Before the start of the college football season, we unveiled our top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft class. These rankings were made up from summer scouting and observations taken through the previous season. Now that we’ve had six weeks of the 2021 college football season, we’ve revisited the rankings to bring you an updated list of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft. Has much changed?
Top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft | 1-5
Let’s kick off the list with the top-five running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft.
1) Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
Coming off the back of his first 1,000-yard-rushing season, Isaiah Spiller was my preseason RB1 through summer scouting. He’d been impressively productive through the first 17 starts of his career with the Aggies, and he possesses all the skills that you look for in a premier NFL running back.
At 6’1″ and 225 pounds, Spiller is built to withstand the rigors of the NFL. The thickly constructed running back has the requisite physicality to succeed, with impressive contact balance and the ability to grind out yardage. As you’d expect, he does his best work between the tackles, but his footwork and vision ensure he can win outside too.
Although he had his annual lackluster performance against Alabama, Spiller is having his best season to date. His 5.8 yards per carry through Week 6 is the best of his career. Furthermore, he’s been used more in the passing game, which was the one thing I wanted to see this season. Spiller is on pace to set career highs for receptions and receiving yards. Additionally, he snagged his first receiving touchdown in a narrow win over Colorado.
2) Breece Hall, Iowa State
After leading the nation in rushing yards last season, many considered Breece Hall the de facto RB1 of the 2022 NFL Draft class coming into his junior season. As a sophomore, the Iowa State dynamo broke 1,500+ rushing yards while racking up 21 touchdowns (the most rushing first downs in college football) and the second-most running plays over 20 yards.
Last year, Hall started the season with eight consecutive 100-plus-rushing-yard games. This season, he’s had a slightly more pedestrian start to it. The Iowa State running back struggled to just 69 yards in each of the first two games, averaging just 3.0 yards per carry against FCS Northern Iowa. Since then, however, he’s been back to his brilliant best with three consecutive 100-plus-yard games. Hall rushed for 2 touchdowns in each of those games.
The Iowa State RB has excellent short-area explosion with decent long speed, natural elusiveness — and importantly — the vision to execute these attributes on the field. Like Spiller, he’s also an asset in the passing game with blocking and catching ability. However, Spiller presents more of a physical presence and has the edge over Hall in terms of contact balance.
3) CJ Verdell, Oregon
A significant lower leg injury suffered against Stanford has deprived college football fans and NFL Draft analysts of potentially another 1,000-yard season from Oregon running back CJ Verdell. After a lackluster performance in 2020 that had seen him become something of a forgotten man, Verdell reminded people that he is one of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft class with big performances on the biggest stage.
Through five games, the Oregon running back was just a touchdown short of his 2019 breakout season’s tally of 8. He’d already outpaced his 2020 production in both yardage and touchdowns. Meanwhile, Verdell showcased his ability as a pass catcher, doubling his career receiving touchdown total.
Despite measuring between 5’8″ and 5’10” — depending on your source — he is one of the most physical running backs in the nation. He is the epitome of the phrase “angry runner.” He’s tough, strong, and it will often take multiple players to bring him down. Behind that is an athletic profile that contains explosiveness, decent long speed, and impressive contact balance. Verdell has a highly alluring profile as one of the top running backs in the nation.
4) Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
While the top three players have confirmed my preseason assertions about the top running backs in the nation, Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III has emerged out of apparently nowhere to challenge the accepted elite in the 2022 NFL Draft class.
The junior transfer from Wake Forest is the epitome of a sleeper. That in itself is remarkable for a running back who found the end zone 13 times during his sophomore season for the Demon Deacons.
Yet, it’s fair to say that Walker has surprised everybody with his performances this season. Through six games, Walker leads the nation with 913 rushing yards, has averaged 9.1 yards per catch, and is just 4 touchdowns shy of last season’s end-zone production.
Cast aside the production, and Walker is almost more impressive when viewed in a pure evaluation vacuum. He has all the requisite skills of an NFL rusher, from explosiveness and vision to contact balance and creation ability. While much hasn’t been asked of him as a receiving back, Walker’s shown good hands and the ability to create after the catch. He’s been unstoppable on the field, and his ascension as one of the top running backs in the class may be equally formidable.
5) Zonovan Knight, NC State
The model of consistency through his first two seasons at North Carolina State, Zonovan Knight has upped his game early in the 2021 college football season. In the opening game of the campaign, he tore up South Florida to the tune of 163 yards at 10.2 yards per carry. Knight is currently on pace to top 1,100 rushing yards with a career-high 6.5 ypc.
