With the 2023 NFL Draft just over a month away, it’s time to rank the best possible players that the Arizona Cardinals can select.
The Arizona Cardinals have a solid back in James Conner. But the 2017 third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers is injury-prone and he isn’t getting any younger. Therefore, don’t be surprised if the Cardinals look for a running back to complement Conner in the middle rounds.
Below, you will meet five running backs, ranked from highest-priority to the lowest-priority, that factor in as good fits for the Redbirds, much like the quarterback rankings. Keep in mind that each running back listed below will likely go in the middle rounds, so you won’t see top-end prospects like Bijan Robinson on this list.
Top 5 running backs for the Arizona Cardinals in 2023 Draft
1 - Devon Achane, Texas A&M
A smallish back, the 185lb Devon Achane makes for a great complement to the larger, physical Conner. He also only had 369 carries at Texas A&M, and 434 overall touches.
What jumps out the most? Achane rushed for 2,376 yards throughout his college career, good for 6.4 yards per carry. He is also a threat as a pass-catcher, having racked up 65 receptions and five touchdowns through the air.
Sure, Achane may be small. But you can’t deny that he can be a complete back when used as a two-down player.
2 - Tyjae Spears, Tulane
Another small option, Tyjae Spears clocks in at just 190lb. And over his career at Tulane, Spears scored 34 times, including 31 on the ground.
His productivity is off the charts, having averaged 6.8 yards per carry and 2,910 rushing yards. In 2022 alone, he had 1,581 yards on the ground, 6.9 yards per, and 19 touchdowns. Overall, he is a change-of-pace back who would suit the Arizona Cardinals well.
3 - Israel Abanikanda, Pitt
Israel Abanikanda is a back that has more size than Tyjae Spears and Devon Achane. He only had one outstanding season at the University of Pittsburgh, but Abanikanda was still a productive player in 2021 and 2022, totaling over 2,000 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns.
He doesn’t do much as a receiver, with just 38 career receptions. However, if the Arizona Cardinals are looking to run the ball often in 2023, and that might very well be the case, someone like Abanikanda would be an ideal pickup in the middle rounds.
Further, if they’re interested in a more balanced attack when quarterback Kyler Murray returns, Abanikanda is still a good option. Overall, he’s worth grabbing if the top two backs listed are gone.
4 - Sean Tucker, Syracuse
Sean Tucker had three good seasons at Syracuse, but his productivity was never off the charts, averaging just 5.4 yards per carry throughout his collegiate career. However, the 210lb Tucker is a complete back who can be a reliable runner and pass catcher-56 receptions and 509 receiving yards during his final two seasons with the Orange.
He likely won’t wow us at the next level. But the Arizona Cardinals only need a back to give Conner a breather every now and again in 2023. And Tucker could be that player.
5 - Kenny McIntosh, Georgia
Finally, we got Kenny McIntosh. And if there is one thing he has that many on the Arizona Cardinals don’t have, it’s experience as a champion, so that alone could give him some value.
McIntosh, however, also carries better size than the backs mentioned on this list. And like Tucker, he can catch passes out of the backfield, having logged 76 in his career, and 65 over the past two seasons.
He’s no touchdown machine and he never rushed for 1,000 yards, but McIntosh found the end zone 10 times on just 149 carries last season. I wouldn’t expect him to gain featured back status. But I would expect McIntosh to evolve into a decent complementary back if he lands with the right team.
And the Cardinals, given their need for a solid RB2, appear to be a good fit. It won’t be long before we find out whether McIntosh or any of the backs listed before him will be wearing a cardinal and white uniform.
(Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference)