Predicting Landing Spots for 2022 NFL Draft's Top Running Backs

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2022

Predicting Landing Spots for 2022 NFL Draft's Top Running Backs

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    The 2022 NFL draft is now only weeks away, and the rumors and predictions are rolling in at a rapid pace.

    Much of the focus heading into Round 1 has been centered around the quarterbacks. The intriguing group has some legitimate first-round options, including Liberty's Malik Willis and Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, but no clear-cut top target.

    Analysts and scouts will spend the next couple of weeks debating who the best pass-rusher is, which offensive lineman should be drafted first and who is the best receiver in what appears to be another promising prospect pool.

    However, not a lot of attention has been given to this year's crop of running backs. That's going to change here.

    The position has lost some of its draft glamour in recent years, as gems are regularly found in the late rounds and as undrafted free agents. However, there's still value in taking the right running back highly. All seven backs selected to or appearing in the 2022 Pro Bowl were drafted in the third round or earlier.

    Below, you'll find a look at the top six running backs in the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's latest big board and predictions for where each could land. Factors like past production, skill set, potential upside, team needs, draft order and projected draft range were all considered. Prospects are listed in alphabetical order.

Tyler Allgeier, RB, BYU

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    BYU's Tyler Allgeier might not be an immediate workhorse in the NFL but can make an early impact.

    He is a big (5'10 ¾", 224 lbs), physical back who also contributes as a receiver and as a pass-blocker. The knock on Allgeier is that he's more of a grinder than a true breakaway threat. Because of this, he may be best in a complementary role early on.

    "Allgeier would best be paired with another back who has more burst to his game, but he has the size and well-rounded game to be able to take a chunk of the touches," Nate Tice of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "His lack of true home run speed and some tread on his tires are his main blemishes, but Allgeier has the efficiency, vision and toughness to be a consistent contributor in the run game."

    Allgeier racked up 1,606 rushing yards, 199 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns for the Cougars last season.

    The Seattle Seahawks have a potentially perfect running mate for Allgeier in Rashaad Penny, who exploded down the stretch in 2021. Penny is a home run hitter, though he carries a lengthy injury history and isn't well suited for an every-down role.

    Penny has played just 37 games in four seasons, including because of a torn ACL that derailed his 2019 and '20 campaigns.

    Seattle has bruiser Chris Carson on the roster, but he's working his way back from neck surgery and entering the last season of a two-year deal. Allgeier and Penny could serve as the new foundation of the Seahawks offense in the post-Russell Wilson era.

    Prediction: Allgeier goes to Seattle 72nd overall (Round 3).

Jerome Ford, RB, Cincinnati

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    Jerome Ford, from the University of Cincinnati, is the third-ranked running back on the B/R board. While he isn't a massive runner, he's solidly built at 5'10 ½" and 210 pounds and is a legitimate breakaway threat who can also contribute as a receiver.

    Last season, Ford compiled 1,320 rushing yards, 220 receiving yards and 20 combined touchdowns for the Bearcats.

    "He's a talented, explosive option out of the backfield with soft hands and the speed to mismatch linebackers out in space. The pieces aren't all in place, but Ford could have a future as a change-of-pace slasher with third-down value," NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote.

    While Ford has the tools to be an instant contributor, his somewhat smaller frame and average vision make him best suited for a role in a two-pronged rushing attack. The Atlanta Falcons could place him in just such a role alongside runner/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

    Patterson saw his first meaningful work at running back in 2021, finishing with 153 carries for 618 yards and six touchdowns. He also caught 52 passes for 548 yards and five scores. Atlanta has Mike Davis in the complementary role, but he largely disappointed last season, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry.

    With Patterson (31) and Davis (29) both aging players, Atlanta would be wise to target a younger runner this offseason. Ford (22) would be the perfect target, able to rotate in early and replace Patterson as the primary running-receiving threat down the road.

    Prediction: Ford goes to Atlanta at 43rd overall (Round 2).   

Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Iowa State's Breece Hall is the second-ranked back on the B/R board, but it won't be a shock if he's the first one off the board later this month. Hall combines legitimate dual-threat potential with size (5'11 ¼", 217 lbs) and vision, making him a true three-down threat.

    Nathan Forster of Football Outsiders wrote the following for ESPN:

    "Hall, despite his heavy workload in the running game, also contributed substantially to the Cyclones' passing attack, catching 82 passes for 734 yards. For that reason, NFL teams can have an extra level of confidence when drafting Hall, because even if he does not work out as a pure runner, it is likely that he will add value as a receiver coming out of the backfield."

    Last season, Hall tallied 1,472 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards and 23 combined touchdowns for the Cyclones.