The junior RB has achieved this while appearing in a running back committee for the Wolfpack. Knight has just 3 more carries than teammate Ricky Person Jr. through Week 6, yet has 116 more rushing yards.
While there are rushers with flashier touchdown numbers than Knight this season, for me, his skill set makes him one of the top running backs in the nation. He demonstrates incredible vision and patience while possessing the burst and lateral agility to execute. Knight also has an arsenal full of rushing weaponry and exceptional contact balance.
Top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft | 6-10
While these running backs didn’t make the top five, they’re still amongst the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft.
6) Eric Gray, Oklahoma
After building a reputation as one of the top running backs in the nation despite playing in a repulsive Tennessee offense, I expected Eric Gray to push on and flourish in the Oklahoma offense following his transfer to Norman. Unfortunately for Gray, it hasn’t quite been all sunshine and rainbows for the Sooners this season.
After logging four 100-yard games in nine games last season, the junior is yet to push through the mark in six games for the Sooners. He’s yet to find the end zone on the ground, and he’s averaging fewer yards per carry than his freshman season at Tennessee. Furthermore, he’s been overshadowed by teammate Kennedy Brooks.
Yet, when at his best, there isn’t a running back in the nation who can match Gray’s alluring skill set. He possesses exceptional change-of-direction ability, impressive contact balance, and a short-area burst that helps mitigate a lack of true long speed. There may not be a better receiving back in all of college football.
7) Tyler Goodson, Iowa
Ok, I may have jumped the gun calling Gray the best receiving back in college football. Iowa’s Tyler Goodson has to be the front-runner for the award. While he has just 1 receiving touchdown for his career, Goodson has over 150 receiving yards in each of his three seasons, and he’s averaging a career-high 11.6 yards per catch this season.
While you won’t find Goodson’s name near the top running backs in college football in terms of pure yardage, he has had some standout games. Against Kent State, he racked up 153 rushing yards and was just one shy of a 100-yard game against Indiana.
However, you have to analyze Goodson’s profile outside the box score to understand his true ability. He’s athletic, explosive, dynamic, and a thoroughly exciting guy to watch. Goodson combines impressive change of direction, creativity, and vision with excellent pass-catching ability to present a dangerous threat out of the backfield.
8) Kyren Williams, Notre Dame
As the Notre Dame offensive line has struggled this season, so has Kyren Williams‘ standing as one of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft class. He was as important to the Fighting Irish last year as Ian Book. This year, however, he’s struggled. Through six games, he’s averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Williams has just 4 rushing TDs.
So, why does he still feature in our top 10, you might ask? Well, Williams is an explosive athlete who combines short-area burst with agility and long speed. He also boasts impressive footwork and vision. While those attributes are exciting at the college level, it’s the Notre Dame rusher’s ability to be physical as a blocker that will help cement his status as one of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Furthermore, Williams has shown impressive ability as a receiving back. In the last 18 games, the Notre Dame rusher has 54 receptions for 513 yards and 4 touchdowns.
9) Tyler Allgeier, BYU
Can your running back chase down a defender with a freshly intercepted ball in his hand, climb on his back, and punch out said ball? If the answer is no, your team doesn’t have Tyler Allgeier on it. This time next year, your NFL team could have the BYU standout on their roster as he continues to be one of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Don’t just take my word for it. I asked former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson if he thinks Allgeier can play in the NFL next year:
“I do. He’s a really good player. He’s definitely going to get his opportunity.”
The 5’11”, 220-pound running back has the potential to be pigeonholed as a power back due to his build and ability to bulldoze through contact. However, there’s more to Allgeier’s play than just brute force. As demonstrated last season, he is one explosive playmaker. The BYU running back has excellent burst while also possessing the vision that allows the best running backs to create big plays consistently.
10) Sincere McCormick, UTSA
Before the season, I expected Sincere McCormick to break 1,500 rushing yards this fall. Although he isn’t currently on pace to match that expectation, mere statistics can’t fairly evaluate his influence on a UTSA team that is currently undefeated. Against Memphis, he strapped the team onto his back and dragged them to a win with 3 touchdowns.
His yards per carry might not capture the same muster as last season, but McCormick’s sheer workload alone will ensure that the eyes of the NFL will be on him throughout the rest of the season.
What they’ll find is a running back who can create yardage after contact with balance and change-of-direction ability. They’ll find a runner who is creative but also possesses vision. They’ll also find a runner who can punch it in at the goal line to drag his team kicking and screaming over the finish line of a game.