Ready for the NFL’s dog days of summer to be over? If you have fallen into this category and are currently suffering from football withdrawal, how about a splash into the pool entitled, “2023 NFL Draft”?
Over the next few weeks, we will be taking a brief look at the outlook of each primary position in the 2023 NFL Draft, breaking down the top prospects of note while also taking a look at the prospects who make the most sense for the Steelers. Today, we will dive into the running backs.
The Steelers have a budding star in Najee Harris at the position, but if speedster Anthony McFarland fails to stay healthy in 2022, the team may look to find a complementary speed back. Like every year, the running back class looks to be rich with talent as late as Day 3 of the draft, while the top of the class boasts one premier player who is simply on a different level than the rest of the prospects at the position.
Although we may not know every first-round prospect at running back, a consensus has certainly developed throughout the spring on the prospects of note. We will begin with those players before transitioning to the running backs who make the most sense for the Steelers specifically.
Let’s dive in!
1. Bijan Robinson | Texas
The best pure runner in the class, Robinson is a surefire first-round prospect, barring injury. At 6’0”, 220 pounds, Robinson is well-built and sturdy, but do not let his build fool you, as he also provides a surprising amount of agility and elusiveness in the open field. Becoming more decisive as a runner will be key as he heads into the 2022 season, but overall, his game is the real deal. His cuts are clean, and his combination of speed and power is lethal.
2. Jahmir Gibbs | Alabama
Gibbs was an efficient back for Georgia Tech the past two seasons, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. What is more interesting with his draft stock, however, is the fact that he has transferred to Alabama. Gibbs may not have the bulk of Alabama running backs in recent memory, but his versatility and three-down value make him a potential first-round prospect. SEC competition will be a noticeable step up in difficulty, but he will be surrounded by better talented at Alabama, which will likely prevent defenses from honing solely in on him like they did when he was at Georgia Tech. There is a little bit of projection here, but a strong season would definitely put him in the first-round conversation.
Finishing out the top 10
3. Devon Achane | Texas A&M
4. Zach Evans | Ole Miss
5. Zach Charbonnet | UCLA
6. Tank Bigsby | Auburn
7. Kendall Milton | Georgia
8. Sean Tucker | Syracuse
9. Blake Corum | Michigan
10. Eric Gray | Oklahoma
Steelers Prospect to Watch
Lew Nichols III | Central Michigan
Nichols is not the speed back that would complement Najee Harris, but man, did Nichols ever look good against Washington State in the Sun Bowl! Nichols may not have the breakaway speed one would hope for, but his raw power combined with a consistent pad level makes him one of the most difficult running backs to bring down in the open field. What I like most about him is his combination of patience and instincts. He is willing to wait for the right hole to open, and he always seems to hit the hole at just the right time.
Despite having already participated in three collegiate seasons, Nichols is only considered a redshirt sophomore heading in 2022. While a return to school in 2023 is not out of the question, he accumulated 341 carries just last season. With the shelf life of running backs continuing to shrink, it will likely be the best decision for him to enter the draft this upcoming year. If Nichols can run better than expected at the combine, he is going rise on the big board extremely quickly.
I am a big supporter of Anthony McFarland, and I believe he is the perfect complement to Najee Harris, but he has been unable to remain healthy for any period of time thus far into his NFL career. Benny Snell is the team’s secondary power back option, but we have seen his incapability of making consistently smart decisions as a runner. He also lacks explosiveness, which is yet another reason to consider finding a replacement.
Which running back in the 2023 draft do you have your eye on? Who do you think makes the most sense for the Steelers in the mid to late rounds of the draft? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!