The 2021 NFL Draft is over and teams are getting comfortable with their new draft picks. The next class of players is getting prepared now for another year of college football. Each position will be analyzed in the coming days. Here is the 2022 NFL Draft prospect watchlist: Running backs.
Breece Hall, Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State has been great under Matt Campbell and Hall may be the best player he has had at the program. The running back made an impact as a freshman with 897 rushing yards, 252 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns. He followed that up with an even better sophomore season that saw him gain 1,572 rushing yards, 180 receiving yards and 23 total touchdowns. Behind Hall, the Cyclones went 9-3 on the season and are poised for an even bigger 2021 season.
At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Hall has a good build for a running back. He has demonstrated solid vision and tremendous contact balance, as he can bounce right off of defenders and keep going. Hall has also been able to catch the ball out of the backfield, but will need to continue to improve his route-running. In pass protection, Hall shows good awareness of where the pressure will be coming from, but he is hit or miss on whether he is able to effectively block the opponent. He doesn’t have the best speed and acceleration, but his ability to put moves on defenders and fight for extra yards makes him appealing. Hall is the current frontrunner to be the first running back selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Brian Robinson Jr., Alabama Crimson Tide
Robinson has been at Alabama since the 2017 season, but has had to sit and wait his turn behind Najee Harris. While he was never the lead back, Robinson has contributed. Over his career, Robinson has 274 carries for 1,361 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. His 5.0 yards per carry shows off some of his true potential and he will now get the chance to get into a rythm more as a featured part of the Alabama offense.
At 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds, Robinson is a bowling ball of a running back. He has good power and has solid quickness for his size. Robinson bounces off of defenders and keeps his legs moving forward. His limited reps mean he has limited wear and tear, but he also hasn’t proven he can handle a full workload. Robinson is great for pass protection, but needs to show more consistent skills as a reciever in 2021.
Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M Aggies
For two seasons now, Spiller has been the Aggies’ lead back. He totaled 946 rushing yards, 203 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns as a freshman. In 2020, Spiller added to that with 1,036 rushing yards, 193 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns. His statistical increases as a sophomore were a little bit of a surprise after the Aggies played less games and an all-SEC schedule, but he was able to help the Aggies win the Orange Bowl.
Spiller is a well-built running back at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds. He shows solid burst when he gets the ball in his hands and hits the hole hard. His vision is nice, especially in the open field. These traits, along with his contact balance, help him break off big runs, even if he doesn’t have great longspeed. In addition to his longspeed not being great, Spiller also can be more consistent in his pass protection. For the 2021 season he can also show that he is more reliable as a receiver, not that it is a huge weakness, but it can help him be seen as more of a three-down player. Spiller is right up there with Hall in terms of being a possibility of a first round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
CJ Verdell, Oregon Ducks
For the last three seasons, Verdell has been a good running back for the Ducks. He rushed for 1,018 yards as a freshman and also had 315 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns. As a sophomore, Verdell totaled 1,220 rushing yards, 125 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns. A hand injury forced him to miss the last two games of the 2020 season, but he finished the year with 285 rushing yards, 96 receiving yards and three total touchdowns.
He is 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, which is nice for a running back. Verdell has great quickness and speed, which makes him a threat for big plays. He showed an ability to make plays in the passing game as a receiver. Verdell lacks power and contact balance, which makes him more of a finesse runner. There are also times where Verdell could be more patient to let holes develop. If he can come back from his hand injury and produce, Verdell could hear his name called by the commissioner within the first few rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Zamir White, Georgia Bulldogs
At Georgia, White has been a part of a time-share in the backfield, but he has impressed. He rushed for 408 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. White got morre of the workload in 2020 and finished the season with 779 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2020 and helped the Bulldogs go 8-2 with a win in the Peach Bowl.
White stands at 6-foot and 215 pounds, which gives him good size for the running back position. He has displayed nice vision and patience, but also has good burst to start the play off right. In the open field, he has a nice one-step cut that can help him elude defenders. For White to improve his draft stock, he needs to show more production as a receiver out of the backfield. He has just eight receptions over two seasons. With more improvement as a pass-catcher, White could work his way up draft boards by the time the 2022 NFL Draft comes along.
Kyren Williams, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
With the new redshirt rule in order, the Fighting Irish allowed Williams to play in four games during the 2019 season. He just played sparingly, but was able to take over the lead running back role in 2020. For the Fighting Irish, Williams rushed for 1,125 yards, had 35 receptions for 313 yards and totaled 14 touchdowns. His running ability helped Notre Dame make the College Football Playoff.
Williams is just 5-foot-9, but weighs 195 pounds, which is good for a player of his height. He runs hard and has good moves to elude defenders. His ability to be a solid receiver out of the backfield will make him more valuable to NFL teams. He does need to display better hands and haul in more catchable balls though. Williams also struggled in pass protection in 2020. With Notre Dame getting a mostly new offensive line and a new quarterback, a lot will be riding on Williams’ shoulders this season. If he produces as much as he did in 2020, he could be an early-round draft pick in 2020.
Other Draft Prospects
Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma Sooners- Brooks opted out of the 2020 season, but had two straight 1,000-yard seasons before that. If he regains his form, Oklahoma will be a lot of fun in 2021 and Brooks will benefit.
Ty Chandler, North Carolina Tar Heels- After spending four seasons at Tennessee, Chandler is going to play for North Carolina this season. He hasn’t produced on a big scale yet, but will get his chance this year for the Tar Heels.
Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss Rebels- Ealy is more of a scat-back, but will provide some receiving skills as well. He’ll be a part of a fun Ole Miss offense in 2020.
Kevin Harris, South Carolina Gamecocks- Harris was one of the most improved players in college football during the 2020 season. He produced during an all-SEC schedule in 2020 and if he does so again, his name will move up draft boards.
Mo Ibrahim, Minnesota Golden Gophers- There aren’t many more productive running backs in college football than Ibrahim. He’ll need to improve as a receiver to help his stock.
Master Teague, Ohio State Buckeyes- Teague saw his production dip in 2020, but he was recovering from an Achilles injury. There is a potential for him to break out this season, just like Trey Sermon did last season.
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