleticism was vaunted as a top-20 overall recruit. But after he tore his right ACL in the 2017 high school playoffs, and then tore his left ACL less than a year later in summer practices at Georgia.
White didn’t start his career as the same sort of back he’d been advertised as. He was Georgia’s designated early-down grinder and brought to the work consistent physicality, block-following discipline, and a penchant for making the right decisions. We saw more flashes of his upfield explosion over the last half of his career when his knees were healthiest.
White keeps a wide base and advances with quick-chop steps. Sudden cuts, with smooth feet and a springy lower half. This is his evasion card. White otherwise is a straight-line swinging hammer who can’t change directions without toggling down the gears. Runs ticked-off and drops the hammer on contact. He has some of the best contact balance in the class, keeping his feet while eating direct shots.
The biggest concerns with White are durability – NFL medical staffs will need to be comfortable with each of his knees – and a lack of passing-down utility. White has very little experience in this area after Georgia justifiably gave James Cook passing-down work. White has never looked comfortable in either pass-pro or as a receiver. But due to his one-cut authoritative style and tackle-breaking power, NFL teams with zone-blocking offenses figured to be interested somewhere between picks 50-75.
Comp: Cam Akers
7. Rachaad White | Arizona State | 6006/215
2021 PFF grade: 3
Elusive rating: 27
PFF receiving grade: 1
PFF pass blocking: 44
Team run block rank: 2
2021 gap runs: 70
2021 zone runs: 111
White wasn’t just overlooked as a recruit, colleges flat missed him. He redshirted for a year at Division II Nebraska-Kearney and then skipped down to JUCO for a showcase opportunity. A two-year stop culminated in a JUCO first-team All-American nod, ultimately leading him to Arizona State.
He got there during the COVID offseason with decreased practices, and ASU’s 2020 season was cleaved by more than half. But White flashed in four games, leading the FBS with 10.0 YPC. Last season we saw the entire package, with nearly 1,500 all-purpose yards despite playing through a leg injury and opting out of the bowl game.
White’s receiving chops pop off tape. He's the best receiving back in this class. White is comfortable lining up wide or in the slot. Defenses don’t regard him as a running back playing receiver out there, they regard him as the legitimate weapon that he is. White’s electric feet naturally create separation, and his ball skills stretch to all three levels.
Natural hands catcher. Hold on through contact. Bails out poor throws, picking them off the carpet, going up for overthrows, and adjusting to placement mistakes by snaring outside his frame. He moves too well in the open field to trust most linebackers with the coverage assignment. An elite athlete in a well-built package. The problem in the open field due to his sports car acceleration and long speed, and ability to make multiple defenders miss. In space, he sees the field really well and veers through traffic with a plan.
He’s not as natural as a runner as he is as a receiver. The athleticism and leg-drive plays, and opens up the possibility of explosive plays. But White can rush things and serve himself up to the post-snap stalemate instead of waiting out blocks. While White is well-built, he doesn’t absorb contact as well as my other top prospects. Leave the short-yardage work to someone else. The lack of play strength also shows in pass-pro, where White tries but misses keys and gets knocked backward.
Because White got a late start in college football and stuck around five years for his full-season opportunity, he's 23, a year or two older than some others. But he's still improving and has the projectability and diverse skillset to assume more of that is coming. If used correctly, in the niches he excels in, White will bring big-play-waiting-to-happen fireworks to an NFL offense without taking much off the table.
Comp: David Johnson
8. Pierre Strong Jr. | South Dakota State | 5113/207
2021 PFF grade: 20 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 43
PFF receiving grade: 77
PFF pass blocking: 73
Team run block rank: N/A
2021 gap runs: 95
2021 zone runs: 144
In the last class, we discussed how QB Trey Lance, a small-town Minnesotan, saw his recruiting stock plummet after Gophers HC P.J. Fleck passed. Lance went on to receive only one FBS scholarship offer. As if to make a point, he didn't take it. NDSU never should have had access to Lance, yet his commitment to the Bison was never in doubt. Eerily similar story with Strong.
A star prep running back from Arkansas, Strong led his team to a state championship as a junior. But after showing some interest, Razorbacks HC Bret Bielema and his staff ultimately passed. Recruiting services, in kind, branded Strong as a two-star recruit. Zero FBS offers arrived as coaches piggybacked on Bielema’s evaluation mistake. Much as they'd done with Fleck's on Lance. We are human, and we are flawed.
Luckily as NFL scouts are fond of saying, and as both Lance and Strong would come to find out: We’ll find you if you can play. Strong was a multi-time FCS All-American, capping his career with 1,686 rushing yards and 18 TD on 7.0 YPC last year to go with 22 receptions. A burner with 10 career 50-plus yard touchdowns, Strong tied Isaih Pacheco for tops in this RB group with a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
My favorite sleeper back two classes ago was another FCS guy, James Robinson, a spinning bowling ball with the rock. Strong’s game is the polar opposite, predicated on home-run speed. Strong's other skills work in concert to increase his odds of finding an opportunity to show that off.
Strong might be ever-so-slightly less explosive than similar backs Tevin Coleman and Darrell Henderson, but he’s better at evading in a phone booth, and he takes more care in setting up second-level defenders to fail. Strong sees the field clearly and has a layered attack plan like a chess player, thinking two steps ahead.
Once Strong finds open field, he assumes an upright sprinter’s stance, and it's time to get your popcorn ready. Strong is one of those optical-illusion speed guys, a long-strider who gobbles up yardage faster than he appears to be to the naked eye. Myriad examples on tape of him coaxing poor approach paths from defenders and/or erasing their angles.
I’m bullish on Strong. But I can’t rank him higher because he’s not going to be on the field on passing downs. Certainly early, and perhaps ever. He’s an abysmal pass-blocker that was slapped with nine QB pressures allowed in the FCS last year while posting an ugly 92.9% career pass-pro efficiency rate over 126 reps.
