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Ascension grades

Running Backs (Class of 2023) 

70% film / 30% analytics 

Tier 1: Grade of: 75.00 & over -- Gold Jacket potential 

Expected fantasy points per game as a Rookie  -- 15.08ppg


Tier 2: Grade of: 65.00 - 74.99 -- All-pro caliber

Expected fantasy points per game as a Rookie --15.08ppg


Tier 3: Grade of: 55.00 - 64.99 -- Pro-bowl caliber

Expected fantasy points per game as a Rookie -- 12.02ppg


Tier 4: Grade of: 49.98 - 54.99 -- Average to Above-average starter

Expected fantasy points per game as a Rookie -- 8.56ppg


Tier 5: Grade of: 44.96 - 49.97 -- High ceiling / High-risk prospect

Expected fantasy points per game as a Rookie -- 6.25ppg


Tier 6: Grade of: 39.50 - 44.95 -- Secondary committee option 

Expected fantasy points per game as a Rookie -- 4.74ppg


Tier 7: Grade of: 39.49 & below -- Depth piece with low career ceiling

Expected fantasy points per game as a Rookie -- 2.59ppg 

Tier 1: Gold Jacket 

Bijan Robinson | Texas


Film grade: 58.48


Analytic grade: 19.00

Ascension grade: 77.48

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-- The only Gold Jacket caliber back in this class and just the second since I began grading prospects Five years ago. Best film grade I have ever given at the position by over Eight points, Jonathan Taylor graded out on film at 50.24 for reference.

-- Exceptional blend of force, finesse, and receiving capabilities - true game-changing player at the position. 


-- Analytically, didn't have elite early career production which gives Taylor the edge on this side of it. Safest running back prospect in recent memory with a legitimate chance at 1,800 or more total yards and 60 + receptions. No reason to take any Rookie Running Back over him.

-- See shades of LaDanian Tomlinson when watching Robinson play, think he has that type of ability at the position to produce at that level if he gets 375 touches a season. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome-- LaDanian Tomlinson

Floor outcome -- Le'Veon Bell 

Tier 2: All-pro

Jahmyr Gibbs | Alabama

Film grade: 49.26


Analytic grade: 18.00

Ascension grade: 67.36

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-- Third-best film grade in the Ascension Grading System - only Bijan Robinson & Jonathan Taylor higher. Why? Gibbs can score on any touch from any alignment on the field. Out wide, in the slot, in motion, in the backfield - doesn't matter; he has the broadest skill set at the position we have seen since Christian McCaffrey.


-- Not overly concerned about his volume given his less-than-typical lead-back stature. Gibbs handled 15 or more touches in 61% of career collegiate games - McCaffrey was at 64%, J.K. Dobbins at 62% and Ezekiel Elliott at 63%. Meets the RB1 threshold of 58%.


-- Analytically, his highest grade is his Historical Workload as a Receiver (99th percentile).


--- Gibbs lined up out-wide or in the slot on 19% of snaps in 2022, and averaged over 40 receiving yards per game in his 29 collegiate appearances. Will turn just 21 around the NFL combine.

-- Usage wise it makes sense for him to see a similar arc to high-efficiency backs like Alvin Kamara, Tony Pollard, and Aaron Jones.  Do not see him being a 1,000 rushing yard back - which is why a Kamara production ceiling makes sense for Gibbs. Between 210 -230 touches annually is the expectation with a 750-850 receiving yard ceiling. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Alvin Kamara

Floor outcome -- Jerrick McKinnon

Tier 3: Pro-Bowler

Duece Vaughn | Kansas State

Film grade: 37.36


Analytic grade: 26.24

Ascension grade: 63.60

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-- Pound for pound the best back in college football. On film, he will still end up as a Top Eight back in this class, but analytically is where he shines.


-- Best analytic score in this Running Back class. Two seasons over 1,800 total yards. Over 1,000 yards from scrimmage as a True Freshman in the Power-5, 43 touchdowns in 37 career games. The poster child for production. 


