Will we see the return of the first-round running back in the 2023 NFL Draft? That remains to be seen, but the talent is there for one — if not two — RBs to crack the top 32 picks. And in the rounds that follow, there is plenty of value. With the draft nearly here, let’s crack open the PFN Consensus Big Board and indulge in the top 10 running backs in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Top 10 Running Backs in the 2023 NFL Draft
10) Keaton Mitchell, East Carolina
“I came. I saw. I conquered.” Julius Caesar may have written that to the Romans, but Keaton Mitchell certainly took the phrase and … ran … with it at the NFL Combine. He set stopwatches ablaze with a 4.37 40-yard dash while also jumping 38″ in the vertical and 10’6″ in the broad.
Yet, Mitchell’s most consequential numbers from the Combine were his height (5’8″) and weight (179 pounds). That’s a receiver build! Mitchell likely won’t receive more than a handful of carries out of the backfield, but a creative offensive mind could — and should — manufacture him touches as a receiver.
9) Zach Evans, Ole Miss
A true freshman outperformed Zach Evans. Normally, that sentence would be a cause for concern. But that true freshman was Quinshon Judkins — possibly the best RB in the country not named Bijan Robinson last season. So take Evans’ inability to lock down Ole Miss’ RB1 role with a grain of salt.
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Evans finished his collegiate career with less than 300 carries (290) and one yard short of 2,000. That’s a ridiculous average of 6.9 yards per carry, but five FBS RBs had more rushing attempts in the 2022 season alone. The tools — top-end speed, fleet-footedness, etc. — are there, but decision-makers will have questions about his bell-cow ability.
8) Kenny McIntosh, Georgia
He’s not D’Andre Swift, James Cook, or Zamir White, but Kenny McIntosh is yet another serviceable running back hailing from the Peach State. Fresh off two national championship victories, McIntosh knows a thing or two about winning football games.
With natural hands, burst, and build-up speed on outside runs, the Georgia RB doesn’t have to have the processing power of a Mac(intosh) to be a complementary piece in a committee.
7) Devon Achane, Texas A&M
ALL ABOARD! The Achane (Devon, that is) is ready to depart. The Texas A&M RB is the human reincarnation of Lightning McQueen — “Speed. I. Am. Speed.” He can flip the field on any given play, whether as a rusher or kick returner.
Achane’s size (5’8 1/2″, 188 pounds) restricts his projection, but his home-run speed and Gordan Ramsey-precise cuts are tailor-made for today’s NFL.
6) Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh
If you didn’t know Israel Abanikanda before the season, you definitely did after his 320-yard and six-touchdown performance against Virginia Tech. At just 20 years old (he doesn’t turn 21 until next October), he’s proven to be a complete ball carrier.
Outside of passing up opportunities to bounce to the edge and refining his ability on passing downs, there isn’t much not to like about the Pitt RB’s potential. Like Max Kellerman said on First Take, if the fate of the universe is on the line, and I need a young speed back to carry the rock, “I WANT ABANIKANDA!”
5) Tank Bigsby, Auburn
If the draft was based on names, Tank Bigsby would be the 1.01. Nevertheless, his game doesn’t fall too far behind. The Auburn RB exhausts runs of their full potential with explosiveness and sheer physicality. But his trump card is his ability to plant his foot, change directions, and dart upfield.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
Bigsby is a scheme-diverse runner that can produce in any situation. And like his first name (Tank, not Cartavious), he’ll turn holes into craters at a moment’s notice.
4) Kendre Miller, TCU
There’s production, and then there’s Kendre Miller’s production. Miller scored a touchdown in all but one game last season. He finished with 1,399 yards and 17 TDs on 224 carries (6.25 average).
But there is more to Miller than the stat sheet. He carries his 220 pounds effortlessly, bursting through holes and sinking low through cuts. The cherry on top? Miller makes defenders look inebriated on the field despite not being allowed to order an alcoholic beverage (he will turn 21 in June)!
3) Tyjae Spears, Tulane
Although the gap between the top two backs is closer than Anthony Davis’ eyebrows (nine spots on PFN’s Big Board), the difference between No. 2 and No. 3 is wider than the one between Michael Strahan’s teeth (43 spots). But that’s not to say Tyjae Spears isn’t a talented back.
Spears is the definition of a change-of-pace back, varying his strides to shock opponents in gaps and the open field. His nightmare-inducing change of direction has its downsides, as he is indecisive between the tackles. Yet, Spears’ ability to spear through defenses and leave them on their knees has a place on any team.
2) Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
Today’s NFL is all about operating in space, and Jahmyr Gibbs has a doctorate in aerospace engineering. His otherworldly twitch, flexibility, and lightning-quick feet provided a foundation for the astronaut to navigate flying debris.
Akin to Jamaal Charles and Alvin Kamara, Gibbs thrives in the open field and has legitimate upside as a receiver. He isn’t your typical bruising Alabama back (Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram, etc.), but he has first-round potential all the same.
1) Bijan Robinson, Texas
Putting positional value aside, Bijan Robinson is a top-10 talent. His uncanny creative instincts, processing speed, and overall athletic profile are simply unparalleled. Heck, you could line him up at slot receiver full-time, and he’d be productive in the NFL.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft RB Class
Honestly, it feels like we’ve reached Joe Goldberg levels of obsession when it comes to Robinson, but it’s not unwarranted. He isn’t just capable of being a bell cow — he can be the focal point of an offense. Want to improve your team? Step one: get the ball in Robinson’s hands. Step two: sit back and watch him be the main character vs. NPCs.
Other Top Running Backs in the 2023 NFL Draft
- Roschon Johnson, Texas
- Eric Gray, Oklahoma
- Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
- Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
- Sean Tucker, Syracuse
- Chase Brown, Illinois
- DeWayne McBride, UAB
- Camerun Peoples, Appalachian State
- Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota
- Xazavian Valladay, Arizona State
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