His NFL team almost assuredly will have multiple rostered backs with more receiving utility. Hard to trust him even as a dump-off guy after Strong dropped nine balls in college. Strong’s career 12.7% drop rate on only 0.5 aDOT is a red flag. Save Strong's energy for early-down work. And then do everything you can to help him get into space. After a lifetime of being overlooked, he can't wait to prove he's the fastest man on an NFL field.
Strong will see the field immediately as a 1B compliment to a back who handles passing-down work. He's too dang explosive to keep on the shelf even during the developmental cocoon phase.
Comp: Darrell Henderson
9. Brian Robinson Jr. | Alabama | 6015/224
2021 PFF grade: 16 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 24
PFF receiving grade: 51
PFF pass blocking: 48
Team run block rank: 19 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 72
2021 zone runs: 195
I made good money on NFL Combine props again this year. Of my bets, of the players who ultimately ran the 40-yard dash, I won every single one… except for Brian Robinson. (Not bitter!). At 6’2 (95th percentile) and 225 pounds (80th), Robinson posted a 61st-percentile 4.53 40-yard dash. Robinson had a poor showing in the vertical but fleshed out his composite with an above-average historical broad jump and 10-yard split showings.
I didn't give Robinson enough credit for his athletic juice, in hindsight because he suffered by comparison to the big-back extraordinaires he followed at Alabama, Derrick Henry and Najee Harris. Robinson is big and powerful, but not like King Henry is, and he lacks Henry's top gear and Harris' versatility. Robinson’s surprising docket of tests got me back into his film. This time without the why-can’t-you-be-more-like-your-older-brothers? glasses on. Focusing on where he wins, and where he loses. Robinson’s game is rooted in a premium blend of power and footwork.
Robinson lacks Harris’ explosion into the hole but shares his decision-making conviction. Defenders respect Robinson's power, and actively fear it when he gets rolling downhill. When defenders start shooting low to cut out Robinson's legs, he cuts around them or hits them with a spinal-tap stiff arm. Crucial for a power back, Robinson has a keen sense for the positioning of bodies around him and their respective threat levels to his stated goal.
I have two primary concerns about Robinson. The first is that he doesn’t offer much on passing downs. He’s a checkdown option only in the passing game that doesn’t do enough after the catch to justify a career 10.3% drop rate on 0.4 aDOT lollipops. Surprisingly, belying his frame and physical bent, he’s not a good pass blocker. Last year, in his first extended pass-pro work, Robinson was responsible for 11 pressures allowed, tied for most in this entire RB class with Georgia Tech’s Jordan Mason.
But going back to the original point: We must judge Robinson for what he is, not what he isn’t. He’s an early-down thumper and ace short-yardage option who’ll cede the field to a passing-down back when it’s time to put the ball in the air.
Comp: Latavius Murray
10. Abram Smith | Baylor | 5115/213
2021 PFF grade: 6
Elusive rating: 41
PFF receiving grade: 59
PFF pass blocking: 53
Team run block rank: 16
2021 gap runs: 25
2021 zone runs: 229
An overlooked recruit ranked outside the top-50 RBs in his class, Smith originally intended to go to Tulsa. But after Matt Rhule got involved in his process upon taking the Baylor job, Smith flipped. Smith tore his ACL and MCL in spring practice three months after signing (his second ACL tear following a high school injury), forcing a redshirt year. Smith received only 12 carries over the next season-and-a-half before Rhule decided to move him to LB mid-season 2019.
Rhule left for the Panthers prior to the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and new HC Dave Aranda kept Smith at LB. Smith began to show aptitude after entering the starting lineup for the last four games, averaging 11.5 tackles per game over that stretch. Baylor’s lack of running back depth precipitated Aranda’s staff asking Smith to move back to offense for his fifth-year senior campaign. Smith seized the starting job out of camp and went on to set a school record with 1,601 rushing yards on 6.2 YPC.
Smith is an upright-running power-back with an ideal NFL build. What stunned me about his 2021 season was how quickly he looked like a veteran running in Baylor’s wide-zone system. Smith picks down the line patiently, follows the flow of his blockers, finds the hole, and cuts with physical authority into it. Very good vision and sense for timing. Profit-taking runner that's rarely finished behind the line.
Extremely physical. Used to be a linebacker and wants opposing linebackers to know it, relishing the opportunity to knock them backward. Ricochets off contact and keeps moving. You need a finishing shot to get him on the ground, and he’ll claw for every last inch until his knee hits the ground.
Smith is a little stiff in the lower half and lacks joystick agility, along with high-end speed. His fighter’s mentality as a runner could stand to be modulated with more nuance, such as toggling speeds and stringing together cuts to try to side-step confrontations instead of seeking them out. Smith was one of the nation’s best backs after contact last season, so I don’t want to nitpick this area too much. But there are times it would serve him to try to delay first contact longer.
Smith isn’t going to contribute much as a receiver, so you’ll need a satellite back. And it’s hard to say what kind of pass blocker he’ll become. In his first extended work last year, Smith brought his tone-setting physicality to the task, stopping a few blitzing linebackers in their tracks, but his inexperience shone through, chasing shiny objects, looking for kill shots, and forgetting his base. But even if he rarely plays on passing downs, you can't say he lacks versatility: Smith has a lot of special teams experience and will contribute to several units in the NFL.
There’s a lot to work with here for zone-running teams. Smith should be a tone-setting early-down thumper for years, he's a value-add to your special teams, and you might just make a standout pass protector out of him yet.
Comp: DeMarco Murray
11. Kevin Harris | South Carolina | 5097/222
2021 PFF grade: 33 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 59
PFF receiving grade: 74
PFF pass blocking: 34
Team run block rank: 56 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 73
2021 zone runs: 72
If Harris had been able to declare after the 2020 season, he’d have gone a round or two higher than he’s ultimately going to go later this month. He was a revelation that season on an undermanned Gamecocks offense, rushing for 1,138 yards and 15 TD on 6.2 YPC. Early declaration was not an option for the true sophomore, and he didn’t acquit himself as well during his farewell 2021 campaign. Harris started only six of the 12 games he appeared in with 660 rushing yards on 4.3 YPC, chipping in only 89 receiving yards.
