Need a running back to complete your NFL team’s offense? Good luck. At least that’s what professional scouts are relaying back to their home offices and to the media as they continue to make their way across the country to evaluate the top 2022 draft prospects.
“There just isn’t a guy that’s valuable enough to reasonably justify drafting him in the first round,” said one area scout who covers the southern part of the nation for a team without a do-it-all running back.
Is it a lack of talent or a final shift among teams realizing positional value outweighs talent?
In a poll of 10 scouts and front office personnel, none would put a Round 1 grade on a college running back prospect or predict that a back is drafted in the first round. Not Breece Hall at Iowa State. Not Isaiah Spiller at Texas A&M. Not Kyren Williams at Notre Dame.
“Some of this is about positional value—first-round running backs aren’t producing at a rate that you feel compelled to draft them, they rarely produce on second contracts…it’s just not good team-building. But, of course, sometimes a guy comes along who changes that. Like a [Christian] McCaffrey or Zeke [Elliott]. There isn’t a guy like that this year,” said one AFC general manager we spoke to.
The 2021 draft saw Najee Harris and Travis Etienne selected in back-to-back picks (Nos. 24 and 25 overall) and it’s way too early to comment on if those selections were worthwhile. The same goes for Clyde Edwards-Helaire (No. 32 overall) by Kansas City in the 2020 first round, although through 17 games he hasn’t exactly lit the league on fire.
You can go back to 2019 when Josh Jacobs was selected in the first round, and maybe Raiders’ fans would argue he’s been worth that selection, but I’m willing to bet few unbiased observers or decision-makers around the league would agree that a two-down back with injury issues was worth a first round selection.
For years, many have screamed that running backs shouldn’t be first round picks. The NFL agrees. At least for this year.
The Scout’s Report
—Michigan pass-rusher Aidan Hutchinson continues to look like a lock as a top 20 selection. One area scout texted after Michigan’s game on Saturday (2.5 sacks vs. Washington) to proclaim he looked like J.J. Watt did in college. While I don’t quite see that comparison, Hutchinson is on a tear to start the year with 3.5 sacks and looks at home in this new Michigan defense.
—Oregon didn’t miss Kayvon Thibodeaux in their upset win over Ohio State, but just imagine if they’d had him? Thibodeaux is still out with an ankle injury and is expected to return this season, but head coach Mario Cristobal said he’s “getting better” but noted that predicting a timeline is “tricky”. Thibodeaux’s draft stock isn’t being affected by sitting out and playing this injury safely. Scouts will be there when he returns and his two years of tape prior to this season are good enough to keep him locked into a top draft positioning.
—While Thibodeaux is sidelined, the best defender in the nation through two weeks has been Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton. A two interception performance in Week 1 was backed up by two tackles for a loss against Toledo last weekend. Hamilton, a 6’4” and 220 pound nightmare in the secondary, remains a top five player on my board and one of the most fun players in all of college football to watch each weekend.
—NFL scouts are way up on Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green. A guard earlier in his career, and a damn good one, Green has moved to left tackle for the Aggies and hasn’t missed a beat. One scout I spoke to this week thought Green was a top 10 player in the class even if you ranked him at guard. The love for him at this stage reminds me of how people felt about Rashawn Slater after watching his tape last summer.
—Ohio State may have suffered a staggering loss on Saturday, but scouts remain very high on the team’s wide receiver corps. Both Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave are consensus Round 1 players, with scouts also liking Jaxon Smith-Njigba as a 2023 prospect once he’s entrenched as the top target on the offense. The Buckeyes will bounce back from the Oregon loss and it will likely be the trio at wide receiver that gets the offense back on track.
The Big Board — Top 25
Here’s an updated Top 25 Big Board, with a full top 75 and top 10s at each position being sent out next week.
1. DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
2. CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
3. OT Evan Neal, Alabama
4. S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
5. LB Christian Harris, Alabama
6. DE DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
7. OLB Drake Jackson, USC
8. DE George Karlaftis, Purdue
9. OT Jaxson Kirkland, Washington
10. QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
11. QB Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
12. DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
13. QB Sam Howell, North Carolina
14. OG Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
15. CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
16. WR John Metchie III, Alabama
17. WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
18. WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
19. QB Malik Willis, Liberty
20. OLB Adam Anderson, Georgia
21. OT Charles Cross, Miss. State
22. S Jalen Catalon, Arkansas
23. DT Jordan Davis, Georgia
24. CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
25. WR Drake London, USC
1. Eagles, Siriani Get It
Can we talk about what a novel concept this is?
