National Football League
Five backs the Bucs are looking at to shake up their running game
National Football League

Five backs the Bucs are looking at to shake up their running game

Updated Apr. 25, 2023 3:50 p.m. ET

Just how early might the Bucs draft a running back this weekend?

Tampa Bay ranked dead last in the NFL last season in yards per game and yards per carry, and the Bucs cut their leading rusher from last season, Leonard Fournette, who remains unsigned. So while there's optimism surrounding second-year back Rachaad White stepping into a larger role this fall, he's not going to turn things around by himself.

The Bucs have been active in evaluating the best running backs in this class, bringing the top three in for official visits, as well as two other backs who are more likely third-day options. They've invested third-round picks in White and Ke'Shawn Vaughn in the past three drafts, but it's possible they might use an even higher draft pick this year to help address a lingering problem.

Last season marked a 47-season franchise low for the Bucs and rushing yards per game, averaging just 76.9. That marked the sixth straight year they've averaged fewer than 100 yards per game, twice as long as the next-longest current streak in the NFL.


New offensive coordinator Dave Canales comes from a Seattle offense more reliant on a consistent running game. While the Bucs have ranked in the NFL's bottom 10 in rushing every year since 2016, Seattle has been in the top 20 five years straight, ranking fourth in 2019 and first in 2018 and making the playoffs both seasons.

How much will the Bucs throw to their backs in 2023? It's a curious question. Tom Brady always did so a lot, with 128 receptions by running backs last season. But Seattle's offense last year had just 68, and Baker Mayfield had just 66 and 60 passes completed to running backs in his last two seasons in Cleveland.

Here are the five backs the Bucs brought in for visits and how they could fit into Tampa Bay's 2023 draft class:

Bijan Robinson, Texas
Measurements: 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, 4.46 40
Key stats: Rushed for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, with 60 catches in three seasons and a total of 4,200 yards and 41 touchdowns in 31 college games.

Robinson is the consensus top back in the draft, and a player often ranked among the top-five prospects in this class, period. FOX Sports NFL Draft analyst Rob Rang has Robinson rated as the No. 5 prospect in the draft, so it's only a matter of how much his talent can override the natural devaluation of the position by NFL teams. You'll see him in mock drafts going as high as eighth to the Falcons or 10th to the Eagles.

Joel Klatt discusses Bijan Robinson's performance last season for Texas and at the 2023 NFL Combine.

The Bucs and Eagles were the only two teams that brought him in for visits, and while it's unlikely a team would trade up for Robinson, he'll present a tempting option for Tampa Bay if he's still available when they pick at No. 19. The Bucs haven't taken a back that high in the draft since Cadillac Williams at No. 5 in 2005, but Robinson would allow them to shift the attention a bit from the lack of Brady in their backfield and the pressure on Mayfield or Kyle Trask to follow the legend.

Robinson is arguably the top running back prospect the NFL has seen in five years, since Saquon Barkley went No. 2 in 2018. No other back has gone even in the top 20 picks in the four drafts since, but Robinson could easily reverse that trend, in Tampa or elsewhere.

Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
Measurements: 5-foot-9, 199 pounds, 4.36 40
Key stats: Rushed for 926 yards and seven touchdowns last year after transferring in from Georgia Tech. He had a team-best 44 catches in 2022, giving him 103 in three seasons of college football.

Smaller than Robinson but faster, Gibbs is a dual-threat back comfortable with catching passes out of the backfield or even lining up as a slot receiver. Rang has him rated as the No. 39 prospect in the draft, and he's generally projected as a second-round pick, though he'll sneak in at the end of the first round in some mocks.

Jahmyr Gibbs puts Alabama in front of Texas

In Alabama's 20-19 win over Texas last September, Bryce Young's incredible scrambling pass to Jahmyr Gibbs in the end zone put the Crimson Tide back in front.

With White catching 50 passes as a rookie and new backup Chase Edmonds catching 96 passes in 2020-21 with Arizona, the Bucs might feel like they have two solid pass-catching backs and be OK focusing on getting the best runner available.

Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
Measurements: 6-foot, 214 pounds, 4.53 40
Key stats: Rushed for 1,359 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, after a solid 1,137 and 13 touchdowns in 2021. He had 75 receptions in college, including 61 in the past two years.

Another back who can do a bit of everything, Charbonnet was productive the last two years, if not as athletic or quick as the draft's top two backs. Bucs general manager Jason Licht has an affinity for Pac-12 rushers, having taken Ronald Jones out of USC in the second round in 2018 and White in the third round last year out of Arizona State. Rang ranks Charbonnet as his No. 53 prospect overall, and he's generally seen as a third-round pick.

Roschon Johnson, Texas
Measurements: 6-foot, 219 pounds, 4.58 40
Key stats: Rushed for 554 yards and five touchdowns last season, and totaled 2,190 yards in four seasons at Texas, with 56 catches in his college career.

Robinson's backup is still among the best backs in this draft, ranked by Rang as the No. 6 back in this class. He's a converted quarterback, so there's some intrigue in being able to use him as a wildcat QB in specialty packages. If the Bucs wait until the fourth round or later to take a back, they might prefer just turning to Vaughn, who has played only sparingly in his three seasons, including just 37 offensive snaps in all of last season. Such a later pick could also be seen as an upgrade on Vaughn, even if the initial impact is as a core special-teams player and less on offense.

Chase Brown, Illinois
Measurements: 5-foot-9, 209 pounds, 4.43 40
Key stats: Rushed for 1,643 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, with 58 receptions in his college career.

Brown barely played at first after transferring in from Western Michigan, but he was a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his last two years at Illinois, consistently productive in a run-first scheme. He measures as the second-fastest of these five running backs, but a shorter frame has him projected as a third-day draft pick, likely available in the fourth or fifth round. If the Bucs want to double-dip, they are also looking at his twin brother, Sydney, a safety prospect who was brought in on the same pre-draft visit.

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.  

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