2023 NFL Draft: Gear Up For A Loaded Running Back Class

AUSTIN, TEXAS - OCTOBER 16: Bijan Robinson #5 of the Texas Longhorns reacts after a touchdown in the second quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TEXAS - OCTOBER 16: Bijan Robinson #5 of the Texas Longhorns reacts after a touchdown in the second quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The 2023 NFL Draft has tons of potentially elite talent, but the best position group from top to bottom is the running back class.

The 2023 NFL Draft running back has a chance to be special. That word shouldn’t be used lightly, and it isn’t in this case. The 2017 group was one that will be heralded forever with all the talent, and since then, the 2020 group (headlined by Jonathan Taylor, D’Andre Swift, and Cam Akers) might be the next one in line. Najee Harris and Javonte Williams have elevated expectations in year two, and the 2022 group is one that felt extremely deep.

Matching 2017 with elite players at the top and impressive depth is no easy feat. This group might just do that. It has a player that’s been on the NFL Draft radar since he was a freshman, and several others that could challenge for the first round. Plus, there are several other satellite backs that will offer plenty to an NFL team.

Let’s dive in and give a snapshot of what could be a group we’ll talk about for years to come, the 2023 NFL Draft running back class.

The Elite: Bijan Robinson, Texas

Bijan Robinson is in a class of his own in the 2023 NFL Draft. Between the tackles, he’s fundamentally sound. He understands and anticipates holes opening, and does a great job finding cutback lanes and taking on space that the end man on the line gives him. Robinson drops his pads very well taking on contact, and can pick up extra yardage by shedding arm tackles and maintaining balance through contact.

While he doesn’t have the elite long speed, his short area burst can turn a hole into a chunk play of 15-20 yards. Where he shines is in space with his creative footwork. He can freeze defenders and have them grasping at air with his lateral movement skills, adding to his ability to create yardage post-contact and in space. The “dead leg” move of his is most impressive.

As a receiver, Robinson flashes natural hands and rarely breaks stride when on the move as a receiver. Some running backs clearly put in extra focus as receivers, and that isn’t the case with Robinson. He’s also succeeded lining up in the slot as a receiver, stemming well against off coverage. His burst and efficiency allow him to create some separation.

Robinson is ready for the full three-down workload at the next level, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a first round pick next April.

The Next Group

Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama

Few running backs have the lateral agility, flexibility, and absurd acceleration and deceleration skills. Jahmyr Gibbs is one of those guys who made lightning quick cuts that made jaws drop in his first two seasons at Georgia Tech. Now he’s in Tuscaloosa, where he can get a full workload and dominate on all three downs with that ability to make defenders miss, explosiveness, and pass catching prowess.

Tank Bigsby, Auburn

Tank Bigsby has the workhorse profile as well at 6’0″ and 213 pound, and he runs with a mean streak between the tackles, embracing contact and driving through defenders with impressive lower-body strength and contact balance. Bigsby will drop the pads and give defenders a wicked stiff arm. Don’t be fooled, though. He is a solid pass catcher who is surprisingly sudden moving laterally. He can rattle off big runs in open space too.

Zach Evans, Mississippi

Twitch and explosiveness are the name of the game with Zach Evans. The former TCU running back also makes his transition to the SEC this fall, and will provided with stern tests week after week. His burst is exceptional and he will definitely be on the field on third downs. The potential is there, but the vision between the tackles must improve. He loves to bounce runs outside and must practice patience in Oxford this fall.

Sean Tucker, Syracuse

Sean Tucker had a really productive 2021 season for the Orange, rushing for 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns on a whopping 6.1 yards per carry. Tucker is a well-built running back to handle the duties of a lead back. He’s got a low center of gravity, impressive contact balance, and a pretty impressive forearm shiver. His burst and long speed is very good for a bigger back, and he is sudden in the short area to make defenders miss.

The vision to find cutback lanes and process between the tackles needs work, as does his pass protection reps, but he’s an extremely talented runner.

Impressive Satellite Backs

Blake Corum, Michigan

Blake Corum is going to stick in the NFL and he might be this writer’s favorite running back in the 2023 NFL Draft. His blocking skills are impressive, and not just in pass protection. He can string together impressive moves to make defenders miss, and has the burst to rip off chunk runs. He’s an impressive pass-catcher as well, and has high character marks.

Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State

Deuce Vaughn will definitely be one of the more polarizing prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. His size sill prevent him from being a workhorse running back in the NFL, but he has shades of both Darren Sproles and James White. He’s a phenomenal pass catcher and has the explosiveness and twitch to make things very difficult for defenders in space. Expect another dominant year for Vaughn in the Big 12.

Devon Achane, Texas A&M

Devon Achane is pure speed, and might end up with one of the fastest combine times among 2023 NFL Draft prospects. If he gets a lane, his straight line speed can erase angles. He’s a fluid route runner as well with the ability to sink his hips to change direction. He runs a bit upright and is probably best suited as a strong RB2 in an offense.

More To Watch

Zach Charbonnet, UCLA

Zach Charbonnet gained some steam last fall in his first season with UCLA, and there was debate about him declaring for the 2022 draft. Charbonnet has the burst and twitch and should have another big year in the UCLA offense. Like Evans though, Charbonnet must improve upon his vision between the tackles, especially on zone runs.

Kendall Milton, Georgia

The Georgia Bulldogs lost both Zamir White and James Cook, but they have a good room in their quest for a second title. Kendall Milton should get more carries this season, and he has sharp cuts to make defenders miss. He might not have the elite straight line speed and explosiveness, but he’s going to be an effective playmaker for Georgia this fall.

Tavion Thomas, Utah

Tavion Thomas has the old school bruiser running back build to him, and he gets north and south with a full head of steam. He bounces off defenders and drops the pads well at contact to churn out extra yards. He found the end zone plenty last fall and it should happen again on a good Utah team.

Mo Ibrahim, Minnesota

Mohamed Ibrahim had a really fast start to the 2021 season, and unfortunately suffered a major injury that ended his season. His 163 yards against Ohio State was a fantastic performance to watch, and here’s hoping that he can return to form.

Small Schoolers

Camerun Peoples, Appalachian State

A bruiser with impressive twitch, Camerun Peoples has averaged over 1,000 yards in his past two seasons. Peoples also runs a bit upright for a big back, but he can create devastating collisions in space and is a better lateral mover than advertised.

Isaiah Davis, South Dakota State

It’s hard to follow Pierre Strong, but Isaiah Davis had a productive season as the RB2 for South Dakota State. Davis has the long speed and pass-catching ability to pick up right where Strong left off for the Jackrabbits.

Lew Nichols, Central Michigan

MACtion is always fun during the week, and Lew Nichols went nuclear in MAC play last fall. He finished with 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground along with 338 passing yards and two touchdowns as a receiver.

Dewayne McBride, UAB

Perhaps one of my favorite games to watch in summer scouting was Dewayne McBride’s performance against Georgia. He put together a solid game against one of the most dominant defensive lines in a long time. McBride is a creative runner with more twitch than I expected, and he also plays a physical brand of football as well. He might be one of the biggest risers in the 2023 NFL Draft when we look back on the season.

It’s Going To Be A Fun Ride

The 2023 NFL Draft is going to have quite a few elite talents, but the running back class is going to be phenomenal. It should produce a first-rounder and a ton of picks on day two. As teams move away from paying running backs, this group could prove that drafting one every few years will pay off.