Let’s give Nick Siriani—who was mocked widely after his opening press conference—a ton of credit for doing what’s best for Jalen Hurts and installing an offense around him that he’s comfortable with.
It reminds me a lot of what Bill O’Brien did for Deshaun Watson in his rookie season, and we saw how well that worked. I’m a big believer that Hurts can be a productive starting quarterback in the NFL if he’s supported. The Eagles did the right thing to start the season, now it’s on Hurts and Siriani to stay ahead of defenses as they start to breakdown and understand the scheme.
2. Riser of the Week — Arkansas safety Jalen Catalon
Catalon was all over the field against Texas and looked like a legitimate first-round pick in the film review after the game. He’s slightly undersized (5’10”, 200 lbs) but his range, vision, and playmaking skills are a ton of fun to evaluate.
3. Faller of the Week — Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison
The Oregon - Ohio State game will be one we review a lot this season given the number of prospects involved, but a first viewing of the film left me wanting a lot more from Zach Harrison. A former five-star pass-rusher recruit, Harrison was supposed to break out in 2021 but the Oregon game was a letdown as he (and line mate Tyreke Smith) couldn’t create pressure against Anthony Brown.
4. Sleeper of the Week — Washington tackle Jaxson Kirkland
It might not be fair to call Jaxson Kirkland a sleeper, but we have to get him more love on a national level. Kirkland is a potential top 10 pick at left tackle and has the skillset to even push Alabama’s Evan Neal for the OT1 spot. He’s a treat to watch—even if you include last week’s showing against Aidan Hutchinson in which the Wolverine got the best of him. That happens in OL-DL play and it’s not discouraging to see Kirkland have a rough outing against an elite prospect. How he learns and grows from it will be telling, but the word amongst scouts and what I’ve seen on tape points to a top 10 pick in his future.
5. Must Scout Game of the Week — Matt Corral (Ole Miss) vs. Tulane
Ole Miss vs. Tulane probably wasn’t on your preseason scouting list, but it should be for this weekend as Matt Corral is one of the hottest names among draft prospects in the nation right now. He’ll face a Tulane defense that gave Spencer Rattler a long afternoon in Week 1. And while we don’t compare performances given different variables in each game, there will be those who look at Rattler vs. Corral facing the same defense to draw conclusions about which quarterback is better.
6. Urban Meyer — Staying in Jacksonville?
Urban Meyer was asked in a press conference this week if he’s interested in the now open USC head coaching job. He denied interest, but haven’t we been down this road before?
I’m old enough to remember Nick Saban saying he “wouldn’t be the coach at Alabama” while he was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. I remember the Arizona Cardinals screaming from the rooftops that Josh Rosen was their guy weeks before selecting Kyler Murray first overall.
The point is, Meyer may be telling the truth right now, but his track record and the track record of coaches straight-up lying in press conferences leaves the door open to him (or someone else) making a move after saying they wouldn’t.
7. CFB Week 3 Bets
Please note, these are betting picks (i.e. take Purdue +7 over Notre Dame, not a head-to-head pick)
Cincinnati (-4) over Indiana
Oklahoma (-22) over Nebraska
Purdue (+7) over Notre Dame
Georgia Tech (+28.5) over Clemson
Alabama (-14.5) over Florida
8. NFL Week 2 Picks
Washington Football Team (-3.5) over New York Giants
Chicago Bears (-3) over Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns (-12.5) over Houston Texans
Los Angeles Rams (-4) over Indianapolis Colts
Buffalo Bills (-3.5) over Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots (-5.5) over New York Jets
Philadelphia Eagles (+3.5) over San Francisco 49ers
Pittsburgh Steelers (-5.5) over Las Vegas Raiders
New Orleans Saints (-3.5) over Carolina Panthers
Denver Broncos (-6) over Jacksonville Jaguars
Arizona Cardinals (-4.5) over Minnesota Vikings
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-12) over Atlanta Falcons
Los Angeles Chargers (-3) over Dallas Cowboys
Seattle Seahawks (-5.5) over Tennessee Titans
Baltimore Ravens (+3.5) over Kansas City Chiefs
Green Bay Packers (-10.5) over Detroit Lions