Offseason back surgery kept Harris out of spring practices and almost all summer practices leading up to the opener. Harris showed commendable resolve playing through once the season opened. He wasn’t moving around as well and didn't bring the same devil-may-care glee to high-speed collisions.
Harris still led the team in rushing, but his diminished physical state opened the door for ZaQuandre White’s ascendence. Even beyond that, USC's staff, building towards the future, still had to get touches for MarShawn Lloyd and Juju McDowell. All four ran behind a poor South Carolina offensive line.
I’m not giving Harris a free pass on last season, but the 2021 context is vital to understanding the production drop-off. When he’s right, Harris is an explosive hammer back with push-the-whole-dang-pile leg strength. He has a penchant for keeping his feet under him on contact. That’s important because Harris doesn’t make many guys miss. His skill is subtle movements in that precious split-second before contact, forcing off-target tackle attempts that barely phase him.
Harris has good vision and spacial awareness and runs with a collaborative nod to his line. He allows blocks to develop and runs, in general, with NFL-caliber rhythm. You can trust Harris to shoulder a heavy workload while taking care of the ball – he fumbled just once in college.
But Harris needs to be left on the bench on passing downs. He runs routes like an elementary school kid at the school concert that forgot the lines to the song, and he has a legitimately cartoonish lack of receiving skill. Harris dropped seven balls on limited looks for an offensive career 16.7% drop rate on -1.5 aDOT.
Mystery box in pass-pro. Up-and-down in limited reps, with his strength and no-nonsense physicality flashing on positive reps, and his lack of instinct for the work rearing its ugly head on others. Per PFF, Harris was personally responsible for two sacks and eight pressures allowed over only 82 pass-pro snaps the last two years.
Nevertheless, I’m highly intrigued by Harris’ early-down skillset. He’s efficient between the tackles no matter the quality of his line, and he has enough juice to threaten the perimeter, where smaller defenders are forced to deal with his power in space.
I’m emboldened by Harris’ showing in the bowl game, when he was the healthiest he'd been all year. Harris punked UNC for 182 yards and a TD on 31 carries to lead the Gamecocks to an upset win over a geographical rival. HC Shane Beamer got a mayo bath from bowl organizers and, after cleaning up, viciously dunked on Dennis Dodd on Twitter. This heat-check afternoon in human history was facilitated by Harris' performance. If the back issue is in Harris' rearview mirror, he's going to surprise in the NFL.
Comp: Julius Jones
12. Jerome Ford | Cincinnati | 5104/211
2021 PFF grade: 12 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 39
PFF receiving grade: 29
PFF pass blocking: 47
Team run block rank: 15 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 104
2021 zone runs: 106
Ford was chased out at Alabama in part because of the aforementioned Brian Robinson Jr. (who had staked a stronger claim to be Najee Harris’ successor). Ford left for Cincinnati, and, in an interesting twist of fate, ended his career playing Alabama in the CFP.
Ford made his only year starting count, rushing for 1,319 yards and 18 TD with a 21-220-1 receiving line as the bellcow compliment to Desmond Ridder and Alec Pierce’s vertical machinations. Ford’s best trait is home-run speed. He doesn’t get caught from behind in the open field.
Power is the complementary tool, usually directly converted from speed. When Ford’s pistons start pumping, you’re not dropping him with an arm-tackle attempt. Unfortunately, Ford isn't going to be able to access his top speed at the NFL level as often as he did last season. Ford admirably runs very hard at all times, but he lacks nuance and patience.
He hurdles toward the line in an attempt to get a head start building that speed-to-power electricity. Understandable. But he often does so with blinders, out-of-sync with his blockers. You'll see Ford charge into the teeth of the defense, or into the numbers of an offensive lineman. Ford doesn’t have the shake to escape sticky situations, so these are surrendered downs. Ford also has a ball-security problem, with six fumbles on 316 touches over the past two years.
Conversely, the reliability of his hands is the one value-add he provides to a passing game. Ford caught 31-of-34 career collegiate targets with zero drops. Ford won’t make anyone miss after the catch. He needs a runway of space to cause damage. That’s something he isn’t going to see much of in the NFL. I’d rate Ford’s pass-blocking class average. He’s got the muscle for the job but can be late to recognize threats, allowing the enemy to cross the moat before he remembers to raise the bridge.
Ford has NFL starter-caliber speed, explosion, tackle-breaking ability, and receiving mitts. By definition, those traits make him intriguing and must be accounted for in his eval. But if Ford can't get on the same page with his offensive line or introduce more colors to his running palette, his stay in the NFL will be shorter than expected.
Comp: Sony Michel
13. Tyler Goodson | Iowa | 5093/202
2021 PFF grade: 69 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 73
PFF receiving grade: 14
PFF pass blocking: 36
Team run block rank: 42 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 24
2021 zone runs: 226
Goodson flashed immediately after signing as a three-star recruit out of Georgia in the 2019 class, posting 804 yards from scrimmage with 24 receptions as a true freshman. Goodson is a space player, and the getting was good in that regard in 2019. Circumstances would soon conspire against him.
In 2019, Iowa’s starting offensive line featured four NFL players, Alaric Jackson, Tyler Linderbaum, Tristan Wirfs, and Cole Banwart. After that season, Wirfs left to become a first-round pick of the Bucs. The offensive line naturally regressed a bit but remained solid. But after Jackson and Banwart left following the 2020 campaign, the group around Linderbaum cratered.
Longtime Hawkeyes beat writer Scott Dochterman of The Athletic said Iowa’s 2021 guards and tackles were the worst they’d been in at least 20 seasons. This is how you explain how Iowa had the highest-graded PFF center of all time in 2021 and still finished with a below-average FBS offensive line overall.
