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Comp Picks is a season-long, weekly series that looks at the incoming rookie class from all angles, tying everything together with an NFL player comparison (or a combination of players) to contextualize upside and risk.
Senior, 6-foot-1 and 220 lbs
Zach Charbonnet was one of the most highly-touted recruits in the nation in 2019, and while it took some time for him to develop, the last two years have shown why. Charbonnet was the No. 4 running back in the 2019 class, earning a four-star rating and drawing offers from 24 different Power Five programs. His high school output warranted the hype, as he accumulated 4,741 rushing yards and 61 touchdowns over his four-year career. He wasn't utilized a ton as a receiver in high school, but he averaged over one reception per game and showed an ability to gain yards after the catch with his powerful running style. Charbonnet eventually committed to the Michigan Wolverines and performed well as a freshman, but after seeing his role diminish during the shortened 2020 season, he hit the transfer portal. The decision to move to UCLA could not have benefitted him more. Since arriving in California, Charbonnet is averaging 6.4 yards per attempt, 13 touchdowns, and over 26 receptions per season. Through just eight games in 2022, Charbonnet averages 7.5 yards per attempt while accumulating 1,145 yards on just 152 carries. He's third in the nation in yards per game and second among Power Five running backs.
Statistically, Charbonnet is remarkable. When watching him, it's easy to see why. Charbonnet is a tremendous athlete for his size, possessing a combination of strength, size, and speed that very few running backs in the 2023 class do. Most analysts will label him a power back, aiming for two-down usage and guaranteed goal-line work. His contact balance suggests that could be an ideal role for him. His lower body strength and ankle flexibility regularly cause missed tackles, especially on the first attempt. He's not the most elusive back in the open field, but among 220-pound running backs, he has more wiggle than expected. He consistently uses angling to evade defenders, showing a path one way before sticking a foot in the ground and breaking left. Even if he doesn't entirely elude the tackle attempt, the angle shifts give him additional space to operate, requiring defenders to attempt arm tackles and letting Charbonnet slip through. He keeps his legs churning when running between the tackles, often carrying piles and falling forward to gain additional yards. Over the last two years, he is displaying impressive second-level vision, constantly running the best path available and remaining slippery through the first level.
UCLA utilizes him in the receiving game, but Charbonnet won't be considered a receiving back. He has efficient hands, but most routes he runs are flares and screens, sometimes allowing him to use his body to help harness the catch. Still, he can stay on the field on obvious passing downs, which is the most critical aspect of his receiving skill set. Patience between the tackles is another point of improvement for Charbonnet. His willingness to use his size and power against Pac-12 opponents is effective, but allowing his blocks to develop will help him at the NFL level.
The Comp Pick: A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers
While Dillon's 2022 performance behind a bad Packers offensive line has disappointed, Charbonnet's skill set is strikingly similar to his. The size-speed combo of Dillon earned a 9.18 relative athletic score, and it would not be shocking if Charbonnet's athleticism matched his. As runners, they rely more on their power than their elusiveness in space, but both have enough to remain effective at the NFL level. Despite being listed as a weakness above, Charbonnet shows stronger hands as a receiver, furthering the idea that he can become a three-down back. Aaron Jones's presence lessens Dillon's role, but given the opportunity, he could produce top-twelve performances. Charbonnet has a similar upside, depending on the situation he finds himself in following the 2023 NFL Draft.
Charbonnet is one of many 2023 running back prospects that hope to become at least day-two draft selections, but his hope should come to fruition. He profiles as an early-down, starting NFL running back that comes pro-ready and can earn an immediate, impactful, and fantasy-relevant role. Still, Charbonnet will likely be available in the early second round of most rookie drafts. While he doesn't possess the pass-catching upside that some of his classmates do, his ability to find the end zone and almost guaranteed goal-line role give him a different, potentially lucrative upside.
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