College football technically started already but the real action starts this week. The 2022 NFL Draft class is full of sleepers and I’m here to bring them to your attention.
Yesterday was safeties and slot corners. Today it’s running backs. This class isn’t special at the top with Breece Hall and Isaiah Spiller splitting appearances between RB1 and RB2. I don’t have first-round grades on either player.
That leaves plenty of room for some sleepers to climb their way up the draft board. Here’s three such running back prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft class.
1. Chris Rodriguez Jr – Kentucky, 5’ 11” 224
It may not be fair to call Chris Rodriguez Jr a sleeper, as he’s as high as 10th at the RB position on some big boards. However, Rodriguez is my favorite prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft, so I’ll take every opportunity I can to rave about him.
Rodriguez is a big-bodied ball carrier that breaks tackles with finesse and power. He’s extremely skilled at taking on half a man and has the power to finish off tackle-breaking attempts. His footwork and lateral mobility are fantastic.
Chris Rodriguez Jr to the house 🔥 pic.twitter.com/q1t5vYFo3p
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) January 2, 2021
Rodriguez shows great patience and partners that with great explosion to hit the hole when he finds a seam. He shows that innate ability to place defenders where he wants them, giving himself big-play opportunities through the second level.
The biggest concern with Rodriguez is his lack of production in the passing game. While he performed well in limited pass-blocking attempts, we’ve seen almost nothing of him as a receiver. He has caught just one pass in each of the last two seasons. Rodriguez’s long speed isn’t great either but that’s just a detail.
The most exciting thing about Rodriguez is that he hasn’t even started a game for the Wildcats yet. We’ll get to see much more of him this season as the unquestioned starter. If Rodriguez can prove useful as a receiver this season, we may be talking about the top running back in this draft class.
2. Bijan Robinson – Texas, 6’ 214
Bijan Robinson was created to tote the rock and he’s primed for a monster season. He ran away with the starting role midway through last season, as just a redshirt Freshman. Robinson forced 6 missed tackles in 3 of his last 4 games to close out the season.
He can break tackles in a number of ways. He can shake, juke, and spin his way around defenders. Robinson will also use violence and he’s quite good at it. Even at 6-feet tall Robinson is able to get lower than the defender and churn his legs through would-be tacklers.
Robinson was only targeted once beyond 10 yards last season but the pass wasn’t thrown accurately enough for him to attempt to catch it. So, we’re unsure of what Robinson is capable of as a downfield threat but he was an effective check-down option. He only dropped one pass and was extremely dangerous in the open field.
He may just be a redshirt Sophomore but if Bijan Robinson has a productive season, I expect him to forego his remaining years of eligibility. Look for Robinson to cruise up 2022 NFL Draft boards.
3. Eric Gray – Oklahoma, 5’ 9” 206
Eric Gray has a stout, compact frame that’s more than capable of absorbing damage between the tackles. We saw a bit of that during his first two seasons with Tennessee, as he split reps with fellow 2020 transfer, Ty Chandler – who would’ve been another decent choice for this article.
We’ll hopefully see more of Gray as a Sooner, though he’ll now be splitting reps with Kennedy Brooks. Gray is the better athlete between the two and should provide a spark to the passing game – not that Spencer Rattler needs help with that.
Tennessee used Gray in the slot quite a bit and Oklahoma would be wise to do the same. Not only would that allow the Sooners to get both Gray and Brooks on the field at the same time but it would allow them to take advantage of Gray’s abilities as a receiver.
Gray lacks nuance as a route-runner but he’s smooth in and out of breaks and knows how to defeat zone coverage. He’s extremely slippery in space and is always a threat to take it the distance. That threat is even more evident in Gray as a ballcarrier.
He’s quick to get vertical and can eat up yards in a hurry. But he sees the whole field and knows how to get himself in space to create big plays. Look for Gray to do exactly that at Oklahoma. If he does it often enough, he’ll hear his name called early in the 2022 NFL Draft.