After WRs Ihmir Smith-Marsette (and to a lesser extent Brandon Smith) left for the NFL, opponents no longer respected the ability of Iowa’s receivers to win downfield. Not that Iowa’s accuracy-averse pocket-passing quarterback rotation could get them the ball deep anyway. Iowa’s coaching staff, and I say this with love, failed Goodson through a lack of imagination.
In short: Last year, Goodson was a marked man playing behind a porous line in circumstances where it felt like the defense was receiving play calls in advance. For all Goodson’s skills, he lacks play strength and will go down on first contact. But man is it hard to get your hands on him if you arrive without help. Goodson makes defenders look silly in open space, breaking ankles with violent cuts, and sending would-be tacklers into orbit with his patented spin move.
Goodson is very dangerous in a zone system like Iowa’s -- as long as there is competent offensive line play. He has the short-area twitchiness to cut into developing holes and make the first man miss, and the explosion and long speed to threaten house calls if you make the mistake of letting him find the open field. Goodson improves his odds of reaching that outcome by shrinking the tackling strike zone on defenders and throwing them a knuckleball assortment of faints and direction changes up to the collision point.
When Goodson finds a runway, he's a blur, with 4.42 speed (88th percentile) accessed within his first few steps (86th-percentile 10-yard split). Goodson runs higher in the open field than he does between the tackles, with a narrow base and his shoulders back, like a sprinter. Goodson has a deep grab-bag of moves in the backfield, but downfield it's more of a track meet than a high-speed car chase because Goodson believes he has the speed to win a race to the end zone against anyone on the field at all times. In college, he was usually right.
There are two things that transcend Goodson beyond most other air backs in this class. He has all-day NFL athleticism, submitting a 95th-percentile size-adjusted RAS composite to the NFL, and he’s one of the best passing-down backs in the class. Most aren’t going to appreciate the breadth of his skill in this area because they'll have difficulty unspooling Goodson from his college situation.
But it’s all there on tape. Goodson is a natural pass-catcher, so much so that you can comfortably line him up in the slot or out wide (a tick more than 12% of Goodson’s career snaps came deployed as an actual receiver). He adjusts to poorly-thrown balls on the fly. Spears balls outside of his frame. Finds soft spots against zone coverage and makes himself available. Consistently separates against man coverage and shows his quarterback his hands.
So very dangerous after the catch. These are Goodson's favorite scenarios, when he’s able to turn up-field with the ball, plot out the quickest-possible path to the end zone, and get-to scootin'. Last year, Goodson caught 31-of-38 targets with only one drop. In the NFL, with a creative offensive staff, this area of his game is going to play up.
Goodson is an extremely underrated pass blocker. He’s written off in this area because of his size, and that’s a mistake. Goodson may lack play strength, but he doesn’t shy from contact and will sacrifice himself to shield the quarterback like Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard. Goodson lacks the muscle for some assignments, but he’ll complete the tasks he’s physically capable of. And it feels like at least once a game he's standing up a stunned blitzing linebacker who has knifed through a gap.
I nicknamed Goodson “Spin Shady” at Iowa because his early-career analytics, when he was playing behind a quality line, suggested a potential LeSean McCoy trajectory, and because Goodson has the filthiest spin move in this class. Goodson told reporters that, as a kid, his father choreographed footwork and would have him practice spinning off tackling dummies.
Goodson is one of the RB class’s biggest sleepers. He will be better in the pros than he was in college. Goodson has immediate and long-term utility as a receiving-downs back. That's going to get him on the field for half his team's snaps, minimum. And on a zone-blocking team with a good offensive line, I wouldn't put it past Goodson to eventually become a little more than that.
Comp: Chase Edmonds
14. Tyler Allgeier | BYU | 5106/221
2021 PFF grade: 4 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 11
PFF receiving grade: 19
PFF pass blocking: 31
Team run block rank: 5
2021 gap runs: 54
2021 zone runs: 213
A bruising workhorse with a handful of long touchdown runs on his collegiate resume. A former walk-on linebacker, Allgeier has the muscle and play strength of a second-level player. Following his shocking ascendence to starting RB, Allgeier showed a natural feel for following his blocks, spotting the hole, cutting into it, and absorbing flesh-wound contact without slowing.
This style worked swimmingly in a gap scheme behind a really good BYU offensive line against a procession of weak defenses. I’m concerned Allgeier's game will suffer in translation to the NFL when circumstances are no longer perfect around him. BYU’s line often did the work of getting Allgeier onto the cusp of the second level with push.
Those were the moments Allgeier was flammably dangerous. Over the last two years, per PFF, Allgeier had 72 runs of 10 yards or more with 1,170 breakaway yards. Invariably, Allgeier only parked balls against porous or undersized defenses. Last year, 413 of his 593 breakaway yards came in three of 13 games. Against Virginia, Utah State, and UAB in the bowl.
Virginia and Utah State finished No. 100 and No. 80, respectively, in SP+ defense. They were particularly bad against precisely the thing Allgeier does, ranking No. 124 and No. 128, respectively, in defensive rushing explosion allowed last year. Out of 130! Allgeier couldn't have hand-picked more advantageous opponents.
UAB’s defense ranked SP+ No. 31, but the Blazers had gap-integrity issues in the bowl game. Allgeier was only touched once, lightly, on his 62-yard touchdown run. He breached a hole that had been manufactured for him, and then it was the open field against future accountants and GAs.
Legends of Allgeier’s long speed proved to be premature during pre-draft athletic testing. He ran a 4.6. Allgeier needs open field in front of him to even access that, a build-up accelerator. You see why it would have benefitted a player of this style to be playing behind a line that physically dominated inferior front-7s every week?
Allgeier doesn’t offer much on passing downs. He's inconsistent and inexperienced in pass pro and doesn't have the skill in this area to keep satellite backs off an NFL field. Allgeier may hang around for a while as a grinder that'll pop off a long run every now and again. There's also a real chance he's a Quadruple-A player that spent his career in a Coors Field offensive environment.