-- When you look at the raw numbers and do not consider his stature, he is one of most impressive producers across any position in this cycle. The knock is his size, which is understandable seeing he is within a range where only a couple backs produced RB2+ seasons from a fantasy perspective.


-- Cohen, and Sproles are the best comparable to Vaughn in terms of potential role.


-- To throw another wrench into his evaluation, Vaughn handled 15 + touches at an 84% clip in college.... a mark better than Bijan Robinson, Zach Charbonnet, and Sean Tucker. Don't expect that kind of NFL touch share, but would be shocked to see his role diminish to zero. 

-- Cohen never had more than 450 yards rushing in a season, but did have over 70 targets annually until his career was halted due to a multi-ligament knee injury. Vaughn could have that same type of impact if he lands in the correct situation, an area where Vaughn differs from Cohen is his pure impact as a runner, which could lead him to more touches.

Production outcomes 

Ceiling outcome -- Tarik Cohen 

Floor outcome -- Chris Thompson 

Tier 3: Pro-Bowler

Zach Charbonnet | UCLA

Film grade: 40.86


Analytic grade: 15.00

Ascension grade: 55.86

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-- Third-highest film grade in this class, and a similar film grade to Josh Jacobs in 2019' who was at 40.36. Charbonnet offers the best blend of runner/receiver in this tier and profiles as a back that should see three down work as early as December of his Rookie season. 


-- Two seasons with over 200 touches, double-digit touchdowns, and over twenty receptions collegiately. Right around the minimum threshold for fantasy RB1’s from a touch perspective at 55%. 


-- Analytically, he hit every metric between the 50th and 70th percentile, likely the safest back near term outside of Robinson given workload, production and analytic backing.

-- Charbonnet's underrated skillset as a receiver is what leads me to the David Johnson production ceiling. Both can impact the game with variation, but also need sound blocking schemes to maximize second-level potential. Johnson's 2016 season of 373-touches - 2,118 may be out of reach with how ball carriers are deployed today, however, Charbonnet may be able to be a more consistent version of what we saw from Johnson's brief elite usage. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- David Johnson

Floor outcome -- Joe Mixon

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Tier 4: Avg to above avg starter


Sean Tucker | Syracuse

Film grade: 35.86


Analytic grade: 19.62

Ascension grade: 54.98

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-- Solid scores as a linear athlete - 95th percentile marks in top-end speed and accelerative qualities. Tucker is limited as a lateral mover, and lacks depth to his overall rushing skillset.


-- As a receiver, he offers middle-of-the-road pass-catching capabilities however, his speed can make him a dangerous open-field weapon.


-- Can be a good screen-game receiver - limitations in terms of tree & consistency. 


-- Experienced as a Sprinter in Track & Field who has ran sub 7.00 in the 60m, which establishes his great size-to-play speed ratio.


-- Analytically, he scored higher than Robinson, and Gibbs with his highest mark being a 95th-percentile usage rate. 


-- Strong data profile with 60th-percentile traits or higher across the board - a safe bet to reach the median points per game threshold for this tier at 12.02 ppg as a Rookie. 

-- A consistent Rashaad Penny is one of the best change-of-pace rushers in the game, which is what Tucker can become. His limitations as a mover and as a pass-catcher may keep him from a three-down role, but high-level efficiency could be in play in the right system. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Rashaad Penny

Floor outcome -- Damien Williams

Tier 4: Avg to above avg starter

Devon Achane | Texas A&M

Film grade: 39.74


Analytic grade: 14.62

Ascension grade: 54.36

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-- One of the best pure runners in this draft cycle with 99th percentile top-end speed. Achane is a 10.14 100m sprinter, but not just a sprinter playing football, he has high-level anticipatory qualities & economical solutions as a mover.


-- Underrated instincts as a runner, with good physicality through contact. 


-- Analytically, his best score is his 95th percentile college dominator. Fairly average to below average analytic scores after that with a 20th percentile usage rate. 


-- His size, and efficiency-based skill set could lead to a similar usage rate in the NFL. Likely a better real life player than a fantasy asset.

