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Running Backs NFL Mock Draft: Where Will The Rookie RBs Land in 2023?

Bijan Robinson - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Rookies, Draft Sleepers

Running backs have become disposable. Rushing attempts per game hit historic lows in the 2010s. Teams have been able to produce with just about any running back behind a quality offensive line and a scheme utilizing a heavy dose of play action and read options. The leading rushers on nine of the past 15 Super Bowl-winning teams have all been paid under $1 million a year.

Longtime NFL scout T.J. McCreight wrote, "As time went on, with teams slanting toward the passing game, the running back has been devalued. There are several reasons for this. Running backs take a pounding, and usually, after their fourth year, tend to go downhill and lose their speed."

First-round running backs have become a rarity, but this year there's one who might be good enough to warrant it. I will place the 2023 RB prospects in order and suggest where they might go.

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First-Round Running Backs

Bijan Robinson - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs were unable to acquire a marquee veteran quarterback and are out of range for any top-tier rookies. But they still have a good receiving corps. If they add Bijan Robinson, they can make things easy for Baker Mayfield (or someone else) and compete in a division that could be won with just eight or nine victories. 

The 220-pound Robinson is an all-around workhorse who moves like he's 200 pounds but hits like he's 230. He tied or broke the modern-day single-season records for most missed tackles forced and the highest missed tackle rate in his junior season. 


Second-Round Running Backs

Devon Achane - Los Angeles Rams

Cam Akers finished the season on a tear, rolling off three straight 100-yard games for the Rams. Where was that Cam Akers in Weeks 1-13? Maybe we should throw out the whole 2022 season for LA. Even if Akers proves to be a quality starter, the team needs depth, having released Darrell Henderson Jr. after the trade deadline and never replacing him.

Achane, an All-American on Texas A&M's track team, is the fastest running back in the NFL Draft. He clocked 4.32 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and he ran the 100-yard dash in 10.18 seconds. But he's undersized and lacks strength. Most of his attempts in his junior year, his only year as the starter, went to outside the tackles.

Zach Charbonnet - Philadelphia Eagles

Zach Charbonnet is like Bijan Robinson, only not quite as elite. He is well-rounded and good at everything a bell-cow running back must do. He is almost the exact same size as departing Eagles RB1 Miles Sanders. If the Eagles put him behind their offensive line as the RB1 or committee RB, they will not miss a lot.


Third-Round Running Backs

Jahmyr Gibbs - Houston Texans

Whether or not Dameon Pierce is the answer, the Texans need more depth at running back. Their No. 2 RB last season, Dare Ogunbowale, had just 42 carries all season for 123 yards. They added Devin Singletary in free agency but Jahmyr Gibbs can also shoulder a share of the load.

Like Singletary, Gibbs is 200 pounds and good at catching passes out of the backfield. He has only dropped two passes in his career, and he led all running backs in forced missed tackles after the reception during that span.

Tyjae Spears - Chicago Bears

After losing David Montgomery and signing D'Onta Foreman, the Bears still need more backs capable of shouldering an RB1-B role in their committee.

Spears compiled over 250 touches his junior year at Tulane and gained over 1,800 scrimmage yards. An excellent open-field runner, he averaged over 6.7 yards per carry each season. 

Tank Bigsby - Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Mixon costs the Bengals $12.8 million this year and $13.1 million in 2024, the final year of his contract. Over the past three years, he has gained 3.9 yards per attempt. He chugs for just enough yards to keep the chains moving on 54% of his attempts, which was actually the 10th-best rushing success rate last season. While Mixon has not been cut yet, as some expected he would be, he could still be a cap casualty next offseason, and he probably won't be around after 2024. 

Why not replace him with someone similar? Like Mixon, Tank pushes ahead for predictable but modest gains and keeps doing it 20 times per game. He is good at hitting open lanes between the tackles, but he lacks the vision to stretch to outside lanes. 


Fourth-Round Running Backs

Chase Brown - Cleveland Browns

Like Cincinnati, Cleveland lost its backup running back to free agency and has an aging veteran whose contract is ballooning in its final two years. Kareem Hunt led all Browns RBs in receptions, and Chase Brown, who caught 27 passes his junior year at Illinois, is a good candidate to take up the receiving work.

KenDre Miller - Dallas Cowboys

Kendre Miller scored 63 touchdowns in front of the fans sitting on the high school bleachers in Mount Enterprise, Texas (population: 504). Then he ran for 26 touchdowns at TCU in Ft. Worth. How great would it be for him to stay near home and score touchdowns for the 70,000-plus in Arlington?

DeWayne McBride - Buffalo Bills

DeWayne McBride is a powerful two-down back who gained over 1,000 yards after contact his junior year at UAB. True, he padded his stats with 200-yard games against Conference USA opponents Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech. In his 2022 game against LSU, he only ran for 34 yards on 13 carries. 

After missing the Combine and pro days with a hamstring injury, McBride, who was once viewed as a potential second-round pick, has been falling down draft boards.


Fifth-Round Running Backs

Roschon Johnson - Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals' No. 2 RB now is Corey Clement, a 29-year-old who has had 69 carries for 270 yards for three teams over the past four years. Roschon Johnson has experience being a team's No. 2 RB. He played behind Bijan Robinson. Johnson actually had a higher missed tackle rate than Robinson over the past two years. 

With his 6'2", 223-pound frame, powerful stiff arm, and churning legs, he is tough to bring down. Don't be surprised if Johnson breaks out when he gets a chance to start somewhere.

Zach Evans - Denver Broncos

Javonte Williams won't be back to normal this coming season. Zach Evans, who transferred from TCU to Ole Miss for his junior year, is an explosive runner, with almost half his production coming on runs of 15 yards or more. Unfortunately, that also means he had a lot of unsuccessful runs, too. But he could add a spark to a Denver offense badly in need of a jolt.

Sean Tucker - Atlanta Falcons

Tucker has top-notch speed and strength and makes defenders regret half-hearted tackle attempts. He's a big play threat on first and second downs. Falcons coach Arthur Smith should be able to find something to do with him. 

Deuce Vaughn - Detroit Lions

Although he is only 5'6" and 176 pounds, Vaughn has gained over 4,100 scrimmage yards in three seasons at Kansas State and broken over 100 tackles. He's nearly impossible to catch in the open field (but he's not difficult to bring down if you do catch him). He will embarrass many linebackers assigned to cover him.


Sixth and Seventh-Round Sleepers

Evan Hull - Kansas City Chiefs

Hull was a passionate competitor at the Combine. He was one of the few running backs to participate in the three-cone drill and completed it in 6.9 seconds, indicating his agility. In his final year at Northwestern, he caught 55 passes. Hull would give it his all playing on special teams and rotating in on third-downs.

Keaton Mitchell - New England Patriots

An athletic specimen, Mitchell jumped farther than all but Chase Brown at the Combine. He ran the 40 in 4.37 seconds, and he gets up to speed quickly. At East Carolina, he gained over 2,900 yards from scrimmage and scored 24 touchdowns.

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