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Triple Take: Running backs

The "Triple Take" team breaks down of the running backs. In this installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the running back position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.

The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.

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Dale's Take ...

This is a good group of running backs this season, perhaps as good as the 2017 draft that produced numerous starters and 30 overall drafted players at the position. But there's a good chance only one will be taken in the first round. That's just the way things have been at the position.

#5 - Tank Bigsby, Auburn (6-0, 210 lbs.) - Uses his "dead leg" to freeze defenders in the open field. A powerful runner who also catches the ball well, though he's more of a dump off receiver. Has ideal size, unlike some of the other backs in this draft. Rushed for just under 3,000 yards the past three seasons with 25 touchdowns. He isn't a burner, but his 4.56-second 40-yard dash is more than fast enough.

#4 - Tyjae Spears, Tulane (5-10, 201 lbs.) - Had a great Senior Bowl, showing off his quick cutting and receiving ability. Didn't run at the Combine, but posted a 39-inch vertical jump and 10-5 broad jump, showing he's plenty explosive. Spears averaged over 7 yards per carry in his career and scored 21 touchdowns in 2022.

#3 - Zach Charbonnet, UCLA (6-0, 214 lbs.) - Rushes for 2,500 yards with 27 touchdowns the past two seasons while also catching 60 passes. Has more moves than Michael Jackson. Can really make people miss, or simply run through them. Should be a feature back in the NFL. Ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the Combine and looked smooth in the receiving drills.

#2 - Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama (5-9, 199 lbs.) - Offers good receiving skills and speed. He models his game after Saints running back Alvin Kamara. Like Kamara, he catches the ball well and has breakaway speed. While he never was or will be a workhorse as a runner, he averaged more than 10 yards per reception in his career on 103 catches. He posted a 4.36 40 at the Combine, showing beep-beep speed.

#1 - Bijan Robinson, Texas (5-11, 215 lbs.) - The cream of what is a good overall crop of running backs. He's a top-10, maybe even top-five talent in this draft. But how are running backs valued? Draws comparisons to Saquon Barkley, who was a top-5 pick just a few years ago. And he might be even better. More than 2,700 rushing yards while scoring 29 touchdowns in 22 games the past two seasons.

Mike's Take

t's not that the running back position is being de-valued. It's more about where running backs can be had.

The Chiefs found Isaiah Pacheco from Rutgers with the 251st overall selection last April (there were only 262 picks in the entire draft). Pacheco ended up becoming the leading rusher in Super Bowl LVII (15 carries, 76 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, one touchdown), and that was after he had finished the regular season as the leading rusher (170-830-4.9-5) for the team that became the eventual Super Bowl champions.

So there are plenty of guys that can play out there.

Are they worth the investment of big-time draft capital?

Maybe … if they're special.

#5 - Tyjae Spears, Tulane (5-10, 201 lbs.) - Spears put an exclamation point on a monster season (1,581 rushing yards, 19 TDs) when he amassed 205 yards rushing and scored four touchdowns on 17 carries against USC in the Cotton Bowl. Then he absolutely lit up the Senior Bowl with a consistent display of wiggle, burst, speed, power, acceleration and explosion (Spears was named the event's practice player of the week by a vote of 32 attending NFL executives, according to NFL Network). It's all there in the running game and the passing game.

#4 - Chase Brown, Illinois (5-9 1/2, 209 lbs.) - The Illini became a story in 2022 and Brown was one of the leading authors of Illinois' resurgence. He rushed for 1,643 yards (223 in an upset of No. 7 Penn State) and finished with 1,883 yards from scrimmage and a combined 13 touchdowns (10 rushing). He runs with patience and vision and he runs hard. What can Brown do for you? What can't he?

#3 - Devon Achane, Texas A&M (5-8 1/2, 188 lbs.) - He's a track guy and a football player, as opposed to a track guy playing football (there's a significant difference). Achane has a personal best of 10.02 in the 100 meters on his resume and multiple examples of running with power as well as burst, wiggle and speed on his tape. He can blast his way over the goal line from in close and he can get there from distance in a hurry if he gets a crack.

#2 - Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama (5-9, 199 lbs.) - Gibbs rushed for 926 yards in his only season at Alabama after transferring from Georgia Tech, averaged 6.1 yards per carry and piled up 1,370 yards from scrimmage and 10 combined touchdowns (seven rushing, three receiving). Not every back from Alabama hits in the NFL, but there's enough of a recent line of succession (Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, Najee Harris, Brian Robinson Jr., to name a few) to suggest Gibbs will be next.

#1 - Bijan Robinson, Texas (5-11, 215 lbs.) - This guy's special but it remains to be seen where he's headed and how quickly he'll be summoned. "Everybody says Bijan Robinson is not only the best running back in this class, he is one of the five best players in this class," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah reported. "He is elite. Then you transition to, 'OK, where does he go?' Then all of them say, 'I have no idea.' I have no idea. If he were to go in the Top 10 it would not get laughs around the league because people know how good this guy is."

Matt's Take …

Led by Bijan Robinson, this is an excellent running back draft class. It offers both star power as well as great depth and has all shapes and sizes at the position. Many running backs that didn't make this list were absolutely in the running for the top five and it was quite difficult to narrow things down.

#5 - Zach Evans, Mississippi (5-11, 202 lbs.) - There is a lot of ability here, but also too many inconsistencies. Injuries have plagued Evans over the past two seasons, but you can easily see why this player was so highly recruited coming out of high school. Evans has good size and is very explosive. He can grind out tough yards or hit the home run. Fumbles have also been a concern for Evans.

#4 - Devon Achane, Texas A&M (5-8 1/2, 188 lbs.) - Achane isn't a big back, but he runs hard and isn't easy to knock off his pins with his low center of gravity. But wow, can this guy fly. Achane has uncommon speed and instant acceleration. He also had a bell-cow role this past year for the Aggies, showing that Achane might be more than just a specialty player. Teams will have to balance Achane's lack of size against his insane big play skills.

#3 - Zach Charbonnet, UCLA (6-0, 214 lbs.) - This is a big back that can carry the load. He is very well built with very good strength in his upper and lower body. But Charbonnet also is a plus athlete with more than enough long speed to break away. He will be a quality contributor in the passing game as both a receiver and in protection, although his protection is a somewhat of a projection at this point. Charbonnet doesn't have dynamic change of direction skills, but his game projects quite well to the next level.

#2 - Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama (5-9, 199 lbs.) - Gibbs is a modern-day player at this position and could very well be the best overall pass catching back in this entire class. He does it all as a receiver, but also has early down capabilities as a true running back. This is a player that you just don't want to take off the field in nearly any situation. Gibbs' pass protection needs work, but he is a great creator in space, has home run potential and can grind it out between the tackles. Gibbs plays the game at a different speed than most running backs.

#1 - Bijan Robinson, Texas (5-11, 215 lbs.) - Robinson is a rare prospect. It is highly unusual to find a prospect that could be devoid of negative traits, but that is the case with Robinson. He is an every down player that excels in the passing game, running on the inside as well as attacking the edges of a defense. Robinson has had a few injuries while in college, but he is a fantastic athlete with rare cutting ability, power, and great vision and patience. What he has doesn't come around very often.

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