With the average career length of an NFL running back sitting at three years, the NFL Draft is pivotal for continuing a pipeline at the position. In the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, 18 running backs heard their name called with Najee Harris and Travis Etienne leading the way. Who will be the next rushers to replenish the NFL’s running back room? We take an early look at the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft | 1-5
These are my very early rankings of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft class. The rankings are compiled from observations made while watching players in the 2021 class and early adventures into 2022 summer scouting. As such, they’ll be subject to change throughout the summer and 2021 college football season. Nevertheless, it presents an early look at who should be the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft.
1) Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
After coming up just short of 1,000 yards as a freshman, Isaiah Spiller crept over the line with 1,036 rushing yards last season. He may not have been the nation’s most prolific rusher in terms of total yardage, but the Texas A&M running back ran the rock for an impressive 5.5 yards per carry. Furthermore, Spiller added 193 receiving yards at 9.7 yards per catch. He also found the end zone nine times in 2020.
Spiller may not be the speediest of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft — he has an unofficial 4.50 40-yard dash time — but it doesn’t impact his ability to make plays. He’s elusive and strong between the tackles and displays enough burst to get around the edge.
At 6’1″ and 225 pounds, he’s also one of the most well-put-together running back prospects in the class. His size shows up on film with his ability to pick up the blitz, block in the open field, and even lead the way as a fullback.
2) Breece Hall, Iowa State
Breece Hall is easily one of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft class for pure explosive plays. In fact, he may very well be the top back. Last year, he ranked second in the nation for rushing plays over 20 yards. The Iowa State back also picked up the most rushing first downs in all of college football. A playmaking machine, Hall rushed for 1,572 yards at 5.6 yards per play, with an incredible 21 touchdowns.
A slightly lighter player than Spiller, Hall uses his combination of explosion and vision to create big plays. Although he won’t break any combine records with his speed, he’s fast enough to leave defenders trailing in his wake. Moreover, he has excellent change of direction skills, which further helps him to gain more yardage. If you’re looking for two running backs to go in Round 1 next year, Spiller and Hall are your guys.
3) CJ Verdell, Oregon
CJ Verdell could have declared for the draft at the end of last season. Yet, the Oregon running back still has goals for both himself and the program.
Firstly, he wants to be the first Oregon rusher to hit 2,000 yards for the season. Secondly, he aims to win a national championship for the Ducks. Some might call those goals lofty. Others may call them unobtainable. Whichever way you want to call them, I wouldn’t want to be the man to tell Verdell that he can’t achieve them.
At 5’10” and 210 pounds, he is one of the most physical running backs in the nation. He is the epitome of the phrase “angry runner.” He loves nothing more than initiating contact and emerging victorious. He’s tough, he’s strong, and it will often take multiple players to bring him down.
Last year was disappointing for the Oregon rusher. Amongst the disruption of the 2020 college football season and an injury sustained in the game against Washington State, Verdell managed a paltry 285 yards at 4.4 yards per carry. Rewind one year, however, and he achieved 1,220 yards, 6.2 yards per carry, and 8 touchdowns. He also flexed pass-catching ability with 125 receiving yards off 14 receptions.
4) Eric Gray, Oklahoma
Having Eric Gray ranked fourth among the top running backs for the 2022 NFL Draft might seem a little rich for some people. After all, the former Tennessee running back has never broken the 1,000-yard mark. Last season, he only rushed for 772 yards at 4.9 yards per carry and found the end zone just four times.
Despite this, he is one of the most dynamic rushers in college football. Gray is elusive and explosive in the open field. He has a knack for finding open lanes, and once he hits them, it’s goodnight for the defense. Additionally, Gray has demonstrated the pass-catching prowess that is a prerequisite for success in the NFL. Last season, he snagged 30 receptions for 254 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Oklahoma Sooners are very excited to pair Gray with Kennedy Brooks to form a two-headed monster in the backfield. Working under the tutelage of former Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray should do wonders for Gray’s game and his 2022 NFL Draft stock.
5) Kyren Williams, Notre Dame
At 5’9″, Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams is one of the most undersized running backs in this list of the top 2022 NFL Draft prospects. Don’t let that fool you, though. The man is a beast. Williams rushed for almost as many touchdowns as Ian Book threw for last season. He did so while averaging 5.3 yards per carry on his way to 1,125 rushing yards.
In addition to his ability as a rusher, Williams accounted for 313 receiving yards — more than tight end Tommy Tremble — at 8.9 yards per reception. Williams was a crucial part of the Notre Dame passing offense, totaling more receiving yards than any other running back on this list. Moreover, the talented running back is an impressive blocker, something that will be held in high value when he transitions to the NFL.
The true test of how good Williams is will come this college football season. The entire Notre Dame offensive line has departed for the NFL, and they were one of the best units in the nation last year. That being said, Williams has shown he has the vision, elusiveness, and toughness to carve out his own plays.
