• Andrew Woodruff

2022 Freshmen DEVY RB Darlings & Dangers

Twitter: @_DEVYScout

Last year I pulled together an article about high school running backs and their weight entering the college systems. I noted some interesting things from work on who we should focus our picks on in devy football to increase the chances of hitting on a solid NFL prospect for our pipeline of talent. From that work, I came across some notable trends that I could follow as we want to get the young backs who can step in and lead within their freshman or sophomore seasons for most cases. Below is a quick summary of what I saw:

  1. It is better to target large universities over the smaller schools in the FBS.

  2. We see better hit rates for the backs already above 200 pounds leaving high school. The Upper 190s is dependent on hitting other criteria.

  3. Focusing on the top 30 and top 15 for those bigger weight groups further helps the odds in devy football.

  4. Assuming we choose good prospects staying only three years, the average increase gives most players around 11 pounds to put on before the pros. That helps push for those in the upper part of our 190s category if they are good enough to see early playing time going into college.

If we applied that information to the 2021 class from high school, it made the following players optimal targets in devy (or supplemental drafts):

TreVeyon Henderson, Will Shipley, LJ Johnson, Corey Kiner, Phil Mafah, Byron Cardwell, Cody Brown, Audric Estime, Thad Franklin, Amari Daniels, Kamarro Edmonds, Dunlap, Trevion Cooley, Devin Neal, and Alton McCaskill among the RBs and then also included Braelon Allen based on the criteria for those seeing him going to Wisconsin as RB and Raheim Sanders who was originally an athlete.

That same information said not to worry about picking up the following players based on the criteria:

Camar Wheaton, Armoni Goodwin, Donovan Edwards, Evan Pryor, Lovasea Carroll, Seven McGee, Ahmonte Watkins, Ricky Parks, Ke’Travion Hargrove, Brandon Campbell, Irving, Brooks, Collins, and no one else outside the top 30 of the position.

A year later and my current rankings for the position today in regards to the 2024 NFL draft would be as follows:

  • Tier 1: Henderson, Allen

  • Tier 2: Shipley

  • Tier 3: Edwards, Neal, Cooley, McCaskill

  • Tier 4: Cardwell, LJ Johnson/Amari Daniels (if either wins the spring competition)

  • Tier 5: anyone else (maybe a Miami RB jumps to tier 4 if someone emerges)

That is very promising in seeing it turn out that way as I saw many people discussing Wheaton and Goodwin as players they were including in their top 4-5 guys to target. A year later and these players in the avoid column all have lowered in value besides Edwards who became a nice promising player when he could play. Nine of the seventeen mentioned players as targets in the last devy draft now look like RB leaders for their teams if you just focus on weight. The others in this group include Notre Dame, Miami, and Texas A&M situations to watch and see who stands out moving forward.

So now that spring practices are slowly starting to roll out for our college programs, let me discuss who are the players we should be focusing our efforts on in the 2022 devy and supplemental drafts. This will include 22 total guys once I dipped and grabbed a few names outside of 247 Sports top 30 because I believe they were worth mentioning because of size and college destination.

210+ pound category: Singleton, Robinson, Citizen, Hampton, Kaytron Allen, Etienne, Gordon, Johnson, Paul, and Martinez.

Based on my past study, more than half of these backs will be in the NFL draft after three years. Six of these guys are in the top 15 which only further helps the opportunity to get on the field and produce. Based on situations, I believe Singleton, Robinson, Citizen, Etienne, and Gordon should be our main targets. The others like Hampton, Allen, Johnson, and Paul make more sense as later attempts to secure crowded backfields or bank on the lower-ranked prospect to become the main guy. Johnson, Paul, and Martinez especially are outside of the top 30 so unless you know you are playing with guys who are aware of the Paul hype from earlier this year then you should be good to look at them later in deep drafts. Hampton and Allen I am more hesitant on myself because they go with other higher rated recruits from this cycle so it could take a moment to see them emerge if they will.

200-209 weight range: Blue, James, Brown, White, Michael Allen, Williams, Martin, Judkins

Out of this group, Judkins was the only one outside the top 30 I wanted to include for devy purposes as he did go to Ole Miss where he could fight for a chance at touches behind Zach Evans. Out of this category, Jaydon Blue was the only one inside the top 15 and committed to playing with Bijan Robinson at Texas this season before he should lead in 2023. Those types of players are among the best to hit for the next level which is why I would highly consider him among the top 5 of this class. The others make some sense but I would want to double-check their roles in the spring if possible. Each of these players though is in situations to claim a role for themselves in a major role besides James who will need to outperform Cardwell.

195-199 weight range: Jamarion Miller, Tavorus Jones, Jaydn Ott, Dallen Hayden

The last four names on the list fell into that upper section of the questionable tier for me. Only Miller and Jones are inside the top 15 of the 2022 class which means they have a slightly better chance of being NFL relevant but not enough to sway me because of the logjam for Alabama and the unknown of if Missouri can continue to produce NFL running backs. Both should be buried early on and the same can be said for Hayden with Ohio State. Ott is the one in a position to possibly be an early starter but for now, is just a name to watch. The team website has him listed at 210 pounds which is a little high so not sure how much to trust that yet.

The Rest:

The rest is a lot of high-profile names I have seen mentioned by various groups. Let me list the names and then tell you why I have my reservations.

Emmanuel Henderson, Raleek Brown, Le’Veon Moss, Gavin Sawchuk, George Pettaway, Jovantae Barnes, Jadarian Price, Rayshon Luke, Gi’Bran Payne, Arlen Harris Jr, Terrance Gibbs, CJ Brown, etc

The top of this list is littered with names people have been mentioning worth taking. However, I have my reservations based on their weight and situation. Brown, Luke, and Price are all 180 or below. Those players over the years were complete devy unknowns as only Aaron Jones, Ameer Abdullah, and Darrell Henderson have ever gone to be NFL relevant and none were known before the draft in recruiting. Henderson, Sawchuk, Harris Jr were all in the 180s which was less than 10% of ever being NFL relevant for those in the top 30 recruiting services. The odds do get better for Henderson, Brown, and Sawchuk as top 15 prospects, but each has some concerns for me. Lincoln Riley never has been able to feature a running back and get them to the NFL level with big roles. Henderson at Alabama is stuck behind a lot of talented backs and should see little work as a freshman with the skill that Gibbs has in the receiving game and lead rusher and more experienced runners in the system. Most guys at that school have to wait so it may be better to buy low later than use meaningful draft capital this year if there are less than five-round drafts. Sawchuk will be playing catch-up behind bigger fellow freshman Barnes and the talent of Gray and Major in the Oklahoma offense. The others include Barnes, Moss, Pettaway, Gibbs, and Payne who are all in complicated backfield committees trying to determine the pecking order. Gibbs is at a very small school, but Pettaway is the favorite of the community. While Pettaway is a good talent, he will have a lot to prove this spring and fall to make a meaningful impact with a new quarterback and backfield situation after Howell and Chandler left for the NFL. I would not rush an early pick for him if there are clearer paths to opportunity.

Hopefully, this gives you an idea of how the 2022 running back class looks based on the study from last year. It also may give you a glimpse into some 2021 guys who cleared through the drafts last year and now maybe guys to look at for the top of the board of devy drafts. Here is a link back to the old study if you want to see me dive further into the old numbers. Be on the lookout for further devy articles to come!