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Best late-round sleeper running backs in 2023 NFL Draft

We take a look at which late-round RBs have the best chance to succeed in the NFL.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 04 Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL Draft is quickly approaching. While it’s exciting to talk about whose names will be called on the first day, you never know which later-round picks will make an impact. Take a look at 2022 — third round picks Greg Dulcich, Rachaad White, and Brian Robinson all saw significant playing time and yardage this past season. Fourth-round picks Bailey Zappe, Romeo Doubs, and Isaiah Likely all made an impact on their respective teams. And who can forget Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy?

Here, we take a look at some running backs who will likely be picked in the later rounds of this year’s draft, but who have some solid NFL potential. While lots of Day 3 running backs go largely unnoticed, you never know who the best sleepers might turn out to be. Here are our picks:

2023 NFL Draft: Sleeper RBs

Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State

Projected round: 5 or 6

The Seahawks hit the jackpot with a running back pick in last year’s draft with Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker, who stepped up when Rashaad Penny suffered a season-ending injury. Walker finished second in OROY voting. They won’t be getting another RB early in the draft, but Deuce Vaughn is an intriguing fit for the Seahawks in later rounds.

Vaughn is small at just 5-foot-5, but he has the body mass and low center of gravity necessary to push through defenders. He can accelerate and outrun defenders of several of the best teams in college football last year. Of course, the NFL is a different story, but Vaughn’s small size also allows him to hide behind blockers and quickly find gaps in coverage.

With Penny gone, Seattle’s running back depth is looking very shallow right now. They will be looking to fill that out in the draft.

Chase Brown, Illinois

Projected round: 5 or 6

Brown was an enormous factor on Illinois’ offense last season, grabbing 100-yard rushing games in 10 of his 12 appearances. At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Brown can accelerate downfield and outrun most defenders once he gets past the first line of defense and into the open field. He doesn’t have the frame to be a short-yardage rusher who can push past the pile in a third down or goal-line situation, but he was utilized in short passing situations.

The Bears recently signed Carolina Panthers breakout star D’Onta Foreman, who will be their primary running back on the depth chart this season, but Brown could add a unique skill set to this Chicago offense and work into the rotation with Foreman and Khalil Herbert.

Evan Hull, Northwestern

Projected round: 6 or 7

Hull showed his versatility as a rusher and a pass-catcher during his time at Northwestern. He has a good ability to find the rushing lanes, bouncing off of blockers to squeeze through and explode. He doesn’t have the strength to power through tackles after initial contact, but he would be a solid addition to a rotation that has a start RB already on their roster. Hull could work in a few reps behind Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell with the 49ers, working in some screen pass routes as well.

Chris Rodriguez, Jr., Kentucky

Projected round: 6 or 7

Rodriguez will likely be one of the latest RB picks in this year’s draft, but as an All-SEC second-team honoree, he should still get his name called on Day 3. He pushes past first contact and isn’t afraid to play a physical game, which is a huge plus coming out of college — in fact, 669 of his 904 yards came after contact in his 2022 Kentucky season. Though he’s not particularly elusive in the open field, there is certainly a demand for his style of play.