NFL Draft Third Round Trends | Best Rookie Running Backs From Round 3

by Shervon Fakhimi · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

In the 2023 NFL Draft’s third round, four intriguing running backs slid under the closing garage door that is Day 2 draft capital by landing in the third round: Kendre Miller (New Orleans Saints), Tyjae Spears (Tennessee Titans), Devon Achane (Miami Dolphins), and Tank Bigsby (Jacksonville Jaguars). They all have skillsets worth getting excited about. However, the most important question is are any going to be fantasy relevant in 2023? Let’s dig in and see.

Round 3 Isn’t Round 2

First, let’s take a look and see how well Round 3 running backs have fared over the years. 29 running backs have been drafted in the third round since 2013. Only 16 of those players (roughly 55.2-percent) went on to play at least ten games and register at least 100 touches in their rookie season.

Now, let’s take a look at Round 2 running backs. There have been 27 second-round running backs since 2013. 21 of them played at least ten games and registered at least 95 touches.

Second Round Running Backs

Second-round running backs have been far more likely to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow than third-round picks. I also showed this in my article posted about Zach Charbonnet a couple of weeks ago. Third-round running backs have actually outscored second-round running backs in the first five games of their rookie campaigns. However, third round rookies get outscored in the second half of their rookie seasons compared to second-round rookie running backs. The difference is only 0.97 points per game (13.97 for second rounders and 13 for third rounders). Over the entirety of each rookie season, the difference in points per game is only 0.08 points per game.

Zach Charbonnet Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

However, the likelihood of breakouts is far less with third-round rookies. We’ve already mentioned how much more likely it is for second rounders to get on the field. But once they get on the field, breakouts aren’t clicking at the same rate either. Only five of the 16 (31.25-percent) third-round running backs in our sample exceed 12 points per game over the entirety of their rookie season. Ten of the 21 second-round running backs hit that mark in their rookie season. If you look solely at the second half of their rookie seasons, six of the 16 third rounders (37.5-percent) eclipsed 12 PPR points per game. 12 of the second-rounders hit that mark! This is double the players despite there being more third-round rookie running backs drafted since 2013.

So, You’re Saying There’s a Chance?

While it is more improbable for third-round rookie running backs to make a huge impact for your fantasy teams, it isn’t impossible. Just last season, while Rachaad White and Brian Robinson did not meet the 12-point per-game threshold, they came close. They were at 11.6 and 11.96 points per game over the last five games of their rookie seasons, respectively. Four new members are entering the third-round running back club this season: Kendre Miller, Tyjae Spears, Devon Achane, and Tank Bigsby. Who has the best chance of becoming a league winner this season?

Deja Vu in New Orleans?

Even Alvin Kamara didn’t come out of the gates on top of the New Orleans backfield. He was third on the totem pole behind veteran backs Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson. He forced Peterson out of town that same season and formed one of the best running back tandems in the last six years with Ingram.

Fast forward to 2023 and the shoe is on the other foot. Alvin Kamara is now the vet alongside recently signed Jamaal Williams. Both Kamara and Williams are 28 years old. Miller is turning 21 years old in June. Kamara is still as lethal as he’s ever been in the passing game. He ranked No. 6 in yards per route run among running backs last season at 1.76 according to PlayerProfiler and No. 15 in yards created per touch (3.08). However, his true yards per carry in 2022 was just 4.0. This ranked No. 46 among running backs. It was 3.5 in 2021. Williams isn’t much better in this department. Williams’s 3.9 true yards per carry in 2022 ranked No. 54 at the position. He’s never been above 4.2 true yards per carry in his entire career.

Already The Best?

You could argue Kendre Miller is already the best runner in his running back room. His 6.2 college yards per carry ranks in the 78th-percentile of running back prospects. According to Nick Penticoff of FTN Fantasy via PFF, Miller had 64 missed tackles forced. That was tied for No. 5 among the 2023 running back class.

Miller is a more than solid between-the-tackles runner. He makes people miss in a phone booth. Additionally, Miller constantly churns forward for extra yards and drags defenders with him. He also has breakaway speed. We don’t have concrete proof with Miller missing the combine and pro day testing rehabbing a knee injury, but he was one of two other power five runners with at least four rushes of 50+ yards. Michigan’s Donovan Edwards was the only other, per PFF.

