As we approach Week 3 of the college football season, let’s talk about one player who has already thrust himself into the national spotlight after two impressive games: Zach Charbonnet.
As a 4-star recruit (and the No. 4 running back in the nation) out of the powerhouse program of Oaks Christian High School, Charbonnet was already known as a talented prospect with loads of potential. He finished his high school career rushing for 4,741 yards and scoring 62 total touchdowns. Michigan recruited him the hardest, so he headed east to Ann Arbor.
His freshman season at Michigan was impressive, as he showed the type of big-play ability that made him a highly recruited player. That season, in 2019, he had 149 rushes for 726 yards, averaging nearly 5.0 yards per carry while scoring 11 touchdowns. One of his more impressive performances as a freshman was in the Citrus Bowl against Alabama. Playing against a defense that had many names called during the NFL draft, he rushed 13 times for 84 yards. He was named to the All-Big-Ten team as a freshman.
His sophomore year was abbreviated due to COVID and he started three out of five games. The Wolverines were starting to rotate other backs, which likely led to his decision to enter the transfer portal. He eventually returned home to UCLA.
In his first game this season against Hawaii, he had six carries for 106 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 47-yard touchdown run in which he broke five tackles, running with the base, balance, and power that will surely make him a high NFL draft pick.
However, one could say that it was “only” Hawaii. So, in Week 2, his performance against former LSU would solidify what he is, right? He shredded the Tigers' defense for 117 yards on 11 carries.
On the season, he’s averaging 14 yards per carry. What’s equally impressive as what he’s doing is the impressive way in which he's doing it. He’s not only running with power, a strong base, and balance upon contact, but he’s also showing the breakaway speed to be a home-run threat on any given carry. He’s extremely powerful and strong and has also shown sufficient hands in the passing game—proving he can be a three-down running back in the NFL. Charbonnet currently leads the nation in the number of plays from scrimmage of 10 yards or more and also 20 yards or more And he’s actually splitting carries with another transfer RB Brittain Brown. I anticipate Charbonnet receiving the bulk of the carries for the rest of the season, but Brown’s running style is complementary to Charbonnet’s—they’re two different types of runners.
UCLA’s running game should alleviate some of the pressure on Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s shoulders as the Bruins look to challenge for the Pac-12 South crown. If he remains healthy, Charbonnet will establish himself as a top-three running back in the 2022 NFL Draft class.