-- Peak Raheem Mostert was giving us a historic 220-yard playoff performance against the Green Bay Packers. Now, Achane won't be doing that consistently but has the ability to impact the game in an outside zone-led scheme in a similar way to how Mostert did in SF/Mia. Between 175-200 touches is the likely count for Achane. 


Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome-- Peak Raheem Mostert

Floor outcome -- Phillip Lindsay

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Tier 4: Avg to above avg starter

Tyjae Spears | Tulane

Film grade: 40.74


Analytic grade: 9.50

Ascension grade: 50.24

-- A back like Spears will either be a perennial fantasy RB2 or a career secondary/tertiary option in a backfield. He does have extremely intriguing traits as both a runner & receiver with underrated qualities due to perceived workload limitations.  


-- 95th percentile movement economy and success in short areas. Great “phone booth back.”


-- Analytically, Spears has below 5th percentile scores in both experience-adjusted production and usage rate. Only touched the ball 15 + times in 31% of career games, which is over 25% lower than the median expectancy for an RB1. 

-- In a perfect world, a back like Spears has a Jonathan Stewart to balance off of like DeAngelo Williams did as a Panther. Think he is better in a 1a/1b situation - Williams was able to have a consistent production. Had an 11-year career due to his efficiency as a runner/receiver. 


Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome-- DeAngelo Williams

Floor outcome -- Chase Edmonds

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Tier 5: High risk/High upside

Chase Brown | Illinois

Film grade: 37.24


Analytic grade: 12.62

Ascension grade: 49.86

-- An energy-giving, workhorse of a player, just like his twin brother Sydney (who is my favorite Safety in this Draft) 

-- One of the best short-yardage backs in this cycle, adept at getting out of tight spaces with great control & patience. 90th percentile anticipatory qualities & short area skillset. 


-- Worst trait is his top-end speed, not a big play guy - more of a chain-mover. 


-- Analytically, Brown only has a 30th percentile high usage percentage & historical benchmarks as a receiver. Not expecting much as a receiver in the NFL, however, I do think he has lead-back caliber traits. 

-- Think Mark Ingram is more of a 'grinder' than Brown is, but do believe Brown can have that type of 1,000-yard double-digit touchdown production at his ceiling. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Mark Ingram II

Floor outcome -- Damien Harris

Tier 5: High risk/High upside

Tank Bigsby | Auburn

Film grade: 31.74


Analytic grade: 16.12

Ascension grade: 47.86

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-- Erratic mover, but has moments of brilliance through contact. Limited as a linear athlete with only 30th percentile top-end speed. 


-- Analytically, he is a tough evaluation because of how he perceivably dominated as a true Freshman in the SEC.


-- 90th percentile experience adjusted production. 


-- After Freshman year, we saw his production consistency go downhill. Went from a potential first-round pick to a question mark of where he fits in the NFL. 

-- Chris Carson had two 1,000 yard - 260 touch seasons with the Seahawks. Bigsby's production ceiling is similar to that if he can find an offensive willing to feature him.

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Chris Carson

Floor outcome -- Alex Collins

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Tier 5: High Risk/High upside

Roschon Johnson | Texas

Film grade: 36.12


Analytic grade: 8.62

Ascension grade: 46.36

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-- Johnson stands out when you watch Bijan Robinson, his Blue-Chip backfield-mate at Texas. 


--  Converted Quarterback who runs with solid urgency and is a smart, physical pass protector - his best overarching trait.

-- Energy giver as a runner who doesn't go down on first contact, one of the broadest though contact traits in the class (97th percentile)

-- Above average skillset as a receiver, with soft hands - acts as a reliable outlet option. 


-- Analytically,  Johnson has a 90th percentile score in experience-adjusted production after having 800 + yards from scrimmage as a Freshman. If Robinson wasn't a blue chip prospect, Johnson likely has a much more marketable career. 


-- A more valuable real-life player than a fantasy asset with his ability as a pass protector. 