    The New York Jets seem to have found a solid back after taking North Carolina's Michael Carter in the fourth round of the 2021 draft. Carter finished his rookie campaign with 639 rushing yards, 325 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

    Pairing Hall with Carter—and complementary back Tevin Coleman—would give New York one of the best backfields in the AFC East and aid second-year quarterback Zach Wilson.

    Wilson, the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft, struggled early and often as a rookie, but his support was coming from just the league's 26th-ranked offense and 27th-ranked rushing attack.

    Prediction: Hall goes to the Jets 35th overall (Round 2).

Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III is the top-ranked running back on the B/R board and perhaps the best workhorse runner in this class. The Wake Forest transfer shone for the Spartans in 2021, rushing for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

    While Walker isn't particularly polished in pass protection and doesn't offer a ton as a receiver—he only had 19 receptions in three seasons—he's an explosive big-play runner who can add a spark to the ground game.

    "Walker is a fun and exciting player who can add big-play ability to any NFL team's backfield while also being polished and efficient to take whatever is blocked for him," Tice wrote in Walker's scouting report. "The juice he brings along with the vision and understanding of how to tempo his runs will allow him to be a contributor in any sort of run scheme."

    The Houston Texans could use a centerpiece for their committee backfield, which features Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead and Dare Ogunbowale at the top. The 5'9 ¼", 211-pound Walker fits the bill.

    Houston may have found its next signal-caller in Davis Mills, who flashed potential as a rookie in 2021. However, it was hard to evaluate what Mills can be with an offense that ranked dead last in total yards, rushing yards and yards per carry.

    Adding Walker would provide an immediate boost to the ground game and help take some pressure off Mills as he looks to develop in Year 2.

    Prediction: Walker goes to Houston 37th overall (Round 2).   

Rachaad White, RB, Arizona State

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Arizona State's Rachaad White is the sort of meat-and-potatoes ball-carrier who won't necessarily excite draftniks but who can become a solid piece of an NFL offense. With a tall but not particularly thick build (6'0 ", 214 lbs), White can struggle with low tackles and creating short-area space, but he possesses good open-field speed (4.48-second 40-yard dash) and can handle a large workload.

    White is also a solid contributor in the passing game.

    "He has a tendency to be slowed or stopped by first-level tacklers but is a more natural runner once he gets up to the second level. He fails to show enough creativity to escape the 'gets what is blocked' tag, but he does run with adequate vision," Zierlein wrote.

    White finished his 2021 campaign with 1,006 rushing yards, 456 receiving yards and 16 combined touchdowns.

    While he might not be a true starter, he could be a great complementary option. The Arizona Cardinals could provide him with the perfect home alongside 2021 Pro Bowler James Conner.

    Last season, Conner recorded 752 rushing yards, 375 receiving yards and 18 combined touchdowns while sharing the load with Chase Edmonds. Edmonds, however, departed for the Miami Dolphins in free agency.

    Arizona could consider giving Conner an every-down role in 2022, but that's a risky proposition. He was heavily touchdown-dependent and averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. Adding White would help ensure that the Cardinals' rushing attack is a threat in all areas of the field.

    Prediction: White goes to Arizona at 55th overall (Round 2).

Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Notre Dame's Kyren Williams is the sixth-ranked back on the B/R board, and he projects as a complementary runner and receiving specialist. He's an undersized back at 5'9 ¼" and 194 pounds, but he can be dangerous in a specialized role.

    The big question mark surrounding Williams is the disappointing 4.65-second 40 he turned in at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

    "NFL teams can't overlook the fact that Williams isn't an explosive athlete," Brent Sobleski of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "Yes, he's a smooth receiver and deserves credit in that area. But evaluators should wonder if he has enough juice to be as effective at the highest level."

    While Williams was good enough as a ball-carrier in 2020 and 2021, he never handled more than 211 carries in a season. In 2021, Williams finished with 1,005 rushing yards, 359 receiving yards and 17 combined touchdowns.

    As a backup and receiving back, Williams could be a great complement to Denver Broncos 2021 second-round pick Javonte Williams. The North Carolina product recorded 903 rushing yards, 316 receiving yards and seven touchdowns while splitting the load with Melvin Gordon III, who himself is a good dual-threat back without elite speed (4.52 40-yard dash).

    Gordon, who had 918 rushing yards and 213 receiving yards last season, remains unsigned as a free agent and recently met with the Baltimore Ravens, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Replacing Gordon with Williams would give Denver a fantastic and versatile young backfield to pair with new quarterback Russell Wilson.

    Prediction: Williams goes to Denver 75th overall (Round 3).


    *Full draft profiles and projections from the Bleacher Report Scouting Department big board can be found here. Draft order via Tankathon.