I'm opposing several evaluators I deeply respect with this take. Here's my question for them: Why is it that Allgeier was erased so easily by good defenses? Against the four-best defenses he faced last year -- Baylor, Arizona State, Utah and Boise State -- Allgeier was held to 3.3 YPC. Against the nine shoddy defenses, Allgeier ran for 1,329 yards on 6.8 YPC.
Which grouping, the first four or the latter nine, do you personally think is more analogous to the NFL competition he'll spend the rest of his playing days competing against? This is not a rhetorical question. If you erase Allgeier as a runner, you turn him into a net negative. He's not as close to being a value-add for an NFL offense as has been depicted.
Comp: Alex Collins
15. Tyrion Davis-Price | LSU | 6000/211
2021 PFF grade: 37
Elusive rating: 51
PFF receiving grade: 47
PFF pass blocking: 1
Team run block rank: 44
2021 gap runs: 105
2021 zone runs: 105
Davis-Price didn’t play much as a true freshman on LSU’s 2019 title team behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire after signing as a four-star recruit. He entered an RB committee formed to replace CEH during the COVID-shortened 2020 season and split touches. Davis-Price then broke out as a junior when he seized a larger market share, rushing for 1,004 yards. After the conclusion of the season, he declared for the NFL Draft.
Davis-Price is a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust throwback. But he's more interesting than recent garden-variety plodders to enter the NFL like Qadree Ollison because he also possesses legitimate deep speed. Davis-Price ran a 4.48 forty in the pre-draft process that was good for a 79th-percentile Speed Score. Davis-Price slimmed down 10-15 pounds for testing but typically plays in the 225-range. This hurt his Speed Score percentile a little, but make no mistake, that blazing forty time wasn't a parlor trick. Davis-Price's speed stands out on tape.
I don't rank Davis-Price in the same area where I had Rhamondre Stevenson last class. But I'll put him one level below Rhamondre as a thumper who runs wrapped in electric fencing when he gets rolling downhill. Davis-Price puts a jolt into defenders at the contact point and paints chalk marks around defensive backs who approach high and eat his stored-up speed-to-power.
Davis-Price possesses the one-cut ability to get into the hole, and he does an admirable job getting small during those uncomfortable moments working through congestion. The worst parts about Davis-Price's game are a sluggish approach to the line, a lack of wiggle, and zero receiving utility. He posted a strong 8.28 RAS due to his size/speed combination, but Davis-Price ducked the agility drills. Davis-Price’s game is built on following his blocks and looking for a runway downfield to build up to top-speed.
You can't trust him as a receiver. Davis-Price is tentative on routes beyond the line of scrimmage, and balls have a tendency of gobbling him up and kissing his chest plate. Luckily, you can still squeeze a good amount of passing-down utility out of Davis-Price because he’s one of the class’s best pass blockers, if not the very best. Assignment-sound looks for work, more than happy to throw his body around.
Davis-Price profiles as an early-down NFL grinder. He’ll get what’s blocked for him, knock the silly out of a few unsuspecting defenders per game, occasionally rip off an explosive run, and provide money-in-the-bank reliability in pass protection. If everything breaks right with his development, he might even hold down a starting NFL job for a few years.
Comp: Devontae Booker
16. Jerrion Ealy | Mississippi | 5081/187
2021 PFF grade: 18
Elusive rating: 5
PFF receiving grade: 2
PFF pass blocking: 77
Team run block rank: 28
2021 gap runs: 39
2021 zone runs: 91
Scatback with syrupy-sweet feet that runs with surprising conviction and power for his size. Ealy shows patience behind the line, allowing his blocks to set up. Has a natural feel for veering into creases and hitting the Ant-Man button to get small. Slippery and swivel-hipped. Usually leaves the first man grasping air.
Ealy sets up defenders, stringing together combinations of moves and baiting them into committing too early. Has the lateral agility and burst to bounce it outside. Cuts clean corners around the edge to cancel linebackers out of the play who got sucked too far up-field in initial pursuit. Has a knack for leading defenders into areas where pursuit paths are filled with human wreckage, turning them into Keystone cops when Ealy makes his escape downfield.
Ealy runs low to the ground. Ricochets away from off-angle attempts and keeps the feet churning. His feet are like an assortment of hard-breaking pitches, consistently drawing weak contact from hitters. And you aren't taking down Ealy unless you hit him squarely. Ealy ranked No. 5 last year in this RB class in elusive rating, and No. 8 in yards after contact per attempt, an eye-opening number for a space player.
Ealy has more receiving ability than he had the opportunity to show in college, a hands catcher and a clever route-runner who keeps defenders guessing. He didn't get the usage he probably should have, in part due to play-calling, and in part because Lane Kiffin needed to get Snoop Conner and Henry Parrish Jr. work.
Comfortable testing down the field when deployed as a receiver. Has the ball skills to reel in throws over the shoulder. Ealy has labored to improve as a pass-blocker over the past few years and has made progress, but he lacks the muscle for the job in the NFL and should be kept from this work as much as possible.
Ealy profiles as a change-of-pace NFL RB2. I doubt he'll ever carry the load for an NFL offense, but he has enough receiving skill and rushing utility to carve out a long-term complementary role.
Comp: Myles Gaskin
17. Tyler Badie | Missouri | 5080/197
2021 PFF grade: 19
Elusive rating: 40
PFF receiving grade: 23
PFF pass blocking: 66
Team run block rank: 21
2021 gap runs: 94
2021 zone runs: 174
Missouri plucked the three-star Badie out of New Orleans in the class of 2018. In hindsight, it’s surprising LSU wasn’t more aggressive in identifying Badie as a direct replacement for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Badie is a similar player. A nifty receiver who wins in space.
