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 to crack the top 32 picks. And in the rounds beyond, there should be plenty of value as well. Here are the early top 10 running backs in the 2023 NFL Draft, from the middle rounds to the very top.
Top 10 RBs in the 2023 NFL Draft
The 2023 NFL Draft running back class looks incredibly deep in early viewings. There were many more prospects who were in contention to earn a spot in the top 10. But in the end, these are the 10 we came away with as our early favorites.
10) Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
Listed at 5’6″, 176 pounds, Deuce Vaughn will be one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. Some may love him, while others may have him off their boards entirely. It takes a rare kind of athleticism and dynamic ability to succeed at Vaughn’s size. Luckily, Vaughn seems to possess that kind of talent. It’s what’s led him to already field comparisons to fellow KSU product Darren Sproles.
Vaughn is an extremely explosive and twitchy runner. He can gear up instantly and erupt through tight seams, giving the camera crew a workout just to follow him upfield. That explosiveness makes Vaughn dangerous, but he’s also a low-centered runner with slippery agility. Moreover, he’s a very natural receiver with high-level versatility, and he’s a feisty blocker for his size. With his frame, he will not often withstand contact behind the line. But his style dictates that he can minimize contact with proficiency.
9) Camerun Peoples, Appalachian State
Over the past two seasons, Appalachian State’s Camerun Peoples has quietly amassed 2,050 yards and 26 touchdowns on 334 carries. He’s consistently averaged around six yards per carry and is a constant threat to put points on the board. Camerun can run. But all the while, he still falls under the radar at times. He may not wind up an early-round back, but he’s a sure bet to be a great value deal in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Peoples has a distinct frame and running style at 6’2″, 225 pounds. He runs a bit upright, and he’s more of a north-south back. But within his mold, he has very good cylindrical twitch and foot speed, and he carries great burst upfield when he sees a lane. Not only that, but Peoples also has surprisingly loose hips, which he can use to redirect and make quick cuts. And when he has a full head of steam, he carries great force into contact.
8) Blake Corum, Michigan
The Michigan Wolverines won on account of their running game and defense in 2021. That running game was led by eventual fourth-round pick Hassan Haskins. But another very essential part of that rushing attack was Blake Corum. Corum now enters his first year of eligibility, and there’s a chance he could end up being a higher selection than the aforementioned Haskins.
Corum is in an entirely contrasting mold to Haskins, but his mold is built for the modern NFL. Corum stands around 5’8″, but he has a very dense, compact frame at 200 pounds. And with that frame, Corum brings electric short-area athleticism and twitch. Corum can levy ruthless one-cuts in the open field, and once he has a runway, he surges into space. A surefire spark plug with receiving ability, Corum can be a core playmaker in the NFL.
7) Zach Evans, Ole Miss
Transferring from TCU to Ole Miss, Zach Evans will be one of the most intriguing newcomers across the offensive landscape in college football. A former five-star recruit who’s long been anointed a future NFL standout, Evans’ potential is clear. He flashed plenty at TCU over the past two seasons, and he has the upside to be a legitimate top-three back in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Evans will need to become more consistent with his vision and continue to hone his rushing efficiency. But the physical ability is clear. He sports a strong, lean 6’0″, 215-pound frame and employs a tantalizing mix of explosiveness, fleet-footedness, agility, and top-end speed. The overall finesse that Evans brings is top-tier, but with his frame, he can also finish forward on runs and churn through contact. All the tools are there.
6) Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh
This may seem surprising, as Israel Abanikanda hasn’t quite reached the mainstream yet as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect. But Abanikanda has a bevy of natural talent and is present as the Pitt offense undergoes a dramatic transition after losing Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison. With uncertainty on the passing side, the Panthers may rely on their ground game more often. And in that setting, Abanikanda could legitimately explode in 2022.
Abanikanda has great size at 5’11”, 215 pounds, carrying a ton of mass upfield. But what truly stands out on his tape is the natural athleticism that he runs with. Abanikanda has a visible second gear but also has fluid hips and crisp lateral agility when cruising through lanes. He can still be more efficient with his footwork and attack angles, but another year of development could unlock his full potential.
5) Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
Many thought Zach Charbonnet might declare for the 2022 NFL Draft and forgo the rest of his college eligibility. After a standout 2021 campaign, such a decision was expected. But in a surprising turn, Charbonnet decided to return for a fourth season. He’s now one of the best backs in the 2023 NFL Draft class and the top overall running back in the Shrine Bowl 1000.
Now eligible as a senior, Charbonnet is expected to be a coveted prospect on the all-star game circuit. And it all derives from the trademark physicality that makes his game so alluring. The 6’1″, 220-pound back is relentless heading upfield. Not only does he constantly keep his legs churning, but he can absorb direct blows with stellar contact balance. Beyond that, Charbonnet also flashes good initial burst and footwork and is a consistently active runner.
4) Sean Tucker, Syracuse
One of the most prolific playmakers on the ground in the Power Five ranks was Sean Tucker in 2021. Tucker was the engine of the Syracuse offense, putting up 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns on 246 carries. On top of that, he added 20 catches for 255 yards and two additional scores — all as a redshirt freshman. The early production alone makes Tucker extremely intriguing, and already, he’s climbing up the 2023 NFL Draft board at RB.
A lot of what Tucker has appears translatable to the NFL in some capacity. Tucker is a little on the small side at 5’10”, 210 pounds. But he’s a compact, well-leveraged back who showcases high-end acceleration capacity and can cut at impressively acute angles in space. He needs to improve his pass blocking to ensure a three-down role, but he has the requisite burst, density, and vision to be an exciting player.
3) Tank Bigsby, Auburn
Anyone named Tank Bigsby is born to be a running back. Not only does Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby have the cosmetic appeal, but he’s also a very strong RB prospect with early-round upside in the 2023 NFL Draft. Bigsby put up 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021, and he could be due for an even bigger year in 2022.
At 6’0″, 213 pounds, Bigsby brings good size. Along with that frame, he shows off fast, snappy feet and fluid hips. Additionally, he can use spry cuts in the backfield to create space for himself. In the open field, he displays great burst. And while the Auburn offense hasn’t always showcased it effectively, Bigsby is an excellent receiver. He can run routes, as well as make incredibly quick adjustments at the catch point.
2) Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
We’re still learning more about the 2023 NFL Draft class. But already, it looks flush with all kinds of molds and archetypes at the running back position. Not every prospect is a true workhorse, and that’s okay. In the modern NFL, variety and versatility carry exceedingly high value. That’s what makes a prospect like Jahmyr Gibbs so exciting. At his maximum projection, he could have an impact akin to Jamaal Charles.
Gibbs already has a similar frame to Charles, standing around 5’11”, 200 pounds. Gibbs is also explosive and agile, with rare throttle control and twitch in congested areas. But Gibbs doesn’t succeed on his athleticism alone. Though not quite to the degree of Robinson, he’s a stellar processor with great vision and creative instincts, and he uses the space he has with notable efficiency. Not to mention, he’s a strong receiving threat as well.
1) Bijan Robinson, Texas
As if there was ever any doubt, Texas’ Bijan Robinson is the top running back in the 2023 NFL Draft class at this point in time. It’s still very early in the cycle, but there’s a good chance Robinson holds this spot through the entire eight-month outing. That’s just the kind of prospect Robinson is. The Longhorns star, who amassed 1,127 yards and 11 scores in 2021, trends excitingly close to the generational label.
Interestingly, it’s not Robinson’s physical skill set that’s generational — although he does have great size and athleticism at 6’0″, 220 pounds. What’s generational about Robinson’s game is his uncanny creative instincts in tight spaces and his ludicrous vision and processing speed. He’s a back with a complete pallet of traits who’s constantly in control of the field ahead. Backs like this are worth more than the average ball carrier.
Tavion Thomas, Utah
DeWayne McBride, UAB
Devon Achane, Texas A&M
Lew Nichols III, Central Michigan
Roschon Johnson, Texas
Kendre Miller, TCU
Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota
Kenny McIntosh, Georgia
Christopher Brooks, BYU
Chris Rodriguez, Kentucky