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Draft Coverage

2023 Combine preview: Running back

This year's class of running backs is deep, talented and versatile. Whatever a team is looking for in a back for their scheme, they'll be able to find it somewhere in this class. There will be Day 3 picks who are key contributors in the NFL in 2023.

Top 5 running backs to watch at the Combine:

1. Bijan Robinson, Texas, 6-0, 220

Robinson is the No. 1 back in the class and someone who displays great elusiveness, vision and power. He rushed for 1,580 yards (6.1 average) and 18 touchdowns this past season and also averaged 16.5 yards per reception. He's a true three-down back at the NFL level and a likely immediate impact player.

2. Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama, 5-11, 204

Gibbs is a very patient and productive runner. He really excels in space with his speed and is terrific in the passing game. He might be the best receiving back in this class. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry over the course of his three-year career at Alabama and caught 79 passes for nearly 1,000 yards the last two seasons. He'll be an impact player as a pass catcher out of the backfield early in his career.

View photos of the running back prospects who were invited to the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.

3. Zach Charbonnet, UCLA, 6-1, 224

Charbonnet is a tall, physical runner who excels on inside runs using his power and length to get north and south. He has enough speed to catch the edge and some pretty good elusiveness for a back his size. Pass protection won't be an issue for him. He's coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the Bruins with 27 touchdowns. He averaged 7.0 yards per carry in 2022.

4. Devon Achane, Texas A&M, 5-9, 185

Speed kills in the NFL and Achane has plenty to burn. He doesn't have ideal size to run between the tackles in the NFL, but a good offensive mind will find ways to get him in space and utilize his elite acceleration and speed.

5. Tank Bigsby, Auburn, 6-0, 215

The No. 7 rusher all-time in Auburn school history finished his career with 2,903 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. He's a very patient runner and is good at getting yards after contact. He didn't do a lot in the passing game for the Tigers, so he'll have to prove at the Combine he has that skillset.

Combine sleeper to watch: Tyjae Spears, Tulane, 5-10, 204

It was too bad Texas running back Roschon Johnson got hurt at the Senior Bowl because I would have liked to see who had the better week between him and Spears. With no Johnson after just one day of practice (broken hand), Spears was the clear No. 1 back in Mobile. Every day it seemed like he'd break off a huge run, which came on the heels of a 205-yard, four touchdown performance against USC in Tulane's bowl win to end Spears' college career.

Lions' need at the position: High

How big of a need this is really depends on whether unrestricted free agent Jamaal Williams returns or not, but I still list it as high. Williams told me in Phoenix at the Super Bowl he wants to come back and is willing to work with the team to make that happen. He's found a home in Detroit and wants to be part of what GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell are building. Williams is coming off his first 1,000-yard season and set the franchise record with 17 rushing touchdowns. He'll be 28 in April.

D'Andre Swift is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He's been dynamic when healthy, but staying on the field has been an issue over the start of his career. Availability is the best ability. Maybe 2023 being a contract year will pull the best out of Swift and he'll live up to his massive potential.

With Williams turning 28 and Swift entering the last year of his contract, the Lions need to start thinking about the long-term future at the position. Some fans might scoff, but taking a player like Robinson at No. 18 could fit best available and need for the Lions. They'll almost certainly look to address it in Day 2 if they don't first address the position in free agency.

Key stat: The Lions had five rushes of 50-or-more yards this past season, their most in a season since 1997. Williams and Swift each had two rushes of at least 50 yards. This marks the first time in Lions history multiple running backs have had multiple 50-yard runs in a single season, and Detroit was the only NFL team this season to do so.

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