Next up, it’s time to break down three RB Prospects that will be drafted to be backups but could make a splash by fulfilling very specific roles within a committee.
With the draft less than a week away, analyses and opinions on the top NFL Draft prospects have largely been staked. Day 3 is for the scouts. Players are usually selected on traits that could be developed by coaches down the line.
We’ve all heard about Bijan Robinson, but what about some Day Three prospects who could one day make a fantasy splash?
Below is a breakdown of three RBs that will hear their names called on Day 3 of the Draft, but will carve out niche roles wherever they land. The structure of this annual Running Back article is based on the three-headed rushing attack by the 2009 Dallas Cowboys affectionately known as Smash, Dash, and Tash (Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice) that combined for just short of 2,000 yards. In the same way, I highlight one bruiser, one speedster, and one do-it-all backup.
UAB RB DeWayne McBride
Career Numbers: 442 carries, 3,268 yards, 35 TDs, 5 rec, 29 yards, 0 TDs (30 games)
Have you ever wanted to watch a bulldog try to tackle a greased-up mail truck? Legend has it that you can actually watch it in the annals of Conference USA’s highlight reels involving DeWayne McBride. After rushing for over 7.1 yards per carry in two years of starting experience, and three overall, McBride declared for the draft with one of the best production profiles in the draft class. Consider this: Bijan Robinson only rushed for 143 more yards in the same period of time. McBride played one fewer game and averaged over 108 yards per game. Though he could use some technical refinement, an NFL team will be ecstatic to find such a dominant producer on Day 3 of the Draft.
Trying to tackle McBride is like trying to stop yourself on a waterslide or crush a wet bar of soap with your hands. McBride is a slippery runner with power to boot, easily shedding arm tackles and carrying players on his back. His phenomenal contact balance is exemplified by his FBS-best 4.6 yards after contact in 2022. He generates slight bursts of energy right before the point of contact, making it difficult for a defender to first absorb the blow before sliding down and tackling him around his midsection. What makes this even harder is his spatial awareness, allowing him to isolate defenders on the field rather than having to take them all on at once. McBride won’t be trucking anyone or running over would-be tacklers, but he is adept at minimizing the surface area where a defender can exert force. By jump-cutting to the next lane, McBride demonstrates good enough agility to take what the defense is giving him. The zone running scheme at UAB perfectly fit his skills, as he needed to pick a lane and go.
The going may be a bit difficult for McBride at the next level. While he didn’t test at the Combine or his Pro Day, his tape shows a lack of a second gear required to gain separation from defenders in the open field. This will limit the top end of his production variance. Additionally, McBride only caught five passes his entire college career. Offensive coordinators must be creative on how to get McBride the ball, as the screen game is probably out of the question. The issue isn’t necessarily his hands but his confidence. He just wasn’t on the field very much in passing situations. It is relatively unknown how McBride might also fare as a personal protector on passing plays. This is on top of his occasional proclivity for fumbling. Finally, McBride can get a little high in his pads immediately after slipping a tackle. His fumbling issues may stem from this tendency. A fumble every 50 carries or so may not sound too bad, but it won’t be acceptable in the NFL.
Any team that lands McBride to fill a power-back role should be ecstatic. His mere presence on the field would alert most defenses of the likelihood of a passing play. But if the defense is geared up for a power run anyway, McBride is primed to take advantage of it with his slippery power style. Nevertheless, production often translates between college and the NFL, regardless of the level of competition. McBride may be one of the first Running Backs off the board on Day 3, and should play a role in a committee right away.
East Carolina RB Keaton Mitchell
Career Numbers: 463 carries, 3,027 yards, 25 TDs, 60 recs, 580 yards, 3 TDs (33 games)
If DeWayne McBride is a bear to tackle, Keaton Mitchell is running for his life away from that same bear. This year’s iteration of Day 3 Dash is the elusive East Carolina (alma mater of CJ2K) back, who was second in the country in yards per carry in 2022. Coming from the American Athletic Conference, people will question whether his zip will translate to the more-American, more-Athletic NFL. Yet, even when all signs pointed to Mitchell’s production coming back to earth, he still shined.
If your PeeWee leagues were anything like mine, there was that one RB that was simply the fastest person on the field. Every play was a race to the corner and then down the sideline, where no pursuit drill would ever be enough to regularly stop them. That feeling is the same one you get watching Mitchell’s highlights. He relies almost solely on his speed, avoiding contact by any means possible, even going backwards. He shows good patience for his holes to open up. Then he bursts through and cuts outside, without fail.
