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2022 NFL Draft: Falcons top targets at RB

The 2022 NFL Draft is nearly here, and we’re wrapping up our coverage with our final positional rankings. Next up is running back, where the Falcons have plenty of veteran talent but could use a long-term investment.

Maryland v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Draft is almost here, and it’s finally time to wrap up all of our draft coverage with my final positional rankings. I’m proud to say I watched more than 100 players this offseason, far more than ever before. On the site, our team has compiled more than 20 full scouting reports on some of the top prospects in the class—with more to come over the next week! While you may not always agree with our rankings or analysis, we hope you’ve at least enjoyed the discussion and additional viewpoints.

For the positional rankings, these will be based on my personal rankings, not necessarily the rankings of our other writers. I watch players through the lens of the Atlanta Falcons: I prioritize and rank based on the perceived fit in Atlanta’s offense and defense. So keep that in mind, as these rankings may not line up with a generic big board.

I’d also like to note that while I watched a lot of players, I didn’t watch anywhere close to the nearly 300 who will be drafted. As a result, I’m only going to rank the players that I’ve seen at least 2-3 games of. There are tons of other prospects who I’ve seen limited tape of and discussed with other scouts, but I don’t feel comfortable ranking them without at least a few full games watched.

I hope you enjoy these rankings, and if you miss any position groups, you can find them all below:

DEFENSE: EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S | OFFENSE: QB | RB

1: Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State

RAS: 9.26 | Projection: 2nd Round

If you’re looking for the best pure runner in the class, it’s Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III. Walker is a good-sized back with a compact 5’9, 210 build, a well-rounded skillset as a rusher, and an elite athletic profile. He’s got excellent vision, is patient in the backfield, possesses elite footwork, high-level agility, and terrific physicality and contact-balance in short-yardage situations. He can work in any scheme and execute any concept. He also doesn’t have the wear-and-tear of typical Day 2 backs, with just one year of a major workload. The concern with Walker stems from his basically nonexistent passing game role in college. He’s an unreliable pass blocker and an intriguing but underutilized receiver. I’m confident in his hands and ability to grow his role, and he wouldn’t be relied upon on passing downs early in his career due to the presence of Cordarrelle Patterson.

2: Breece Hall, Iowa State

RAS: 9.96 | Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

One of the most productive rushers in college football over the past two years, Iowa State’s Breece Hall certainly looks like an Arthur Smith RB at 5’11, 217. While it was obvious Hall was a fast and explosive runner based on his tape, I don’t think anyone expected him to test out as well as he did at the Combine (9.96 RAS). Hall is a homerun threat if he hits the open field with 4.39 speed, and he’s explosive through the hole. Despite his athleticism, Hall actually runs with a patient, decisive style. He’s not as physical a runner as you might expect from his measurables, but he’s solid in this area and wins in short yardage with his vision and explosive cuts. Hall isn’t going to provide a ton on passing downs, at least right away, but he’s a very good runner and would give the Falcons a big boost to their rushing attack.

3: Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M

RAS: 5.71 | Projection: 2nd Round

Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller is one of the best runners in college football, and would be a perfect fit for Smith’s offense. Spiller has the size that Smith likes (6’0, 217) along with exceptional vision and balance. While the Falcons have struggled to give their running backs clean rushing lanes, Spiller has excelled at navigating traffic and making the first man miss. He’s a physical, hard-nosed runner in short-yardage situations and finds ways to create additional yardage. Spiller is also comfortable in both zone and power concepts—he can do it all, and do it well. His athletic profile is fairly average and Spiller lacks breakaway speed, which hurts his overall ceiling. Spiller is still a good, well-rounded RB1 prospect.

