2023 NFL Draft breakout candidates at RB include John Emery Jr., Kenny McIntosh

At a position prone to breakouts, who are the top RB breakout candidates in the 2023 NFL Draft? Predictably, the SEC leads the way.

The nature of the running back position demands that players can emerge out of anywhere, at any time. Who are the top breakout candidates at RB in the 2023 NFL Draft? As this list shows, departures from the 2022 NFL Draft may have opened windows for new talents to emerge, and eventually, take spots in the 2023 NFL Draft down the road.

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2023 NFL Draft breakout candidates at RB

Our list of 2023 NFL Draft RB breakout candidates features prospects from four of five Power Five conferences, including two from separate running back factories in the vaunted SEC.

John Emery Jr., LSU

There are certain schools — predominantly from the SEC — where NFL running backs are expected. LSU is one of those schools. The Tigers’ influence stems all the way back to Joseph Addai. And in recent drafts, LSU has produced early-round selections such as Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and most recently Tyrion Davis-Price. LSU has a line to keep building on, and John Emery Jr. may be the next man up.

Emery was once a highly-touted five-star recruit, who accumulated 1,693 yards and 26 touchdowns in his senior high school campaign. At 5’11”, 220 pounds, with a recorded 40.5″ vertical jump out of HS, Emery no doubt looks the part.

His collegiate career hasn’t gone according to plan so far; he was a marginal producer in 2019 and 2020, and was ruled academically ineligible in 2021. But Emery has since turned it around and was given RB1 reps throughout the spring. He has the talent to dominate if given a chance.

King Doerue, Purdue

Purdue’s offense did a lot of damage through the air last season. But after losing David Bell to the NFL draft, and losing rising star Milton Wright to academic ineligibility, there’s a chance the Boilermakers put more on running back King Doerue’s shoulders in 2022.

Aidan O’Connell will still get plenty of work in the passing game, but Purdue might have a player they can rely on in Doerue. He’s a very intriguing player type at running back, standing around 5’10”, but is well over 200 pounds, and brings the desired density in tight situations.

That density sometimes allows Doerue to withstand contact, but he’s also a legitimate athlete. He can levy smooth lateral cuts in the open field and has solid long speed as well. After amassing 533 yards in 2021, Doerue could be due for another uptick in statistical output.

Kenny McIntosh, Georgia

Departures always pave the way open for opportunities, and the best college football programs always have players ready to pounce on those opportunities. Georgia falls under that category.

Especially at running back, Georgia has produced consistent NFL draft selections for years. From Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to D’Andre Swift, Zamir White, and James Cook — naturally, a new back has to carry the torch in 2022.

Right now, it looks as though that back will be Kenny McIntosh. In the first three years of his career at Georgia, the former four-star recruit only amassed 130 carries for 753 yards and six touchdowns. But with White and Cook both gone, McIntosh has the inside track to the lead role in 2022.

The 6’1″, 210-pound back has never handled a premier workload, but he flashes the traits to do so. McIntosh is an effervescent short-area athlete with impressive burst and body control, and he’s a phenomenal receiving threat as well.

Jirehl Brock, Iowa State

Much like McIntosh, Jirehl Brock has been waiting his turn for the past three seasons. In 2019 and 2020, Brock was buried on the depth chart behind Breece Hall and Kene Nwangwu. In 2021, Brock still played second fiddle to Hall, who went on to be selected in Round 2 of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Jets. Now, however, as a fourth-year junior, it looks like Brock is in line to get his chance.

Brock’s four-star pedigree tells of unrealized promise, but it’ll take work for Brock to reach his peak in 2022. In a limited sample size, he’s flashed both potential and shown his flaws. As a runner, he can improve his creative instincts, but that should come with time and experience.

At 6’0″, 215 pounds, Brock is at least a sturdy back, and while he lacks elite burst, he has smooth athleticism. He’s also a willing pass protector, providing glimpses of three-down upside.

Trey Benson, Florida State

We’re digging deep for this last NFL Draft breakout candidate at the RB position. A former 2020 recruit, he only has six career carries to this point. But there’s a lot of buzz around Trey Benson, who recently transferred from Oregon to Florida State and quickly gained traction in the RB rotation during spring practices.

There’s talk that Benson could be a breakout player for the Seminoles. Knee injuries have set him back to this point, but now, he looks healthy and ready to go.

At 6’1″ and over 200 pounds, Benson has very quick feet, and he’s an effortless accelerator upfield. He can adjust his stride lengths and explode into space with bounding strides, but he also leans and sinks his hips on direction changes. The natural, raw talent is all there with Benson. And with good health and opportunity coalescing in 2022, he could come out of nowhere as an emergent star on the CFB stage.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.


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