A four-year contributor, Badie didn't step into the starting lineup until last season, after Larry Rountree had left for the NFL. Badie proved he could stay on the field while handling a starter's workload. He finished No. 3 in the FBS with 1,604 rushing yards and was Mizzou’s leading receiver with 54 catches, good for second-team Associated Press All-American honors.
Badie is very quick and elusive in congested quarters. If he finds his way out of them -- and he'll pull a rabbit out of his hat to do so -- he can scoot downfield quickly with 4.45 wheels. He’s on the smaller side, but that forty showing during the pre-draft process allowed him to finish with an above-NFL-average 100.5 Speed Score that ranks No. 16 in this RB class.
Badie has the agility to create from nothing and enough burst to consistently steal the corner, a skill he showed off early and often at the Senior Bowl. This part of his game will translate to the NFL. Badie runs like his pants are on fire and broke myriad shoddy collegiate tackle attempts. This part of his game likely won't due to Badie's lack of play strength. You could see that in the SEC in pass-pro, where Badie had the requisite heart for the job but not the muscle.
In the NFL, Badie projects as a sure-handed third-down receiving back with special teams utility as a return man. His utility as a runner will play down in the NFL, but at the very least, he's evasive and takes extra care of the ball (only two fumbles over 513 career carries).
Comp: Michael Carter
18. Kyren Williams | Notre Dame | 5092/194
2021 PFF grade: 29
Elusive rating: 14
PFF receiving grade: 5
PFF pass blocking: 45
Team run block rank: 35
2021 gap runs: 99
2021 zone runs: 103
A two-year starter, Williams topped the 1,000/300 receiving marks each of the past two campaigns. He was a Doak Walker semifinalist for his breakout work in 2020 as a second-year freshman. Williams elected to declare for the NFL Draft after this past season as a redshirt sophomore.
Versatility and polished skills are Williams’ two calling cards. He can return kicks, and he’s a technician as a receiver. Williams gives you your money's worth on routes out of the backfield. And he's a legitimate receiver deployed out of the slot. Last year, Williams took 53 snaps in the slot along with 16 out wide. He worked out as both a running back and a receiver at Notre Dame's pro day.
I might even suggest giving him a shot as an NFL slot, but I'm not sure his athletic profile will allow it. At his NFL Combine podium session, Williams told reporters he likens his game to Alvin Kamara’s and could be a similar player in the NFL. After Williams face-planted the athletic tests the next day, it became apparent that he was more like Demetric Felton.
At 194 pounds (19th percentile), Williams ran a 4.65 (38th) with sub-50th-percentile jumps. That showing destroyed his stock, dropping Williams from a possible Day 2 pick into a nebulous draft-stock gray area. As a runner, Williams’ best attributes are burst, agility, and contact balance, with a natural low-center-of-gravity style. Despite his poor testing profile, Williams was able to provide empirical proof of the former two, with a 79th-percentile 10-yard split and a 62nd-percentile three-cone.
Lauded for his effort, technique, and identification skills in collegiate pass-pro, Williams showed out in this area in multiple nationally-televised games in 2021, with -- are we allowed to say this about pass-pro? -- flashy reps against Florida State, Virginia Tech, and USC. Per PFF, over 34 pass-pro reps in those three games, Williams executed all 34 assignments for 100% efficiency. But Williams was tagged for three pressures allowed over a three-game stretch in November against Navy, Virginia, and Georgia Tech.
In part because of his 75.0% pass-pro efficiency in that sample, Williams finished a mere No. 45 out of 80 qualifiers in this RB class in PFF pass-pro grade last year. A quick processor with an encyclopedic recall for assignments and formations, you know he's going to make correct snap judgments when bullets are flying and get after it. But it's fair to wonder if this area of his game will translate apples-to-apples to a level where his size, play strength, and athletic limitations will be more pronounced.
Williams might have the brains and heart of an NFL starter, but he doesn’t have the build to shoulder a full-time load, nor the athleticism to justify it. Williams is a Day 3 flier for a team that already has a meat-and-potatoes lead back on the roster and is willing to sacrifice big plays for blue-collar reliability at air back.
Comp: Demetric Felton
19. Hassan Haskins | Michigan | 6017/227
2021 PFF grade: 2 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 45
PFF receiving grade: 15
PFF pass blocking: 17
Team run block rank: 18 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 186
2021 zone runs: 83
A well-built grinder, Haskins broke out as a star his last season on campus, helping lead Michigan to the CFP. As the Wolverines' bellcow, he thrived, running for 1,327 yards and 20 TD on 4.9 YPC over 14 starts to earn third-team Associated Press All-American honors.
Haskins is a hard-charging, forward-leaning runner with very good contact balance. He labors to change directions, and he isn’t going to out-run anyone, but he’s able to pick up yards in the open field because his footwork and vision are good, and he’s got a nasty stiff arm.
While Haskins didn’t get as many opportunities in the passing game as some of his contemporaries, he projects to be, pardon the pun, passable in this area in the NFL. He isn’t going to snap any ankles on his route breaks, and he isn’t much of a YAC threat. But Haskins has soft hands and can be relied upon in the check-down gain to salvage yardage. He’s also, it must be mentioned, a fortified, willing, and physical pass blocker.
What we saw out of Haskins last year, that’s the hope for him in the NFL. The concern you have is that he doesn’t have any standout physical traits. But you know he’s going to bring the lunchpail on early-down meat-and-potatoes work, and he’s got at least the hands and the pass-pro reliability to be usable on throwing downs.
Comp: Gus Edwards
20. D'Vonte Price | FIU | 6010/210
2021 PFF grade: 45
Elusive rating: 23
PFF receiving grade: 75
PFF pass blocking: 40
Team run block rank: 41
2021 gap runs: 49
2021 zone runs: 77
Intriguing small-school prospect with a high-octane blend of size and speed. Price ranks No. 5 in this RB class in Speed Score after blazing a 4.38 at 210 pounds. He added sensational splits and above-average jumps, but Price declined the agility drills. This wasn’t a surprise.
