5 RB prospects the Bucs could target in the 2023 NFL draft
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be on the prowl for a new running back this offseason as they plan to release veteran Leonard Fournette at the start of the league year. His departure this year is well-timed as the 2023 NFL draft is stocked with talented running backs.
While the Bucs are losing their presumptive bell cow back, that isn’t necessarily what they will seek in the draft. Tampa already has former 2022 third-round pick Rachaad White on the roster. White flashed a complete skillset as a rookie and should be the lead back in 2023.
Instead, the Bucs will be looking for a complementary back to White, granting them greater flexibility in the type of players they can target. Undersized playmakers, raw ballcarriers with rare athletic traits, well-rounded backs coming from less renowned programs—everything is on the table.
These are the running backs the Bucs could target in this year’s draft:
Tyjae Spears, Tulane
A breakout player at this year’s Senior Bowl, Spears improved his draft stock during the week of practices ahead of the all-star game. His talent is hard to deny especially just watch him (via USA Today’s Doug Farrar):
Tackling Tyjae Spears just doesn't seem like any fun at all. pic.twitter.com/X6MzHUogR5
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) February 28, 2023
Despite being a smaller back, Spears runs like he is made of steel. In 2022, he broke 63 tackles and gained 1052 yards after contact, sixth most in college football per Pro Football Focus. He also tied for most touchdowns from scrimmage (21) among all college players in 2022.
Spears would be an ideal change-of-pace back, the kind of guy opposing defenses will get tired of trying to tackle real quick. Pair him with Rachaad White would give the Bucs a nasty two-headed dragon of a rushing attack in 2023.
Keaton Mitchell, East Carolina
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
The Bucs lacked playmakers in 2022. Making plays is all Mitchell does.
Though small at 5’9″ and 184 pounds, Mitchell’s game is all about making defenders miss with speed and quickness. This translated into becoming one of the most explosive backs in college football last year, recording 31 carries of 15 yards or more, the most in college football per PFF.
Mitchell does not fit the mold of a Bucs running back from the past few years, but with a new offensive coordinator in town, his skill set may be what the Bucs need to reenergize their offense.
Israel Abanikanda, Pitt
If the Bucs just want big and fast to pair with Rachaad White, they need look no further than Abanikanda. At 5’11” and 215 pounds, he has absurd game breaking speed (via PFF):
Israel Abanikanda breaks another long one😮💨
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 24, 2022
One of college football’s most prolific scorers in 2022, Abanikanda tied Tyjae Spears for most touchdowns from scrimmage (21) and otherwise led all running backs in rush touchdowns..
Abanikanda also comes with a lot of tread on the tires. He will start the 2023 season at 20 years old, leaving plenty of room to grow and improve as a player.
Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
Despite his size, Vaughn is pure playmaker, leading college football in yards from scrimmage (1936) in 2022. His ability to juke defenders out of their shoes may be unmatched in this year’s running back class (via CBS Sports):
DEUCE VAUGHN DROPPED HIM pic.twitter.com/Xrkkzril9w
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 3, 2022
Vaughn also brings significant experience as a receiver. He was targeted 58 times last year, second-most among college running backs.
The scat back is a very specific role to fill on an NFL roster. With Tampa installing a new offense this year, Vaughn would be the ideal pick to fill the role for the Bucs.
Roschon Johnson, Texas
While Bijan Robinson will garner the most attention of any running back in this year’s draft, his Longhorn teammate could end up becoming the steal out of the entire running back class.
Johnson enters the NFL Draft under ideal circumstances. He brings ideal size at 6’2″ and 223 pounds. Playing behind Robinson, Johnson had a limited workload at Texas, just 189 attempts over the last two years, so he will be going pro with less wear and tear than many of his peers.
Despite playing behind Robinson, Johnson made the most of his opportunities. In 2022, he forced 46 missed tackles and earned a 198 elusive rating from PFF, third-best among all running backs. Quite simply, tackling him is really, really hard (via ESPN):
Roschon Johnson REFUSED to go down 💪 pic.twitter.com/SnUm3hwqbR
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 19, 2021
Johnson would not just be a complementary piece to Rachaad White but would be RB1 alongside him. Drafting Johnson would immediately make the Bucs’ backfield among the deepest in the NFL.