Pope's Pick 6: Top RBs in the 2024 Draft
Welcome to Pope’s Pick 6. Once a week until the start of the season I’ll be bringing you a quick look at my college/devy football thoughts in quick-hit form. Today, we address the running back position and who you need to watch ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft.
TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State
After exploding as a freshman for over 1,500 scrimmage yards and 19 touchdowns, TreVeyon Henderson had a down sophomore season, only producing 599 yards and 7 touchdowns while battling injuries. One of his best traits is his ability to make guys miss, as he has forced 64 missed tackles and over 1,000 yards after contact in his college career. He also possesses the speed to hurt a defense at any moment — over 40% of career yards have come on runs over 15 yards.
In 2023, Henderson will be splitting touches with Miyan Williams, who broke out last season in Henderson’s absence. This is not the worst thing in the world as they complement each other nicely, allowing both to shine. I expect Henderson to return to his freshman form and be in talks for the first running back drafted come April 2024.
Braelon Allen, Wisconsin
Braelon Allen is yet another great running back in the lineage of Badgers, his 6-foot-3 and 235 pound from has allowed him to be a workhorse for the Badgers. He has over 400 touches in his first two years, producing 2,500 rushing yards and 23 total touchdowns. Even though he has 1,500 yards after contact and 96 forced missed tackles, he is not just a bull in a china shop — he also has the speed to run away from you as well, as he has over 1,100 yards on 33 runs of 15 yards or more.
As we head into 2023, Wisconsin is changing its running scheme likely to a more zone-heavy scheme. That has some people concerned. I am not one of those people. His 190 attempts out of zone-blocking scheme have prepared him for this. In addition, his speed will allow him to excel on the perimeter as well. Allen is my darkhorse candidate to become the top running back drafted next year, so I suggest you catch any Wisconsin game you can in 2023.
Raheim Sanders, Arkansas
If you like speed and size combinations, Raheim Sanders is another guy you’ll enjoy. He possesses a solid frame (6-foot-2, 237 pounds) and has track-like speed. After a slow freshman campaign, Sanders exploded for over 1,700 scrimmage yards and averaged 6.9 yards per touch for the Razorbacks in 2022. And speed is not his only tool — he forced 84 missed tackles and has over 1,000 yards after contact in his first two seasons, showing off how he can initiate contact. In 2022, 47.6% of his rushing yards did come on runs over 15 yards, displaying his big-play abilities. He also offers some in the passing game as he has 39 career receptions for 375 yards and 3 scores.
Sanders will need to continue to improve his game in an overall manner and become a bit more effective in the passing game. Additionally, I’ll be looking for him to get a bit more creative as a runner, especially in the second and third levels of the defense. This will go a long way to proving he wasn't a one-year flash in the pan and cement his draft stock and fantasy value.
Trey Benson, Florida State
Benson exploded onto the scene in 2022 after transferring from Oregon, where he had only six rushing attempts as a freshman. He amassed 990 yards on the ground and scored 9 rushing touchdowns for the Seminoles. 698 of these yards were after contact, and he forced an outstanding 79 missed tackles last year alone, ranking sixth in college football. He also showed great explosion and big-play ability as he produced 56.1% of his yards on runs over 15 yards and averaged over 11 yards per reception.
Like many Noles running backs before him, you have to look past the offensive line play. It is improved but will need to improve again for Benson to hit his ceiling. With an ascending offense, I do think we see Benson take another step forward and produce another strong campaign en route to earning himself solid draft capital and working his way into the hearts of fantasy managers.
Devin Neal, Kansas
Devin Neal was a beneficiary of a much-improved Kansas team in 2022, as he went from 4.5 yards per carry in 2021 to 6.1 in 2022. This saw him amass over 1,000 yards for the first time (over 707 in 2021) on only 22 more carries. Although Neal has a slender frame, he is not a true speedster. That said, he has enough speed and great creativity to rip off long runs. Which makes it no surprise that 48% of his yards came on runs over 15 yards. He doesn't create a ton of missed tackles, but he does create yards after contact as over 50% of his career yards (983) came after contact. Neal is a natural pass catcher, even though his 21 receptions for 183 yards and a lone score in 2022 are not eye-popping numbers.
Neal will need to prove he can produce on a more consistent basis in 2023, as 522 of his 1,093 yards came in three games last year. I would also like to see him involved in the passing game a bit more, as he could easily end up as a change-of-pace back in a committee at the NFL level. He will also have the chance to prove that he can handle more than this in an ascending Jayhawks offense. If so, there is a chance he emerges as a top-tier option.
Blake Corum, Michigan
Although undersized (only 5-foot-8), Blake Corum has a husky build, weighing in at 210 pounds. We have seen him improve yearly from a statical and film perspective. Had he entered the draft this year it's likely he would have been the third running back taken. Prior to his injury in Week 13 last year, Corum was on a tear, producing eight straight games with over 100 yards rushing en route to over 1,500 scrimmage yards as a true dual-threat running back. His quick feet and low pad level helped him force an impressive 73 missed tackles and produced 833 yards after contact.
Heading into 2023, he will continue his strong role in the Wolverines’ offense, meaning he has a good shot at another strong year. With this in mind, I have him on my radar, as he will be one of the top names come this time next year. The biggest questions surrounding him will be what his measurables. as many may worry if he can hold up as an interior runner and if he can improve as a pass blocker.