Lions 2023 draft: A running back for every round
The Detroit Lions are in a position to take a running back in the 2023 NFL draft. But in what slot?
Drafting running backs tends to be a polarizing prospect for NFL teams these days, especially early in a draft. Yet it’s also a position where nearly every team needs help, in part because the career shelf life is so much shorter than other positions.
The Lions have just two RBs under contract beyond 2023: starter David Montgomery and Greg Bell, who has never been active for a regular-season game.
Here is one RB prospect that fits the Lions from each round of the draft. Detroit doesn’t currently have any picks in the fourth or seventh rounds, but players from those ranges are included because trades happen all the time on draft weekend.
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This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, just one from each range.
1st round: Bijan Robinson, Texas
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Robinson is a premium talent. He’s one of the best RB prospects in a long time, checking every box an NFL team could want in a top running back. Robinson can create big plays on the ground and as a receiver, a la Christian McCaffrey. He should finish his rookie season as one of the best backs in the league and his abilities are largely transcendent of the blocking in front of him.
2nd round: Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
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Gibbs is a lot like a faster, tougher version of Detroit’s D’Andre Swift–an outside-the-tackles speed back with excellent receiving skills. He’s very good at making would-be tacklers miss in space. Gibbs can get antsy and not wait for his blocking to fully materialize, but he’s generally got vision and acceleration to exploit small creases in the defense.
3rd round: Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
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Charbonnet is a do-it-all back with good size and power through his pads. The Michigan transfer lacks elite speed and can get too upright in the hole, but he counters that with excellent balance through contact and short-area footwork.
The Lions’ offense demands its RBs to be good in the passing game. Charbonnet has proven hands and is capable as a route-runner, but where he really stands out is in pass protection.
4th round: Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh
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A high-school track star, Abanikanda is well-built (5-10/216) and hits his top gear in a step. As long as the hole is where it’s supposed to be, the Panthers’ standout is dangerous both inside and outside the tackles. His vision and passing-game skills are not to the level of the backs above him. Detroit’s top-shelf offensive line would be a great fit for his running skills even though he’s often pegged as better for outside-zone blocking schemes.
5th round: Chase Brown, Illinois
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Brown’s best attribute is his sheer will to refuse to be tackled. It blends nicely with a muscular frame and above-average explosiveness out of the gate. Might be best-in-class at setting up second-level blocks and making cuts off what he reads. Brown does have some fumble issues and lacks breakaway speed in the open field despite an impressive testing time.
6th round: Evan Hull, Northwestern
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Hull is an adept receiver, and he showed off more wiggle and skill as a route runner during Senior Bowl week than he was allowed to at Northwestern. The 5-10, 209-pounder isn’t very elusive but understands how to angle through contact and brings great leg drive. Compares somewhat to a faster version of Detroit’s Craig Reynolds.
7th round: Deneric Prince, Tulsa
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Built like a linebacker at a ripped 5-11 and 218 pounds, Prince is a handful at full speed on gap runs, which is what the Lions offense does well. He’s also good on screens, though Prince doesn’t always see the best path outside the tackles and runs stiffly.