Top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft | 6-10
Now, we’ll take a look at the back half of the top 10 running backs for the 2022 NFL Draft.
6) Zamir White, Georgia
In some respects, timing has not been on Zamir White’s side. As a freshman, the former five-star recruit suffered a knee injury in preseason practice that sidelined him for the year. Finally, seeing the field in 2019, he played second fiddle to D’Andre Swift. Last season, the Georgia offense transitioned to a more air-based attack under Todd Monken. Some kids can’t get a break.
That being said, White has averaged over 5 yards per carry in each of his two playing seasons. Last year, as the lead rusher in the running back room, he averaged 5.4 yards per carry on his way to 779 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
He’s a physical back who displays surprising burst and quickness. White hasn’t been used as a pass catcher out of the backfield, which could present issues for his NFL Draft stock. He has just 8 catches for 57 yards in two seasons for Georgia.
7) Jerrion Ealy, Mississippi
A former five-star recruit, Jerrion Ealy is the epitome of an athlete in this running back class. At Jackson Prep, he set school records in multiple track events, including the 100m. He was also a baseball standout, and even at Ole Miss, he balances football in the fall with baseball in the spring.
Ealy has led the Ole Miss running back room since arriving in 2019. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry during his first season, totaling 722 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. Although he saw a downturn in yards per carry — 5.1 YPC — he still amassed 745 yards and found the end zone 9 times.
Ealy plays a physical brand of football, displaying strength and a willingness to embrace contact. Despite that, he still flashes outstanding footwork, and the track background is evident in his explosive play.
Ealy is coming off a surgery that caused him to miss spring baseball and the Ole Miss spring football game. Hopefully, it won’t cause a downturn in his play in 2021 or impact his ranking as one of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft.
8) Cam’Ron Harris, Miami
There is absolutely no doubt that Cam’Ron Harris is one of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft class when he’s at his best. Labeled a “freak” by teammate D’Eriq King and described by offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee as “faster than I thought he was, more explosive than what I thought he was,” Harris has legitimate speed in his 5’10” and 210-pound frame.
He arrived at Miami some 20 pounds lighter. During the 2019 offseason, he hit the weight room, seeing an increase in strength with no noticeable loss of speed or explosion. Miami has him tracked by GPS at 23 miles per hour, while college defenses have first-hand experience of the physicality he exudes when he lowers his shoulder.
Harris has all the makings of an exceptional NFL running back. Fast, strong, capable of pass catching and pass protection, he should be higher up this list of the top 2022 NFL Draft running back prospects on skillset alone.
However, the one thing he lacks is consistency. Against Louisville last year, he had 14.9 yards per carry, whereas against Clemson, he struggled to just 0.4 yards per carry on 8 attempts. For every up game, there’s a down game. If he can elevate those troughs, the peaks will become more noticeable during the process.
9) Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma
We alluded to the double-headed monster in the Oklahoma backfield earlier in the piece. Brooks is the other half of that delightful duo with Gray. Despite the former four-star being with the Sooners since 2017, he will have to reacclimate to the Oklahoma backfield after being away from the program for a year. Brooks opted out of the 2020 season following some disruption at the program during the global uncertainty.
The year away hit pause on what had been a sensational start for the Sooners’ star back. After redshirting in 2017, Brooks had a breakout year, rushing for 1,056 yards at an incredible 8.9 yards per carry. While it proved difficult to scale that mountainous production in 2019, he still rushed for 1,011 yards at 6.5 yards per attempt. Additionally, he tallied 18 touchdowns over his first two seasons in Norman.
Brooks has good vision, footwork, and demonstrates the ability to run between the tackles while having enough speed to bounce outside. One area where he could improve — and this is where teammate Gray has a distinct advantage — is as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
10) Tyler Allgeier, BYU
Tyler Allgeier is a 5’11”, 220-pound running back who spent 2019 playing linebacker. He also happens to have racked up 1,130 rushing yards at 7.5 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns last season. Yes, Zach Wilson was impressive for BYU in 2020, but he wasn’t the only playmaker on offense. Furthermore, Allgeier added 175 receiving yards at 12.4 yards per reception last season.
Even though he’s one of the top returning rushers, Allgeier may be the ultimate boom or bust RB in the class. He’s explosive and powerful. With Wilson gone, he will likely see more than his fair share of carries as the offense rebuilds with a new quarterback. However, with key offensive linemen gone from a unit that was one of the best in college football, it remains to be seen if he can be as productive this season.
Honorable mentions for the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft
SaRodorick Thompson, Texas Tech; Keaontay Ingram, USC; Tykevious Chandler, Tennessee; Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota; Kevin Harris, South Carolina; Sincere McCormick, UTSA; Brian Robinson, Alabama; Tyler Goodson, Iowa; Master Teague III, Ohio State.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.