4: Dameon Pierce, Florida

RAS: 7.14 | Projection: 3rd-4th Round

Truthfully, I hadn’t paid much attention to Florida’s Dameon Pierce before the Senior Bowl. But the show he put on in Mobile demanded a film study, and I came away very impressed by Pierce and puzzled by his lack of usage in college. Pierce is a well-rounded runner and pass catcher with a compact, thick frame (5’9, 220) perfect for the position. He was the biggest standout at the Senior Bowl, showing off a versatile skillset as both a physical, elusive runner and as a quality pass-catcher. He runs with an aggressive style that is a joy to watch, and his effort on each and every carry is unmatched. I think Pierce can be a RB1 at the NFL level, but he’s a quality RB2 at worst and can fill any role in a committee.

5: Rachaad White, Arizona State

RAS: 9.88 | Projection: 3rd-4th Round

I really enjoyed watching Arizona State’s Rachaad White at the Senior Bowl, where he demonstrated quality athleticism, good vision, and patience in short-yardage situations. He was one of the most impressive backs in Mobile, and I think he’s worked his way into the Day 2 conversation. White has a well-rounded skillset with good size (6’0.5, 204), agility, and long speed. He’s got soft hands and advanced route-running skills out of the backfield, even lining up in the slot on occasion. White isn’t an overly physical back and succeeds in short-yardage situations with his vision, elusiveness, and quick footwork. His elite athletic testing at the Combine gives him a high ceiling in the NFL.

6: James Cook, Georgia

RAS: 8.78 | Projection: 3rd Round

One of the biggest risers in 2021, Georgia’s James Cook took on a much bigger role in the backfield and continued his absurdly-efficient production. Cook put up 728 yards on 113 carries (6.4 YPC) and 7 TDs, and also had a great season as a receiver with 27 receptions for 284 yards (10.5 YPR) and 4 TDs. Cook isn’t the biggest or the strongest runner, but he’s an excellent athlete with elite long speed and agility. He’s elusive, savvy, and offers great hands and receiving ability. Cook would be best as a receiver and change-of-pace runner in a committee, but he can be an impact player early in his NFL career.

7: Jerome Ford, Cincinnati

RAS: 6.95 | Projection: 3rd-4th Round

Cincinnati’s Jerome Ford was one of my winners from the Senior Bowl, and he certainly looks the part of an Arthur Smith RB at 5’10, 210. Ford is a physical, smart runner who uses his superior instincts and above-average athleticism to find ways to create on every play. He’s especially savvy in short-yardage situations, but is also capable of rattling off big chunk plays once he gets into the open field. He’s got good hands as a receiver, but wasn’t utilized much in the passing game. Ford is an immediate contributor who can lead Atlanta’s rushing attack, but he may need a year or two to grow into a more prominent third-down role.

8: Brian Robinson Jr., Alabama

RAS: 6.62 | Projection: 3rd-4th Round

Finally out of the shadow of Najee Harris in 2021, Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr. took over the workhorse role this season and put up impressive production: 270 carries for 1336 yards (4.9 YPC) and 14 TDs. Robinson is a physical, big-bodied (6’1.5, 225) runner with terrific contact balance and short-yardage ability. He’s not a special athlete, which limits his upside, but he’s capable of shouldering the load on the ground. In the passing game, Robinson is a strong pass blocker with reliable hands—though he’s not a dynamic threat as a receiver. Robinson is a traditional “grinder” and short-yardage specialist who can take a lot of carries for you, but needs to be part of a committee with more dynamic options.

9: Zamir White, Georgia

RAS: 9.82 | Projection: 4th Round

White, a former 5-star recruit, never quite lived up to the hype as the top RB in the country. He was still productive, with a career-best 160 carries for 856 yards (5.4 YPC) and 11 TDs in 2021, but didn’t dominate in the expected fashion while at Georgia—in part due to some unfortunate injuries, including two ACL tears. That injury history is what will likely cause him to fall on draft day, because White still has all the potential in the world. At nearly 6’0, 215, White showed off his elite athleticism with a 9.82 RAS. He’s a physical runner who can generate explosive plays if he gets through to the second level. Outside of the injury concerns and a lack of passing game ability, White appears to fit the bill of a starting RB.