What’s lacking in Kendre Miller‘s college resume is solid receiving work. However, he can catch the ball. Miller has 28 receptions over his last two seasons. His quarterback (Max Duggan) wasn’t the most accurate passer in college football nor was he a willing check-down passer. Most of the time he’d hold onto the ball looking for a big play or run it himself like most mobile quarterbacks do. Miller seems confident in his pass-catching ability.

We also have to add the possibility that Alvin Kamara will be suspended for a few games for his role in a Las Vegas altercation in February 2022. If he’s suspended, all that’s in Miller’s way is Jamaal Williams. We have to see what happens with Kamara, but Miller could earn a big role for himself in the event of a Kamara suspension and never look back.

Backing Up a Titan

A good number of rookie third-round running backs began their NFL careers as backups. It’s a shame that’s the case with Tyjae Spears. He reminds me of a better version of Devin Singletary.  Spears is taller and faster than Singletary and was more active in the passing game compared to Singletary, but both are on the lighter side. Spears is 201-pounds and that’s heftier than his playing weight at Tulane. That didn’t stop Spears from being super productive at Tulane.

Spears was the best running back at the Senior Bowl where he shined as a receiver and blocker to go with his rushing prowess. It’s easy to see his fit in Tennessee. Spears is a no-nonsense runner who doesn’t dance in the backfield. He has excellent vision and hits the hole once he sees it. You’d like to see him run a bit faster than the 4.54 he ran at his pro day, but that’s enough speed for Spears to work with and make a big play.

With Dontrell Hilliard gone, the third down satellite back role is there for the taking in Tennessee. Spears is the favorite to land it. It won’t mean a ton of standalone value for Spears, but it is enough to make him someone to target at the end of redraft leagues and best ball drafts. Hilliard had four top-28 finishes in PPR scoring last season and three games with 16+ points in 2021. Spears won’t have a ton of standalone value but has some and a good bit of contingent value.


Devon Achane is arguably the best player of this bunch. He’s in by far the best situation when it comes to both competition and scheme fit. Check this out.

Compare that with the Dolphins did with Raheem Mostert last season and it looks quite similar.

There are some issues working against Achane though. Primarily, he’s an extreme outlier right now. Only three running backs since 2011 have been drafted with Day 2 draft capital while weighing in between 190 and 199 pounds. This is per JJ Zachariason who included this in his Late Round newsletter. None of these running backs have eclipsed at least 10 PPR points per game in their first three seasons. One of them is James Cook so he still has time, but still, it’s not good. There at least is a sample size for that weight class, though. There hasn’t been a single running back drafted below 190 pounds with Day 2 draft capital since 2011. Achane is 188 pounds.

Miami did rank No. 6 in pass rate last season, and Achane was a great receiver at Texas A&M. His 14.7-percent college target share ranks in the 93rd-percentile of running back prospects. He had 60 receptions over his last two seasons. Dolphins running backs combined for a 15-percent target share in 2022. If Achane can earn a robust piece of that percentage then I think Achane can really be a factor for fantasy. He’s the Dolphins running back I most want. It’s hard to envision him becoming a workhorse when Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. both have the faith of the coaching staff as well. 

Tanking Etienne’s Value?

Tank Bigsby is another who will begin his career as a backup. Travis Etienne is the man in Jacksonville’s backfield, but Bigsby was very productive on a mediocre Auburn team during his tenure there. He’s also got prototypical size at six feet 210-pounds to go with a 15.3-percent college target share, which ranked in the 94th-percentile.

JaMycal Hasty had a legit role last season for the Jaguars. He even put up a 20.5 point game in PPR leagues the week Etienne left early against the Ravens. Etienne also averaged just under 16.67 carries a game after the Jags traded James Robinson. Take out a game against the Texans when he played half the game and that number jumps up a carry. That’s where Bigsby comes in. He will sap some carries and a target or two to help keep Etienne fresh, but not enough to sustain standalone value. Remember, James Robinson‘s surge at the start of 2022 was boosted by unsustainable big plays. I find it hard to believe he’ll overtake Etienne barring an injury. Bigsby is a late-round dart throw with a big contingent upside, but nothing much more than that.


Third-round rookie running backs aren’t the safe and explosive bet that second-round rookie running backs are. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth taking shots on either. Of these four, Kendre Miller has the best combination of opportunities to become a potential workhorse as well as having the build to do so. He’s my pick of this bunch, but even he needs some things to fall in his direction. We’ll see if he or any of these other three promising prospects can be the next Alvin Kamara or David Johnson. Or will they become the next Alexander Mattison or Royce Freeman?