The countdown to the draft is on, as the 2022 NFL Combine kicks off on Thursday, Mar. 3, 2022, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The running backs take the field on Friday, Mar. 4, and several names will be looking to improve their draft stock with strong performances.
The upcoming crop of college football running backs is intriguing. It’s unclear whether any of these players will come off the board on Day 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft. However, several guys at the top are household names and are coming off solid seasons. The most running back-needy teams should be keeping an eye on these ball-carriers during the workouts.
NFL Combine Honorable Mention: Brian Robinson Jr., Alabama
Brian Robinson Jr. is an easy guy to root for. The Alabama Crimson Tide running back waited his turn for years behind players like Najee Harris, Damien Harris, and Josh Jacobs. He finally took over the lead role in his fifth season in Tuscaloosa.
Robinson rushed for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2021. The most recent Alabama squad wasn’t quite as dominant as in previous seasons. However, Nick Saban and company were still better than most because of players like Robinson. He’s a downhill, bruising running back who should thrive in short-yardage situations at the next level. His biggest drawback is his versatility, as he doesn’t project as a high-usage guy in the passing game.
With all of the knocks on his game, the Alabama star could improve his draft stock at the 2022 NFL Combine.
5. Dameon Pierce, Florida
Dameon Pierce is probably the fastest-rising running back prospect in the upcoming draft class. According to The Draft Network, the Florida Gators standout impressed many scouts with his performance at the Senior Bowl. There, he flashed some skills that weren’t on full display during his college career.
Pierce’s senior season was the most productive during his time in Gainesville, even though he was underutilized. He carried the ball just 100 times, tallying 574 rushing yards on the year. However, he scored 13 times on the ground. His yardage total doesn’t jump off the page, but he racked up 5.7 yards per carry, an impressive mark.
Pierce is a player who could thrive at the NFL Combine because of his motor and effort. He made the most of his limited opportunities in the Gators offense. He’s pretty compact at 5-foot-9, 220 pounds, but he possesses excellent burst and explosiveness. His power could make him a handful in short-yardage situations.
4. Kyren Williams, Notre Dame
Kyren Williams likely will have a chip on his shoulder heading into the 2022 NFL Combine. He’s on the smaller side, standing 5-foot-9, 199 pounds. However, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish star is one of the most well-rounded players in this class.
Williams put together back-to-back seasons with 1,000-plus rushing yards, 300-plus receiving yards, and double-digit touchdowns. There aren’t a lot of skills that he doesn’t have in his tool kit. Despite his size, he’s a slippery runner who doesn’t shy away from contact.
Considering his build, Williams’ most significant impact in the NFL might be in the passing game. He’s excellent in pass protection and is skilled at catching passes out of the backfield. Williams recorded 77 receptions over the past two seasons. He also has experience running routes out of the slot, which increases his chances of getting on the field.
3. Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller is one of the highest-upside prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. He was an impact player from the moment he arrived in College Station as a freshman. He rushed for 2,993 yards and 25 touchdowns in three seasons with the Aggies.
Spiller has good size at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. He’s a downhill power back, but he also runs the ball with great vision and patience when hitting the holes. The 20-year-old has pretty good footwork for his size, too.
The biggest area of opportunity is in the passing game. Spiller isn’t the most technically sound pass blocker in the position group. He showed flashes of competency in the passing game, even though it wasn’t at a volume (74 receptions for 585 yards and one touchdown in three seasons). Improvement in those areas could turn him into a three-down starter.
2. Breece Hall, Iowa State
All eyes should be on Breece Hall at the NFL Combine. He developed into a big-time playmaker during his time at Iowa State, and scouts will want to see him work out up close.
Hall finished his career with 3,941 rushing yards, 734 receiving yards, and 56 total touchdowns across three seasons. His all-around skill set makes him a great candidate to be a three-down starter at some point at the next level.
The Cyclones star doesn’t possess top-end speed, but he makes up for it with his elusiveness in the open field. Hall is a powerful runner who displays great patience and vision. Scouts likely want to see more of a commitment to ball security, but there’s no debating that he has the potential to make noise in the NFL. He’s a touchdown machine, scoring 20-plus times in each of the past two seasons.
1. Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
Kenneth Walker III took college football by storm in 2021. After flying under the radar during his freshman and sophomore seasons at Wake Forest, he became a household name for the Michigan State Spartans. He rushed for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns on 263 carries.
The Spartans gave Walker a high volume of touches, and he certainly made the most of his opportunities. The junior appears to have ideal physical tools for the position, which should be on display at the 2022 NFL Combine. He’s a powerful runner, as evidenced by his 89 broken tackles on the season, which led the nation.
Walker has already proven that he can handle a heavy workload. He has to show that he can be a serviceable option in the passing attack. Neither Wake Forest nor Michigan State used him much in the capacity, so expect teams to be curious to see what he can do as a pass-catcher. If he adds that to his game, Walker could solidify himself as the best back in the draft.