10: Tyler Badie, Missouri

RAS: 6.42 | Projection: 4th Round

Missouri’s Tyler Badie spent the first three seasons of his career as a pass catcher and punt returner, playing mostly on third down and in passing situations. That role is great for him: Badie is a good athlete with quality hands, route running chops, and blocking ability. However, in 2021, Badie took over the lead role in Missouri’s backfield and flourished: he’s piled up 1612 rushing yards on 268 carries (6.0 YPC) and 14 TDs along with 54 receptions for 330 yards (6.1 YPR) and 4 TDs. He’s clearly more than just a receiving option, but his lack of size (5’8, 198) ideally makes him part of a committee with a larger back who can handle short-yardage work.

11: Pierre Strong Jr., South Dakota State

RAS: 9.34 | Projection: 4th-5th Round

A late riser up draft boards in part due to his outstanding performance at the Combine, South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. is a dynamic home-run hitter out of the backfield. He’s got elite straight-line speed (4.37s 40, 1.51 10-yard split) and tremendous explosiveness. Strong possesses good vision and decisiveness, making quick cuts and finding his way to daylight with remarkable efficiency. He’s a quick, fluid mover in space with plus agility to evade tacklers. Strong isn’t overly physical and his contact balance is fairly average—I doubt he’ll be as consistently productive at the NFL level. But he’s a got a lot of potential as a dynamic change-of-pace runner, and could evolve into a dangerous RB2 if he can continue to grow his passing game skillset.

12: Hassan Haskins, Michigan

RAS: N/A | Projection: 4th-5th Round

Hassan Haskins was a quality part of a backfield rotation for Michigan up until 2021, where he seized control of the workhorse role. He took advantage of the added volume, piling up 1327 yards on 270 carries (4.9 YPC) along with 20 rushing TDs. Arthur Smith clearly has a preference for big physical backs, and Haskins fits the bill at 6’1, 220. Haskins is a bruising, decisive runner who excels between the tackles. While he’s not a dynamic athlete, he’s got enough speed and agility to pick up extra yards when available.

13: D’Vonte Price, FIU

RAS: 7.81 | Projection: 5th Round

One of my winners from the Senior Bowl and a bit of a Day 3 sleeper, FIU’s D’Vonte Price also helped himself with an impressive showing at the Combine. Price has a good build for the position at over 6’1, 210, and pairs it with breakaway speed (4.38s 40) and plus explosiveness. He possesses good vision and makes good decisions with the football, maximizing his opportunities to create positive plays. Price runs with an upright style, but manages to overcome it with physicality and contact-balance. He’s also a terrific pass protector, giving him an early path to playing time on third down. Price has the athleticism and passing down ability to give him an early role as part of a committee, and I think he will surprise at the NFL level.

14: Kyren Williams, Notre Dame

RAS: 3.50 | Projection: 5th Round

On tape, Kyren Williams is one of my favorite backs in the class. He’s a fiery pass protector who reminds me of Jacquizz Rodgers, and has plus receiving ability due to his history as a wide receiver. Williams is physical and possesses good contact balance as a runner, along with plus agility and elusiveness in space. The problem is that, at 5’9, 194, Williams ran a 4.65 and had very poor jumps. It’s rare for players with Williams’ athletic profile to work out at the NFL level—one notable exception is fellow Notre Dame RB Theo Riddick. I also wonder if his pass protection will be able to hold up against NFL size and talent. Still, Williams flashes enough receiving ability and versatility to deserve a selection on Day 3.

15: Zonovan Knight, NC State

RAS: 5.86 | Projection: 5th-6th Round

NC State’s Zonovan Knight certainly looks like an Arthur Smith running back at 5’11, 210, and is brimming with physicality. He’s a patient runner with excellent contact-balance, and is capable of pushing the pile for tough yardage. Knight is a solid athlete who has shown good hands and smooth route-running in the receiving game, although he hasn’t been utilized a ton there. His production hasn’t been great due to always playing as part of a committee—and I think that’s his best role at the NFL level, as well—but Knight fits Atlanta’s scheme well and could be an ideal Day 3 target.