Price has an upright, narrow-based, long-strider style. He struggles to quickly change directions without losing speed. That's not his game, but I wish he'd toggle speeds more to provide different looks to defenders. Price is a one-note runner looking for one thing, a clean runway downfield that he can use to build up to top gear en route to the end zone. When Price breaks tackles, it’s typically because he's run through an arm tackle at or near top speed.
You can dream on Price a little, picturing him adding weight to his frame while retaining his top gear. And you know that he'll provide special teams coverage utility early in his career while you develop him. But Price's ceiling is capped because he offers very little on passing downs – unrefined as a receiver and mediocre in pass-pro – and doesn’t make enough defenders miss to truly allow his size/speed combo to shine.
He's a Day 3 dice roll on traits, and I gave his ranking a little bump on the off-chance the light turns on. But Price's self-actualization involves running with a degree of power and conviction we haven't seen yet. He'd also need to improve his patience and vision behind the LOS, a malady for which some doctors, including those who treated Kalen "Mr. Magoo" Ballage, claim there is no cure.
Comp: J.R. Redmond
21. Isaih Pacheco | Rutgers | 5102/222
2021 PFF grade: 47 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 78
PFF receiving grade: 32
PFF pass blocking: 24
Team run block rank: 69 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 77
2021 zone runs: 83
Meet the 2022 RB class’s Speed Score champion (118.5)! For some context, two classes ago, this would have ranked No. 2 between Jonathan Taylor (121.7) and AJ Dillon (117.3). Pacheco turned in an eye-opening 4.37 forty at 216 pounds, tying South Dakota State's Pierre Strong Jr. for No. 1 among the RB group.
Pacheco reaches top speed in a blink. He steals the corner with impunity as a runner because of that burst. He’s a well-built speed-to-power generator with a breakneck style whose legs don’t stop kicking until you’ve cut them out from under him. Though he was a four-year contributor, Pacheco didn’t always get a chance to shine because he played behind one of the nation’s worst offensive lines (only one FBS RB prospect in this class played behind a worse line!), and next to abysmal quarterbacks.
He was put into a lot of no-win decisions in college and didn’t always make the right choice, confronted with defenders in the backfield post-handoff as often as he was. He picked up a few bad habits, notably reps where he'd lose his natural patience and press the LOS as quickly as possible to avoid a negative gain while, in some cases, missing a cutback lane.
Pacheco comes equipped with strong hands. Once he corrals it, he only needs a few steps to reach top gear, so he must be accounted for. He's also a solid pass-blocker. Functioning as the last-line-of-defense behind that leaky Rutgers OL, Pacheco got plenty of reps to show his stuff.
Playing behind an NFL offensive line will provide a big boost. What you’re hoping for is his patience plays up and he’s able to run with more tempo and altered speeds – he has the acceleration and deceleration for it. Pacheco has immediate passing-down utility, and that delicious size/speed/acceleration blend for an NFL staff to mold into a runner. Highly intriguing Day 3 sleeper.
Comp: Kylin Hill
22. Kennedy Brooks | Oklahoma | 5105/209
2021 PFF grade: 8 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 8
PFF receiving grade: 71
PFF pass blocking: 46
Team run block rank: 13 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 93
2021 zone runs: 103
Brooks managed to rush for 1,000 all three seasons he was active at Oklahoma (he opted out of the 2020 season). This despite sharing a backfield with the likes of RBs Trey Sermon, Rhamondre Stevenson, T.J. Pledger, and Eric Gray, and playing beside dual-threat QBs Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray and Caleb Williams. Brooks, the main reason Sermon and Pledger transferred elsewhere to finish their careers, the main reason you didn't know about Stevenson until the 2020 season (when Brooks was sitting out), averaged an incredible career 7.0 YPC.
Patience is a hallmark of his tape. So many running backs in this class are one-note runners who rarely toggle speed. Brooks waits for his blocks to develop and bumps the odometer up and down as the situation calls for it. A player of average size, average speed, and average athleticism, Brooks found himself in open space far more often than you would assume due to his rhythmic style, his patience, vision, and acceleration/deceleration combination.
Brooks’ short-area quickness shined through during athletic testing, with 60th-percentile-or-above 10-yard split and broad jump showings. Brooks is a durable, one-cut back best-suited for a zone system. He isn’t much of a receiver, and he’s middling in pass-pro, so the utility, at least for now, ends at early-down work.
To be fair, Oklahoma didn't seem as interested in developing this aspect of Brooks' game, maybe because they had to get the other runners on the field. So perhaps a dollop of passing-down utility lay dormant inside him. But even if it's tapped, you'd figure his NFL team will always have better pass-catching options on the roster. Either way, spread outfits that utilize zone concepts will give Brooks a look as an early-down developmental prospect.
Comp: Bilal Powell
23. Max Borghi | Washington State | 5093/210
2021 PFF grade: 9 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 18
PFF receiving grade: 52
PFF pass blocking: 27
Team run block rank: 66 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 66
2021 zone runs: 74
When Borghi signed with Mike Leach out of the Colorado prep ranks in 2018, he was getting comped to Christian McCaffrey. Four years later, we can forget about that. And it’s not just because Wazzu switched offensive schemes (from the Air Raid to the Run ‘n Shoot) away from Borghi’s skillset after Leach left (the Run 'n Shoot doesn't utilize RBs in the passing game nearly as much).
Even so, Borghi's got the skill to play in the NFL beyond his rookie contract. That’s because he’s a skilled receiver – one reason he got those comps to C-Mac in the first place (the primary other being skin color) – who also contributes on special teams.
You can think of Borghi as a slot-receiver playing running back. He runs great routes, has good hands, and he understands how to leverage defenders. He catches the ball and fluidly turns up-field to attack. He’s also an above-average pass blocker, understanding his assignments and getting his pads low enough to complete them.
