One running back that has largely flown under the radar in the 2023 NFL Draft class is East Carolina’s Keaton Mitchell. He’s been a dominant force in the AAC over the last two years, accumulating 2,584 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in 2021 and 2022 while averaging roughly seven yards per carry. His performance earned him first-team All-AAC honors in back-to-back years, and Mitchell was an honorable mention All-American as well in 2022.
Beyond the accolades and the statistics is an impressive running back on tape. Mitchell is an explosive player with excellent speed—he proved it at the NFL Combine with a 4.37 40 and 38-inch vertical leap. Once Mitchell finds a hole with his good field vision, he can hit it hard and turn it into a big play.
Standing at 5-foot-8 and 179 pounds, you’d like for him to be more shifty at the position—and he won’t be the guy for everyone. That said, Mitchell would provide an excellent change-of-pace option as an RB2. He also has good third-down potential as an extra pass-catcher out of the backfield with 42 catches for 419 yards and a touchdown over the past couple of years.
With all of that in mind, these are the four NFL teams that would fit him best.
Running back is far from the Cardinals’ biggest need with some pretty pressing roster holes on the defensive side of the ball. That said, it still is a big need on offense without much quality depth behind James Conner. So why does Mitchell fit? Well, he’s a later-round option that could complement the bruising style Conner has with his explosiveness and speed. Mitchell could work the perimeter on outside runs as a change-of-pace while Conner gets to work between the tackles.
Similar to the Cardinals, the Falcons are a team without a pressing need at running back thanks to a solid rookie season from Tyler Allgeier last year paired with hybrid WR/RB Cordarrelle Patterson. However, the latter is set to become a free agent after this year and if Atlanta wants long-term depth to pair with bruisers of its own—Allgeier and fellow second-year Caleb Huntley—Mitchell would be a strong fit. Mitchell would also bring his third-down upside as a guy that has more experience catching the ball at his position, though Allgeier is better in pass protection.
Both of the Ravens’ top two running backs, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, are set to become free agents after the 2023 season. They also both tore their ACLs in 2021, and Dobbins (at least) had noticeably lost a step since his return from that injury in 2022. It could be that Dobbins wasn’t 100 percent when he returned, but if Baltimore wants to get a bit younger at the position and bring in an explosive, speedy guy later in the draft to make up for Dobbins’ step back, Mitchell is an excellent fit. The ECU product also brings more to the position as a pass-catcher than Dobbins, Edwards, and Justice Hill.
If there’s anything running back Najee Harris loves to do, it’s lowering his shoulder and driving through contact with the ball in his hands. But Harris is not at all the speedy back that can hit the home run. His longest run after two years in the NFL is 37 yards. While he can absolutely work between the tackles and even bounce to the outside and drive through secondary defenders for extra yards, he doesn’t have tons of big-play potential. Mitchell is a smaller, speedier back that could give Pittsburgh’s offense a great change-of-pace option behind Harris in the later rounds.
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