Why Breece Hall Could be the Next Jonathan Taylor

Iowa State Cyclones RB Breece Hall
Iowa State Cyclones RB Breece Hall
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Draft - Could Breece Hall be the next Jonathan Taylor?

Taylor is already destroying the NFL in only his second year. He gained more than 2,000 all-purpose yards in 2021 and finished second in voting for AP Offensive Player of the Year. Although Taylor had a relatively high draft positon—41st overall—he was only the third running back taken, after the Kansas City Chiefs took Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the Detroit Lions selected D'Andre Swift. Although both of these players may ultimately become solid contributors, Taylor currently has more rushing yards than both of them combined.

Although many scouts underrated Taylor, BackCAST, Football Outsiders' system for projecting running backs, identified Taylor as a potential star. Taylor had the best BackCAST projection of all time. According to BackCAST, Taylor was not just another Wisconsin running back due to fail, but a stellar prospect with an unusual blend of size, speed, and college production.

Taylor's recent success begs the question: are there any underrated running back prospects in the 2022 NFL draft who also have superstar potential? Fortunately for running back-needy teams, the answer is "yes," with this year's prospects highlighted by Iowa State's Hall.

As always, Football Outsiders' 2022 NFL draft coverage is presented by Underdog Fantasy!

Underdog Fantasy

BackCAST projects NFL running back success based on statistics that have correlated with success in the past. Historically, a college running back who has a good size-speed combination, has a high average yards per carry, and represented a large percentage of his college team's running attack is likely to succeed at the NFL level. BackCAST considers these factors and projects the degree to which the running back will exceed the NFL production of an "average" drafted running back during his first five years in the NFL. For example, a running back with a +50% BackCAST is projected to gain 50% more yards than the "average" drafted running back.

BackCAST also includes "RecIndex," which measures whether the player is likely to be a ground-and-pound two-down back, a player who catches passes out of the backfield more often than he takes handoffs, or something in between. In short, RecIndex measures the likelihood that the player records a disproportionately high or low number of receiving yards versus his rushing yards. The two factors significant in predicting RecIndex are receiving yards per game in college and weight, as smaller players are likely to be receiving backs.

BackCAST is based on a statistical analysis of all of the Division I halfbacks drafted in the years 1998–2019, and measures the following:

  • The prospect's weight at the NFL combine.
  • The prospect's 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. If he did not run at the combine, BackCAST uses his pro day time.
  • The prospect's yards per attempt with an adjustment for running backs that had fewer career carries than an average drafted running back.
  • The prospect's "AOEPS," which measures how much, on average, the prospect's team used him in the running game during his career relative to the usage of an average drafted running back during the same year of eligibility.
  • The prospect's receiving yards per game in his college career.

What follows are some of the most notable BackCAST projections for the running back prospects available in the 2022 NFL draft.

Breece Hall, Iowa State

BackCAST Score: +149.1%
Type of Back: Receiving
Similar Historical Prospects: Dalvin Cook, LaDainian Tomlinson

Breece Hall is a fantastic running back prospect. Although he comes short of Jonathan Taylor's titanic projection, that is a bit like losing to Michael Jordan in a slam dunk contest—no shame there. Hall has the fourth-highest BackCAST projection of all time, falling behind only Taylor, Ricky Williams, and Saquon Barkley. Even better for value-seeking teams, Hall's projected draft position is low relative to a back with his level of talent. Scouts Inc., for example, currently rates Hall as the 66th overall prospect and only the second-highest rated running back behind Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III.

Hall is an excellent combination of size and speed. Hall has decent size at 217 pounds and ran a very quick 4.39s 40-yard dash. However, Hall's collegiate production is where he really shines. BackCAST likes running backs who take hold of their college backfields early and never let go, and Hall certainly fits that profile, absorbing 45%, 61%, and 68% of his team's rushing attempts during his three years at Iowa State, respectively.

The only weakness in Hall's projection is that he averaged "only" 5.5 yards per attempt. Although yards per attempt is an important metric, there is also a record of success for running backs with relatively low yards per attempt numbers who scored highly on other metrics. For example, the legendary Adrian Peterson averaged only 5.4 yards per attempt in college and the immortal LeSean McCoy averaged only 4.8.

The one area where Hall tops Taylor is the receiving game. Hall, in addition to his heavy workload in the running game, also contributed substantially to the Cyclones' passing attack, catching 82 passes for 734 yards. For that reason, NFL teams can have an extra level of confidence when drafting Hall, because even if he does not work out as a pure runner, it is likely that he will add value as a receiver coming out of the backfield.

Certainly, BackCAST is far from 100% effective, but Hall has many indicators that historically point to success.

Rachaad White, Arizona State

BackCAST Score: +58.6%
Type of Back: Receiving
Similar Historical Prospects: DeMarco Murray, Ahman Green

There is a huge gap between Hall and the next-highest rated running back in this draft. Interestingly enough, BackCAST's No. 2 prospect is a sleeper who is ranked 180th overall by Scouts Inc.