The problem with Borghi's evaluation is that he may never offer much as a runner. Borghi is quick, and he makes people miss, but he doesn’t have a good feel for running between the tackles. Sometimes, he doesn’t appear to want to – fleeing to where he’s comfortable, in space, bouncing an excess amount of his attempts outside. Sometimes he misses cutback creases and takes a loss to do so. Borghi lacks play strength and is generally taken down by first contact.
Borghi is worth a draft pick anyway because he will contribute to an NFL passing game immediately, and he’ll chip in on special teams. Just keep in mind that there's a good chance that he'll never be anything more. Best suited for a pass-happy team that already has an established complimentary early-down back or two on the roster.
Comp: Eno Benjamin
24. Ty Chandler | North Carolina | 5112/203
2021 PFF grade: 17 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 19
PFF receiving grade: 48
PFF pass blocking: 37
Team run block rank: 26 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 76
2021 zone runs: 96
Chandler made a good decision to transfer from Tennessee to UNC last offseason. The Tar Heels had just lost stud RBs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter to the NFL, and Chandler was fleeing a coaching change and a loaded Vols RB room. In his only season at Chapel Hill, Chandler ran for 1,092 yards and 13 TD.
Chandler’s calling card is speed. He boldly told the media that he was going to run the fastest 40 time amongst RBs at the NFL Combine the day before testing and almost called his shot, blazing a 4.38 that finished just behind position leaders Pierre Strong Jr. and Isaih Pacheco (both ran 4.37s).
Unfortunately, Chandler’s speed isn’t evident on every play, because he needs a runway to build up to top gear. He doesn’t offer a ton on runs where he doesn't get that runway, because Chandler accelerates sluggishly, doesn't toggle his speed (in part because decelerating kills his momentum and forces him to restart the process of reaching top-speed from scratch), and doesn’t make defenders miss in the hole.
Chandler needs everything right around him to access the explosive element of his game that makes him dangerous, good blocking and/or defenders committing gap-integrity mistakes. At top speed, Chandler's tricky to deal with. He doesn't shy from contact, accelerating through it. You can see this part of his skillset playing up when he’s returning kicks. This is the area Chandler provides immediate NFL utility.
Chandler is a get-you-by receiver, nothing more. He knows how to run a route and converts from a receiver to a runner fluidly after securing the ball. But as is the case with him as a runner, he needs open space in front of him to create problems. That’s when he gobbles up yards quickly and presents a speed-to-power issue for smaller defenders at the contact point.
As a blocker, Chandler looks for work and doesn't mind getting his nose dirty. But there are numerous examples on film of him making poor snap decisions, gifting the more-dangerous pursuer an unabridged path. Chandler also has a bad habit of lunging toward oncoming defenders instead of keeping a power base to give himself the best chance of providing an impediment.
Chandler might be worth a late-Day 3 pick because he can return kicks immediately and act as suitable depth during his developmental phase. He's got the world-class speed to go with a fleshed-out skillset. But due to Chandler's lack of burst and wiggle, I wonder if, as a running back, NFL defenses will be able to erase the long-speed element to Chandler's game that led to his flashiest moments on the collegiate gridiron. Without that, he's just a replaceable return man.
Comp: Xavier Jones
25. Zonovan Knight | North Carolina State | 5107/209
2021 PFF grade: 53 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 12
PFF receiving grade: 28
PFF pass blocking: 28
Team run block rank: 31 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 36
2021 zone runs: 103
“Bam” Knight posted 790-plus yards from scrimmage all three campaigns on campus. Befitting his nickname, Knight runs with unmistakable attitude. He’s a well-rounded back with one trump-card trait: He has top-three contact balance in this class.
Knight is difficult to square up in space due to his creativity and subtle movements leading up to the contact point. Breaks arm tackle attempts. Does a good job setting up and leveraging opponents to unlock running lanes. Last year, he ranked No. 12 in this class in elusive rating, and No. 14 in broken tackles forced.
Knight also provides real utility in the passing game. He’s one of the smoothest route-running backs in this class. He’s also a fixer in pass-pro, smart, physical, capable, and enthusiastic. Knight is only ranked as low as he is because he's an average athlete at 209 pounds. He lacks long speed and requires undisturbed open space to reach max.
The lack of an explosive element to his game caps his ceiling, but Knight should hang around for a while as a depth piece and rotational back that can handle early-down work and stay on the field on passing downs. It would be nice if he could gain 10-15 pounds without further depreciating his quickness. That would play up the physical bent to his running style and give him a chance to ascend to low-level NFL starter.
Comp: Khalil Herbert
26. ZaQuandre White | South Carolina | 6001/215
2021 PFF grade: 25 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 2
PFF receiving grade: 18
PFF pass blocking: 55
Team run block rank: 55 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 38
2021 zone runs: 47
Comp: TJ Yeldon
27. Snoop Conner | Mississippi | 5101/219
2021 PFF grade: 50 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 69
PFF receiving grade: 21
PFF pass blocking: 67
Team run block rank: 29 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 51
2021 zone runs: 78
Comp: Alexander Mattison
28. Keaontay Ingram | USC | 5115/220
2021 PFF grade: 11 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 28
PFF receiving grade: 41
PFF pass blocking: 74
Team run block rank: 10 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 61
2021 zone runs: 89
Comp: Chris Ivory
29. Jashaun Corbin | Florida State | 5111/203
2021 PFF grade: 51 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 35
PFF receiving grade: 42
PFF pass blocking: 14
Team run block rank: 59
2021 gap runs: 100
2021 zone runs: 42
Comp: Deon Jackson
30. Sincere McCormick | UTSA | 5084/205
2021 PFF grade: 23 (out of 80)
Elusive rating: 71
PFF receiving grade: 50
PFF pass blocking: 22
Team run block rank: 36 (out of 70)
2021 gap runs: 109
2021 zone runs: 185
Comp: Devin Singletary
Thor's recent NFL Draft work:
3-Round Mock 4.0 (4/18)