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2024 NFL Draft RB Rankings: Preliminary Grades For Donovan Edwards, Raheim Sanders, and More

The Evolving Role of the Running Back

In recent times, the relevance of the running back (RB) position in the NFL has stirred considerable debate. Some analysts and fans argue that the role is losing significance, predicting its eventual irrelevance in the league. I'm here to dispel this misconception; far from dying out, the RB position is undergoing a significant transformation.

Transition from Traditional to Versatile

Fundamentally, the RB role remains an essential element in play design. However, the nature of the position is evolving from the traditional ground and pound, 20 touches-per-game backs to a multi-dimensional, versatile role. Today's running backs are less about straightforward, between-the-tackles use and increasingly geared towards functioning as receivers.

A New Skillset Requirement

This transformation doesn't mean every running back will mirror Christian McCaffrey's (CMC) level of skill. The versatility required of a modern running back varies significantly as each player brings a unique skill set to the field. For instance, while not all backs need to excel as receivers, posing a threat in that area can be a significant advantage.

The Rise of the Multi-Purpose Back

Being a multi-purpose back, able to line up in the slot in one play and shift to the backfield in the next, is what many NFL scouts are looking for these days. However, this evolution does not render power runners obsolete or reduce their importance if they are less efficient receivers. Instead, it implies that versatile running backs, who can perform multiple roles, are likely to be valued more highly in the modern game.

The 2024 Draft Prospect Landscape

That being said, we have evaluated several top running back prospects for the 2024 NFL Draft. Each of these players has distinct characteristics that make them unique; however, a common trait that they all share is their versatility as receivers. This attribute aligns perfectly with the changing demands of the RB position in the NFL, which is increasingly favoring youthful and versatile players.

A Preliminary Assessment of Talent (2024 NFL Draft RB Grades)

In this analysis, we have graded each player, providing a snapshot of their current standing. Please note that these 2024 NFL Draft RB grades are preliminary and subject to change in 2023, ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft. It's important to mention that many of these players are underclassmen with remaining eligibility, so there's a chance that a few may decide to continue their collegiate careers for an additional year. Nevertheless, let's dive into our current ratings for the running back position as we approach the 2023 college football season.

Michigan RB Donovan Edwards (6'0", 204 lbs)

Preliminary Draft Grade: 71.8 (Near Elite)

Player Comparisons: Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, James Cook

Play Style and Scheme Fit: Donovan Edwards is a versatile running back who can do it all. He has great speed, agility, and explosiveness, similar to Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, and James Cook. He also has excellent vision and contact balance, which makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Edwards is a three-down back who can contribute in both the running and passing game, and he would be a good fit for a zone-blocking scheme, where his vision and cut-back ability can be maximized.

Michigan RB Blake Corum (5'8", 212 lbs)

Preliminary Draft Grade: 73.5 (Near Elite)

Player Comparisons: Kenneth Walker III, JK Dobbins, James Cook

Play Style and Scheme Fit: Blake Corum is a versatile running back who is similar to Kenneth Walker, JK Dobbins, and Bryce Love. He is a small, physical, shifty back who is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. His versatility will allow him to adapt to various schemes, but he would be best utilized in a scheme that allows him to use his vision and patience to his advantage. However, Corum tore his ACL in 2022, so there are question marks about whether he will return to his true form in 2023. If he is able to fully recover, he has the potential to be a star in the NFL.

Arkansas RB Raheim Sanders (6'2", 235 lbs)

Preliminary Draft Grade: 67.9 (High-End Starter Level)

Player Comparisons: Joe Mixon, DeMarco Murray, Larry Johnson

Play Style and Scheme Fit: Sanders's play style is similar to that of Joe Mixon, DeMarco Murray, and Larry Johnson. He is a downhill runner combining good contact balance and big play ability. He is also a good receiver out of the backfield and can be used in a variety of offensive schemes. Sanders would be a good fit for a zone-blocking or power-running scheme. He is a versatile running back who can be used in a variety of ways.

Wisconsin RB Braelon Allen (6'2", 240 lbs)

Preliminary Draft Grade: 67.2 High-End Starter Potential

Player Comparisons: Nick Chubb, Christopher Carson, AJ Dillon

Play Style and Scheme Fit: Allen is a downhill runner, ideally suited for a power-running scheme. While he may not be a shifty runner, his strength and athleticism allow him to evade defenders effectively. His skills as a receiver out of the backfield further enhance his versatility, enabling his use in a variety of formations. In terms of player comparisons, Allen's running style and abilities draw parallels with those of Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, and Jonathan Taylor.

Ohio State RB TreVeyon Henderson (5'11", 215 lbs)

Preliminary Draft Grade: 67.1 High-End Starter Starter Potential

Player Comparisons: Todd Gurley, Sony Michel, Deejay Dallas

Play Style and Scheme Fit: TreVeyon Henderson is a versatile running back who makes impactful plays on the ground and through the air. His speed, explosiveness, and agility allow him to dodge defenders and create opportunities. His reliable pass-catching skills from the backfield enhance his versatility, making him an ideal fit for a zone running scheme that capitalizes on his vision and decisiveness. Regarding player comparisons, Henderson's speed, explosiveness, and vision are comparable to Todd Gurley's. He also has some of the same qualities as Sony Michel and Deejay Dallas, such as his ability to make plays in space and his elusiveness.

Clemson RB Will Shipley (5'11", 205 lbs)

Preliminary Draft Grade: 66.3 High-End Starter Potential

Player Comparisons: Christian McCaffrey, Justin Jackson, Wendell Smallwood

Play Style and Scheme Fit: Shipley is a versatile running back that fits various schemes. He is a patient runner who can exploit a crease in the defense for explosive yards. Shipley is also a good receiver out of the backfield and can be used creatively to exploit mismatches. He is similar to players like Christian McCaffrey, Justin Jackson, and Wendell Smallwood in that he is a patient runner with good vision and receiving skills. He would be a good fit for a team that runs a lot of zone reads, RPO's and likes to utilize their RB's as receivers in creative ways.

Florida State RB Trey Benson (6'1", 220 lbs)

Preliminary Draft Grade: 67.2 High-End Starter Potential

Player Comparisons: David Johnson, Kareem Hunt, Marlon Mack

Play Style and Scheme Fit: Trey Benson is a patient, downhill runner best suited for a zone-blocking scheme. He has the vision and patience to find open running lanes and is also a good receiver out of the backfield. Benson is not a consistent home run threat but a reliable runner who can pick up yards after contact. He has been compared to David Johnson, Kareem Hunt, and Marlon Mack, all of whom are patient runners who excel in zone-blocking schemes.


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