The running back position is crucial in fantasy. Having a good stable of running backs gives you a lot of flexibility for both your lineup and the trade market. Projecting which college running backs could be fantasy-relevant can be a grueling process.
For example, recently in the 2022 NFL Draft class, we saw once heavily touted Kyren Williams from Notre Dame fall to day three of the draft. Williams looked good throughout his college career but bombed the NFL Combine while lacking the ideal size of a starting running back.
I’m old enough to remember when Max Borghi was supposed to be the next Christian McCaffrey after catching 86 passes during his sophomore season at Washington State. His devy stock went through the roof back in 2019. He’s now an undrafted free agent trying to latch onto the Denver Broncos practice squad.
Chub Hubbard looked like a lock to receive decent draft capital after rushing for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns during his sophomore season in 2019. Unfortunately, when it came time for him to come out for the draft in 2021, he fell to the fourth round and looks destined to be a backup behind one of the best running backs in the NFL.
In just about every draft, we can play out this scenario. A once prominent devy prospect falls to day three or completely out of the draft, leaving devy gamers what could have happened. Only so many running backs are going to be productive for our fantasy teams once they make it to the NFL.
Some of these running backs who look destined to be the next big thing, eventually fade away once it comes time for their name to get called on draft day. The running back market in devy ultimately turns into the hurt business if you play long enough.
BULL DOGG’N THE RBs – Branson Robinson and Andrew Paul, Georgia
Georgia is the RBU of college football. They can turn and burn NFL-level talent at the position and make it look easy. They added two new running backs in this year’s recruiting class who can make an impact on the program.
Branson Robinson looks like he was chiseled out of granite. He was a man among boys at the high school level and there’s a good chance he will be a superstar playing Saturdays. Ahead of him on the depth chart the team has listed Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton, and Daijun Edwards. Considering he has the talent to climb the depth chart as a freshman, we could see him become a key contributor to the offense sometime this year.
Can’t wait to see Branson Robinson do special things in Athens
— 704 Dawg ➐ (@FSFRecruits) November 23, 2021
He’s a 5-foot-10 and 220-pound wrecking ball who runs with a blend of power and speed that makes him very dangerous. Robinson will run through faces, while also having the ability to slip his way past defenders. He’s a pounder who has the frame and the tenacity to handle a heavy workload. We might be looking at the top running back in the 2025 NFL Draft class.
Right now, freshman running back Nicholas Singleton is pegged as the best running back in this year’s batch of running back recruits. We could see heated debates on which running back is the better prospect between Robinson and Singleton a few years from now.
The Bulldogs snagged another talented running back who was flying under the radar. Andrew Paul is another back who can carry a full workload. He was flying under the radar throughout the recruiting process. 247Sports had him ranked as the 42nd best running back in their composite rankings. Even with the lower rating, he still received an offer from some prestigious power-five schools before signing with Georgia.
We are looking at another big running back who runs with good size-adjusted speed. He has some wiggle in his game and can move laterally very well while chaining together moves. Paul will also finish his runs with power.
Georgia is notorious for stacking talent at the running back position. They will be rolling with Robinson and Paul in the next few years. Devy and dynasty gamers need to have their eye on both of these running backs. There’s a chance both of them will be getting playing time on Sundays.
DARREN SPROLES REINCARNATED – Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
An underrated running back prospect who could develop into a big deal once he hits the NFL is Vaughn. He will be an interesting case study when it comes time for him to go through the draft process because he’s listed at 5-foot-6 and is listed at 176 pounds. Of course, those numbers can change once we get true measurements at the combine. Nonetheless, we don’t have a large sample size of running backs of his size and stature playing at a high level in the NFL.
Courtesy of Sports Reference.
Vaughn is making a case that he could be a valuable prospect. Last season, he rushed for 1,404 yards while catching 49 passes. He owned a 20.24 percent market share of Kansas State’s passing production during the first two seasons of his collegiate career. According to Pro Football Focus, his 468 receiving yards ranked second in the nation. He also averaged 10.3 yards after the catch per reception and 2.34 yards per route in his career.
Deuce Vaughn: 7 catches of 20+ yards this season
Most by any Big 12 Running Back💨 pic.twitter.com/37gqFEpkI1
— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 4, 2022
With NFL teams implementing a committee approach, Vaughn doesn’t have to be thought of as a three-down grinder who consistently runs between the tackles. In the right situation, he could hold value catching passes out of the backfield while getting enough carries to maintain a stable floor in fantasy. He has the talent to be a weapon in the passing game while also holding his own running the ball.
Despite his size, he’s an efficient runner, averaging 3.0 yards after contact per attempt during the last two seasons while forcing 75 missed tackles. Running backs aren’t expected to carry the back 25+ times a game these days and being an electric option in the passing game is always a positive. In the right situation after a productive junior season, Vaughn could be a trendy option in dynasty in the next couple of years. However, considering he doesn’t profile as a running back who is expected to see a heavy workload once he starts in the NFL, his upside will be capped.
NOT ALWAYS SUNSHINE AND RAINBOWS – Emmanuel Henderson, RB Alabama
247Sports has Henderson currently ranked as the second-best running back in the class in both their composite and site rankings. He received offers from major power-five schools like Clemson, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, Penn State, and USC before signing with Alabama. He’s billed as an all-purpose back who can catch the ball out of the backfield while being able to run between the tackles.
I’m not a fan of Henderson. I felt like he was overrated by the recruiting sites. There was a time when he was listed as the top running back in the class. He didn’t pop enough on tape. His size-adjusted speed is a major concern for me since he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds while looking very lean in his cut-ups. Overall, he’s not bad, but there’s nothing that you can pinpoint that he does exceptionally well to make him top tier back at the college level.
With that being said, he’s not a total wash. There are some things I like about his tape. He does a very good job at chaining together moves and can gain a lot of ground moving laterally. Henderson has a natural feel of the cut-back lane and will eat yards once he sees the open field. His ability to feel the momentum of the defenders around him will give him a chance to break off some big gains.
The competition is tough at Alabama. I know they are expecting big things from this kid. In order for us to feel comfortable about him being a top-tier producer at the NFL level, we need him to add some size while maintaining his speed, if not getting a little faster.
Henderson might be able to have a decent collegiate career but he’s going to need to maximize his development for him to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the top running backs in college football. We’ve seen smaller running backs like Deuce Vaughn increase their devy stock, so it’s not impossible for Henderson. If he doesn’t add size to his frame, then we will need him to be very productive and used heavily in the passing game. His receiving profile could make or break his stock in both dynasty and devy.