-- David Montgomery has been a three-time 1,000 + total yard contributor and is continually in the top 5 backs in the league in pass protection. Think that Roschon has that type of ceiling, at first glance, I did not, but it is evident that he has the traits to be a producer. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- David Montgomery

Floor outcome -- Darrell Williams 

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Tier 5: High risk/High upside

Kendre Miller | TCU

Film grade: 37.12


Analytic grade: 8.00

Ascension grade: 45.12

-- Similar historic film score to Javonte Williams (38.00)


-- Was always impressed with Miller when I watched TCU. Better play speed than he will likely time in the 40, and has a 99th percentile through contact skillset. Reminds me a lot of David Montgomery in this area, gets out of trouble when you think he is dead to rights. 


-- Analytically, he doesn’t have any grades over the 50th percentile. Poor high usage percentage (5th percentile), which was surprising for a back of his stature. 

-- 20th percentile workload as a receiver, don’t anticipate this being a huge part of his NFL touch share.

-- Jordan Howard had three straight seasons over to open his career over 1,000 total yards. Teams are not committing to the run as much as they were, but Miller has the play speed Howard had to be in that conversation if the workload lines up. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Jordan Howard

Floor outcome -- Alexander Mattison

Tier 5: High risk/High upside


Lew Nichols III | Central Michigan

Film grade: 28.00


Analytic grade: 17.00

Ascension grade: 45.00

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-- At this time last year, my thought was that Nichols would be a top 80 pick and a potential early down option for a team, injury derailed the potential of this happening. 


-- Good size, physical runner who has a force-driven skillset with the ability to make the first man miss in open space. 80th percentile through contact back. 


-- Analytically, he sticks out in this class due to his massive 2,000 + total yard season in 2021. Big-time numbers with 18 touchdowns and 40 receptions.


-- High usage rate over the RB1 average at 62% for his collegiate career. 

-- Big issue I see for Nichols is how the NFL is going to view him. He is likely a Day 3 back at this point who will have to fight his way onto a roster. 

-- Has the high-level production, size, and receiving workload, you would look for in a dart throw. There is both a stylistic and production ceiling comparable to Carlos Hyde-type player. Can handle a workload if given the opportunity. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Carlos Hyde

Floor outcome -- DeAndre Washington

Tier 6: Secondary option

Eric Gray | Oklahoma

Film grade: 29.12


Analytic grade: 14.74

Ascension grade: 43.74

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-- Has a bit of Eno Benjamin to his game stylistically.


-- Abrupt, dramatic mover who has a wide-ranging toolbox to go along with his 99th percentile in space qualities. 

-- One of the better in-space players in this draft cycle with an upper-tier pass-catching skillset. 


-- Analytically, he has a 90th percentile workload as a receiver, which is a role I anticipate him playing in the league. Similar to a James White in terms of high-end outcomes of touch share. 

-- James White is one of the best third-down backs of all time. Had three seasons over 550 receiving yards and was a staple in a Tom Brady-led passing attack. Gray was one of the Nation's highest-graded receivers at the position, now we hope he gets into a situation that utilizes a third-down back like New England did. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- James White

Floor outcome -- Kenneth Gainwell

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Tier 6: Secondary option

Israel Abanikanda | Pitt

Film grade: 25.50


Analytic grade: 16.50

Ascension grade: 42.00

-- Profiles as a change of pace option at the NFL level with 80th percentile play speed traits. Lacks multiple gears, and layers to his game.

-- Immature as a mover who needs more experience at the position before he takes on a sizeable workload. 


-- Analytically, he has nearly a 99th percentile college dominator.


-- Had 100 yards or more in each of his last six games, including a historic 322-yard performance against Virginia Tech. 

-- Only one season with over fifteen receptions in college, with glaring issues in pass protection & ball security. 

-- Even with significant limitations Tevin Coleman managed three seasons with over 900 total yards. Izzy profiles as a similar producer with glaring holes, but upside as an outside zone-oriented runner if he reaches his ceiling. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Tevin Coleman

Floor outcome -- Ronald Jones II

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Tier 6: Secondary option

Kenny McIntosh | Georgia

Film grade: 32.00


Analytic grade: 7.62

Ascension grade: 39.62

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-- Not a mega-producer however, he offers some intriguing traits through contact to go with his upper-percentile skillset as a receiver.