Even on outside zone runs, Mitchell doesn’t so much cut upfield as he does press the line and curve back away from the line of scrimmage to take away interior pursuit angles before accelerating up the sideline in a track sprint. Most RBs that only use speed for production would decrease in efficiency with a greater workload. Not Mitchell. In every season of college, his carries increased, and so did his per carry average. He’s also a weapon in the passing game, catching 60 passes at almost ten yards per catch. As a receiver, he does an excellent job choosing his angles and catching the ball away from his body. Finally, maybe it’s because his body hardly ever went down in the field of play, but he didn’t let the ball hit the ground in 2022 either.
Mitchell cannot likely handle a primary back’s workload like his predecessor did, let alone to the tune of two thousand yards. For starters, Mitchell is much smaller than the average NFL back. This likely means that he will be an active liability in pass protection. Additionally, you’d think that being close to the ground would be an advantage in the ability to turn, as is the case with most Wide Receivers. Not Mitchell. He demonstrates a little stiffness in sharper turns, as exemplified by his subpar shuttle and 3-cone times at his Pro Day. His speed allows him to curve and vary his speed to create angles to attack, usually to the outside. These elongated curves generate space but require him to run about three times as far as a defender would.
There is no denying that Mitchell is an electric athlete and a highlight reel waiting to happen. With over 3,000 yards, he is one of the more productive Running Backs in the class, despite having only played three years. He will have to contribute on special teams to start his pro career, but it’s possible that he can become a fantasy asset in deeper leagues. The NFL is shifting to a more committee-based approach regarding backfields. This waters down the value of “starting” Running Backs. Mitchell is sure to provide some excitement to teams, especially one with a more bruising style of starter. As with other change-of-pace backs, expect draft capital around the end of Round 5 or the beginning of Round 6.
Tulsa RB Deneric Prince
Career Numbers: 316 carries, 1,744 yards, 14 TDs, 17 recs, 162 yards, 1 TD (27 games)
Deneric Prince looks like an NFL Running Back. His average height, weight, hand size, and arm length all look like they belong in a football uniform. He was never really the starter on either Texas A&M or Tulsa, so he never surpassed 1,000 yards in a season. But, with a well-rounded skillset and the ability to show explosions of production, Prince might be the perfect handcuff for fantasy rosters.
In 2022, only five FBS Running Backs had multiple games of 200 rushing yards. Prince was one of them despite only amassing 729 on the season. That’s good for 478 yards across the remaining six games in his season. This is partially because his production is dependent upon the defense. Prince has very good vision to see the holes the defense is giving him, and his blockers are paving for him. Like the sweet spot on a softball bat, there is a small region on Prince that you can bring him down.
Otherwise, his good contact balance keeps him upright to get to the second level. Once there, he has good enough acceleration to run past linebackers and get to the secondary. He is aided in picking through traffic through his odd but undeniable running style. When he is sifting through the much at the line of scrimmage, Prince does an excellent job of keeping his feet under him so that he can change directions at a moment’s notice. This patience serves him well as he hits the hole hard.
What is strange is how high his knees go to distinguish when he is accelerating versus reading. Defenders then struggle to accurately hit his waistline where he is vulnerable to immediately going down. A certain violence to his running style suggests he could be the type of RB that can truck and bounce defenders, but he has yet to show the former consistently. Overall, Prince actually has poor open-field vision that limits his “home-run” ability. Combined with his high knees that also bring a high chest, DBs don’t usually have too much trouble bringing him down. Prince can catch the ball fairly well, albeit awkwardly, in the passing game. But he wasn’t regularly asked to participate in that phase of the game. Thus, his pass protection skills also leave a little to be desired.
Prince turned many heads at the combine after posting a RAS of 9.57. His 95th-percentile 40-yard dash and 89th-percentile Broad Jump indicate translatable skills to the next level. His up-and-down college career wasn’t conducive to highlighting his ability. Still, it also kept him relatively fresh, compiling about ⅔ the number of carries as some of his more-productive colleagues.
However, I see a D’Ernest Johnson type role for Prince in the NFL. He likely doesn’t have the consistency or passing game ability to be considered an everyday starter. But, he may shine in certain situations when injuries occur above him on the depth chart. He has many of the same skills that made these injury replacements successful, including the namesake for this spot in the article. I have little doubt that Prince will stick on a roster and contribute at least on Special Teams from the beginning, but I expect him to be around the middle of Round 5.