So what does BackCAST like about Rachaad White? He has a good size-speed combination, running a 4.48s 40-yard dash at 214 pounds. White is the most productive receiving back in this year's draft, averaging over 40 yards per game for the Sun Devils. White also averaged a respectable 5.8 yards per attempt on the ground. White did not dominate the backfield at Arizona State, but that could be due to his late start, as he joined the team after a two-year stint at junior college.

White's rank as BackCAST's second-best running back has more to do with the weakness of the class than it does with White's projection, which is good, but hardly record-breaking. That said, White's BackCAST projection is great for the price of a fifth- or sixth-round pick.

Ty Allgeier, Brigham Young

BackCAST Score: +57.8%
Type of Back: Balanced
Similar Historical Prospects: Jay Ajayi, Nick Chubb

Like Rachaad White, Ty Allgeier posts a good BackCAST projection despite being low on most draftniks' boards. Allgeier is a big back at 224 pounds. His 4.60s 40-yard dash is below average, but certainly not bad for a back of his size. Allgeier was also the most productive back on a per-carry basis in this draft class, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

The odds are clearly stacked against a player with a draft projection as low as Allgeier's (he is currently ranked 232nd overall by Scouts Inc.). That said, he is certainly a player to watch if he manages to stick on an NFL roster and manages to get some playing time.

Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State

BackCAST Score: +54.4%
Type of Back: Ground-and-pound
Similar Historical Prospects: Jamaal Charles, Laurence Maroney

Kenneth Walker III is the consensus pick as the top running back in this draft, but BackCAST puts him behind Hall and two likely late-round picks (White and Allgeier). Walker does not have a bad projection per se, but he has a weaker projection than most top running backs in past drafts.

Walker has a good size-speed combination—he ran a 4.38s 40-yard dash at 211 pounds. However, Walker did not start dominating backfields until he transferred from Wake Forest to Michigan State as a junior. To be fair, his sophomore year was during a COVID-shortened season. However, it is also fair to question why the freshman Walker was stuck behind a running back (Cade Carney) who was averaging under 4.0 yards per carry for the Demon Deacons in 2019.

Walker also adds very little to the receiving game. Walker caught only 19 passes in three years of college football, averaging only 4.3 receiving yards per game. There have been successful running backs with less than that, but most of them played during a different era where running backs caught few passes. There have been only a few running backs drafted in the last decade who averaged less than five receiving yards per game in college, and only one (Melvin Gordon) with sustained success.

Walker is certainly not a bad prospect, but BackCAST suggests that he may not provide great value as the top-rated running back in the draft.

Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M

BackCAST Score: +48.0%
Type of Back: Balanced
Similar Historical Prospects: Mewelde Moore, Dion Lewis

Isaiah Spiller is the last of the four similarly-rated prospects after Breece Hall. Of the four, Spiller has the worst size-speed combination—he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds at 217 pounds. Spiller, however, makes up for his measurables with production. Spiller had the highest workload of the group of four, recording 541 carries in three years with the Aggies.

Spiller, White, Allgeier, and Walker all have similar BackCAST projections. A shrewd team might want to wait and pick whichever one requires the least draft capital.

Most Overrated Prospects

James Cook, Georgia

BackCAST Score: -45.7%
Type of Back: Balanced
Similar Historical Prospects: Kenny Irons, Lee Suggs

Kyren Williams, Notre Dame

BackCAST Score: -55.4%
Type of Back: Receiving
Similar Historical Prospects: Theo Riddick, Brian Calhoun

Although Scouts Inc. slates James Cook and Kyren Williams as only fourth-round picks, they are highly rated in a relative sense, as they are the third- and fifth-highest rated running backs in this draft class, respectively. BackCAST, however, feels that they are both overrated and projects them each to have roughly half the production of the average drafted running back.

Both backs suffer because of their size—they both weigh in at less than 200 pounds (199 for Cook and 194 for Williams). Cook ran a quick 40-yard dash at 4.42 seconds, which is fast, but not particularly fast for a player as light as Cook. Williams, on the other hand, only managed a 4.65s 40-yard dash, which is very slow for a sub-200-pound running back.

Cook's projection suffers the most from his light workload at Georgia. Cook had only 230 career rushing attempts in four years with the Bulldogs. Although there have been exceptions, running backs with below-average usage in college do not often make an impact on the NFL level. Williams, on the other hand, had slightly higher than average usage, but it is not enough to save his projection from his poor size-speed combination.

Despite his lower projection, Williams might have the higher upside of the two. Although Williams lags behind his draft mates in overall projection, he is third amongst all backs invited to the combine in receiving yards per game. He could follow a path similar to that of Theo Riddick, who had little success on the ground but did find a niche in the NFL catching passes out of the backfield.

Nothing is certain in the NFL draft, and either Cook or Williams could ultimately meet and exceed his draft projection. However, the historical trends suggest that running back-needy teams might want to look towards one of BackCAST's mid- to late-round sleepers instead.