-- McIntosh is a natural pass catcher that can operate with efficiency out of the slot, as well as the backfield. 


-- Analytically, his high-end grade was his historic output as a receiver in 2022. Totaling 509 yards to go along with 42 receptions. 

-- His ability as a pass protector coupled with his skillset as a receiver should have him see a long career in the NFL as a primary third-down option. 

--  Geovani Bernard isn't seen as a mega-producer, but still had three seasons with 1,000 total yards. McIntosh could have that type of production in the right system. His capabilities will be more coveted with the way NFL passing games are evolving.

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Geovani Bernard

Floor outcome  -- T.Y Montgomery

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Tier 7: Tertiary option

Zach Evans | Ole Miss

Film grade: 29.24


Analytic grade: 8.00

Ascension grade: 37.24

-- One of the most puzzling film evaluations I’ve ever encountered. There are moments Evans looks every bit like the #1 recruit that he was, and others where there is no surprise he was outplayed in two different situations.


-- Best trait on film is how he combines his accelerative capabilities with power.


-- Inconsistencies at scanning lanes hindered his success. 


-- 30th percentile skillset as a receiver, focus drops and lack of depth in terms of route tree are areas of concern here. Wasn’t trusted much as a pass catcher, averaging just one reception per game in 2022.


-- Analytically, Evans best grade is his 70th percentile experience-adjusted production.  At TCU as a Freshman he saw his best season on a per-touch basis. Career highs in Yards after contact per attempt, Yards per carry and breakaway rate - the issue is, we have seen those numbers decrease annually instead of improve. 


-- Uphill battle for Evans, but I believe he can be a lead back in the NFL. Only touched the ball 15 + times in 33% of career games, so to begin his career in the league he will likely be in a secondary or tertiary role. Has to prove he can use his talents with consistency to earn touches. 

-- Have some of the same reservations I had about Sanders coming out, but the same feeling about both of their ceilings. Evans has a bit more growing to do than Sanders did - an outcome for Evans at ceiling is a starting caliber back with a 215 touch - 1,200 total yard outcome. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Miles Sanders

Floor outcome -- Ameer Abdullah

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Tier 7: Tertiary option

Dewayne McBride | UAB

Film grade: 20.00


Analytic grade: 16.74

Ascension grade: 36.74

-- Not an athletic standout, but you appreciate his toughness & ability to earn hidden yardage. 

-- Good short area mover with a knack for finding muddy creases. 

-- As close to a zero in the passing game as you can get with only five receptions in thirty-five career games. 


-- Analytically,  he has a 90th percentile Dominator rating combined with a 90th percentile experience adjusted production score. When you extrapolate his Covid season, he was on pace for an 800 + scrimmage yard Freshman season. 

-- Likeky a back that is a better platoon player than a true puzzle piece to an offense. 

-- Like Gus Edwards, McBride proves he is capable at moving the chains and providing himself as a solid complimentary option. Edwards has had three seasons so far with 700+ rushing yards - a good ceiling for McBride. 

Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Gus Edwards

Floor outcome -- Wayne Gallman Jr. 

Tier 7: Tertiary option

Chris Rodriguez Jr. | Kentucky

Film grade: 25.24


Analytic grade: 11.00

Ascension grade: 36.24

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-- On the higher end of through contact backs (95th percentile)


-- Stands out when you watch him work through second-level engagements. Tough, physical, violent runner who is almost never brought down by one man.


--Lacks an explosive element to his game. 10th percentile play speed, which will limit his NFL touch share & role.


-- Analytically, he doesn’t stand out. Not a great producer historically and didn’t produce at a high level until year four.


-- Reminiscent of Joshua Kelley. Not a great player by any stretch - but an important part of the physical identity of a backfield.


Production outcomes

Ceiling outcome -- Joshua Kelley

Floor outcome -- Benny Snell

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