2022 BackCAST Projections
Name School Weight Forty AOEPS Adj Y/A Rcyds/G BackCAST RecIndex
Breece Hall Iowa State 217 4.39 29.9% 5.49 20.4 149.1% 0.29
Rachaad White Arizona State 214 4.48 -4.1% 5.78 40.5 58.6% 1.12
Ty Allgeier BYU 224 4.60 5.7% 6.28 12.6 57.8% -0.08
Kenneth Walker III Michigan State 211 4.38 7.7% 5.80 4.3 54.4% -0.31
Isaiah Spiller Texas A&M 217 4.63 17.6% 5.53 16.7 48.0% 0.14
Hassan Haskins Michigan 228 4.54 8.6% 5.17 5.3 30.0% -0.41
Max Borghi Washington State 197 4.45 3.2% 5.71 29.1 30.0% 0.81
Sincere McCormick UTSA 205 4.60 20.7% 5.42 14.1 29.9% 0.14
Kennedy Brooks Oklahoma 209 4.59 1.0% 6.89 5.8 28.0% -0.23
Tyler Goodson Iowa 197 4.42 15.9% 4.79 16.6 17.1% 0.31
Zamir White Georgia 214 4.40 0.8% 5.35 3.6 13.3% -0.36
Keaontay Ingram USC 221 4.53 -4.4% 5.49 15.9 7.4% 0.08
Kevin Harris USC 221 4.62 2.0% 5.47 10.4 -4.2% -0.15
Ty Chandler North Carolina 204 4.38 -3.9% 5.33 12.5 -4.9% 0.08
Bam Knight North Carolina State 209 4.58 7.6% 5.44 9.4 -5.7% -0.09
Isaih Pacheco Rutgers 216 4.37 1.9% 4.35 5.8 -11.3% -0.29
Tyler Badie Missouri 197 4.45 -3.8% 5.34 25.0 -15.1% 0.64
Jerome Ford Cincinnati 210 4.46 -13.2% 5.83 9.1 -24.4% -0.10
Brian Robinson Jr. Alabama 225 4.53 -5.4% 4.87 9.1 -25.3% -0.23
D'Vonte Price FIU 210 4.38 -14.9% 5.55 7.1 -25.8% -0.18
Ty Davis-Price LSU 211 4.48 2.7% 4.81 5.3 -27.2% -0.27
Leddie Brown West Virginia 213 4.64 9.5% 4.66 14.0 -31.5% 0.07
Trestan Ebner Baylor 206 4.43 -17.7% 5.38 24.8 -33.5% 0.56
Snoop Conner Ole Miss 222 4.59 -8.9% 5.26 6.6 -44.7% -0.31
James Cook Georgia 199 4.42 -19.7% 5.88 15.9 -45.7% 0.26
Jerrion Ealy Ole Miss 189 4.52 -3.5% 5.70 16.5 -46.5% 0.37
Ronnie Rivers Fresno State 195 4.60 1.9% 5.01 25.1 -51.5% 0.67
Dameon Pierce Florida 218 4.59 -12.0% 5.44 8.8 -52.0% -0.18
Abram Smith Baylor 213 4.54 -14.6% 5.76 2.7 -55.3% -0.39
Kyren Williams Notre Dame 194 4.65 2.4% 5.18 26.0 -55.4% 0.71
Jaylen Warren Oklahoma State 204 4.55 -5.5% 5.00 16.3 -58.6% 0.24
Jashaun Corbin Florida State 202 4.51 -11.6% 5.47 10.3 -61.4% 0.01
CJ Verdell Oregon 194 4.68 -0.7% 5.40 16.5 -78.5% 0.33
Greg Bell San Diego State 201 4.50 -7.6% 4.96 5.3 -80.2% -0.18
Quan White South Carolina 206 4.52 -27.6% 5.52 8.0 -100.0% -0.12

An edited version of this article originally ran on ESPN+.


4 comments, Last at 30 Apr 2022, 1:30pm

1 Taylor's recent success begs…

Taylor's recent success begs the question

Raises the question.

Begging the question would be: "It doesn't matter where you draft a running back, because running backs are fungible."

BackCAST also includes "RecIndex," which measures whether the player is likely to be a ground-and-pound two-down back, a player who catches passes out of the backfield more often than he takes handoffs, or something in between.

I had never noticed it before, but the entire nomenclature for backs assumes a negative DVOA offense -- or at least one with a low success rate. If offenses are on-schedule, 3rd-down is not clearly a passing down and any back should be a 3(+)-down player.

Indeed, I wonder if there's not entanglement there, where better teams can get more production from the same backs because 3rd down is not bifurcated relative to downs 1 and 2. *casts eye at NE's old law-firm backfield*

2   Begging the question would…


Begging the question would be: "It doesn't matter where you draft a running back, because running backs are fungible."

A better statement of this would be "high round running backs are equivalent to low round running backs because running backs are fungible" (the latter statement is equivalent to the first - if running backs are interchangeable, any grouping of them is equivalent). The example you're giving isn't quite that because it's equating two different things (draft position and interchangeability) - and of course it does matter where you draft a running back, they get paid more if drafted early. Begging the question should end up sounding like an aphorism.

4 BackCast covered 27 backs,…

BackCast covered 27 backs, then in the 4th round NE and TEN each picked a guy not included in those 27.

Meanwhile, BackCast's third-ranked back, Tyler Allgeier, is still available.  

There are a lot of RBs out there.