2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Devon Achane (Fantasy Football)
The cream of the crop of the 2023 rookie running back class is undoubtedly Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs. However, there are multiple running backs outside of the top tier that could be impactful contributors at the next level. One of those players is Devon Achane, who is a three-year prospect out of Texas A&M. Initially playing his first two seasons behind current Chargers’ running back Isaiah Spiller, Achane did not take over the backfield until 2022. However, even in his limited time as a starter, he took advantage of his opportunities and was one of the most productive running backs in the nation last season. And with the potential to be a day-two selection, Achane should be on your radar as a late first-round pick in your dynasty rookie drafts.
Let’s dive into Achane’s profile!
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series, which will continue until the 2023 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2023.
College Production Profile
Devon Achane entered his collegiate career as a 4-star recruit, garnering plenty of offers from some of the top programs in the nation including Alabama, Georgia, and LSU. However, Achane would instead commit to Texas A&M, joining Isaiah Spiller who was coming off of a stellar freshman season in 2019. Despite operating in a committee, Achane made the most of his opportunities, averaging 76.8 scrimmage yards per game and 1.18 Yards per Team Play in 2020. What stood out was his explosiveness and efficiency, finishing the season with 9.6 yards per touch.
As expected, Achane would take on an expanded role in 2021. He would average an impressive 25.5% Weighted Dominator Rating (percentage of the team’s total yards and touchdowns), while also improving his receiving yards market share to 10.4%. To provide additional context, among Power 5 running backs in 2021, Achane ranked 22nd in Weighted Dominator Rating and 27th in Yards per Team Play. In addition, while Spiller did finish the season with more touches and scrimmage yards, Achane remained the more efficient running back in that backfield with 7.6 yards per touch. Needless to say, it was an impressive breakout campaign for Achane, who continued to improve his stock heading into his final season.
In 2022, Achane would finally receive the opportunity to operate as the RB1 for Texas A&M. With Spiller declaring for the draft, Achane was a focal point for the offense averaging 20.3 touches, 129.8 scrimmage yards, and 1.1 touchdowns per game. In addition, as you can see above, he also accounted for over 35% of the team’s total production and averaged over 2.03 yards per team play. To put that into perspective, Achane was one of only seven Power 5 running backs to average over 2.00 Yards per Team Play last season. In other words, he was one of the most productive running backs in the nation this past year. And while his size may be a concern as he enters the league, Achane showcased in his final season that he can truly shoulder a workload for an offense.
Finally, when we compare his career production to all early-declare running backs in this class, Achane ranks near the top in multiple metrics:
- 5th in Total Yards Market Share (26.8%)
- 5th in Total Yards per Team Play (1.61)
- 5th in Receiving Yards Market Share (9.2%)
- 5th in Weighted Dominator Rating (27.2%)
One of the negatives in Achane’s profile is his smaller frame, measuring in at only 5’8” and 188 pounds. To put that into perspective, NFL Combine Results has each of those measurements in the 12th and 6th percentile respectively in their database. In other words, we rarely see a running back enter the NFL with Achane’s size. On a positive note, Achane makes up for it with his elite speed and acceleration as he clocked in with a 99th percentile 40-time of 4.32. Furthermore, his 10-yard (1.49) and 20-yard (2.49) splits rank in the +98th percentile, highlighting the short-area burst that makes him such a dangerous running back on the field. These numbers should not necessarily come as a surprise as Achane was a very successful track athlete both in high school and at Texas A&M. So while he is one of the smallest running backs we have seen enter the NFL in recent history, his production profile and athletic measurables provide a glimmer of hope that Achane could be an outlier.
What’s on Tape
As part of my prospect evaluation, I watch anywhere between four to six games of film to gain a better understanding of each player’s strengths and weaknesses. Below are my observations on Devon Achane’s film.
Games Viewed: 2021 vs Alabama, 2021 vs Missouri, 2022 vs Miami, 2022 vs Ole Miss, 2022 vs Arkansas, 2022 vs LSU
1. Game-Breaking Speed and Acceleration
As I mentioned above, one of Devon Achane’s strengths is his speed and acceleration. And while a player’s 40-time is not always indicative of their game speed, Achane’s numbers clearly translate on the field. His ability to quickly shift to top speed is especially unique as it often erases what seems to be an optimal angle for the defense. For example, in the play below against Arkansas, his immediate burst takes away any opportunity for the safeties and linebackers to close in before he crosses the opponent’s side of the field. This skill set is what makes Achane such a fun player to watch. In any given play, he has the physical tools to break into open space for a significant gain.
2. Improvisation When The Play Collapses
One of the most impressive aspects of Achane’s game is his ability to improvise when lanes close or the offensive line collapses. In fact, this was a common occurrence as the Texas A&M offensive line was well below average across multiple metrics. Per Football Outsiders, the Aggies ranked 71st in Adjusted Line Yards (2.69) and 101st in Offensive Line Stuff Rate (19.9%) in 2022. While the OL did struggle last season, that did not stop Achane from producing over 1,000 scrimmage yards for a second consecutive campaign. With a combination of outstanding vision, anticipation, and lateral quickness, Achane consistently found ways to escape pressure. In addition, his ability to vary his speed and change direction without losing momentum makes him an extremely difficult running back to take down.
We see some of his “problem-solving” abilities in the following clip against LSU. Immediately faced with two defenders, Achane uses a mix of lateral movements, stiff arms, and speed variation to gain a difficult first down.
3. Extensive Usage as a Kick Returner
While very few of us play in leagues that award points for kick return yards, it is still important to note that Achane excelled in this aspect of the game throughout his collegiate career. He totaled over 600 kick return yards in his final two seasons while finishing top 10 in the SEC in this metric in both 2021 and 2022. This should not necessarily come as a surprise as his vision and speed translate perfectly to his role as a returner. While this may not affect his fantasy production at the next level, this could give him more opportunities to showcase his explosive skill set. This would also give teams an additional reason to select him early in the draft as he could fill multiple roles on offense and special teams.
What’s Not on Tape
1. Consistent Receiving Opportunities in the Slot
As you can see in his advanced metrics table above, Achane was steadily involved as a receiver in each of his three seasons with the Aggies. However, while his receiving production does stand out, his route tree was mostly limited to flat routes out of the backfield with the occasional wheel or angle route mixed in. Surprisingly, in my six-game sample size, Achane rarely lined up in the slot. In fact, he finished his career with a slot rate of only 2.1%. For comparison, receiving running backs Jahmyr Gibbs and Deuce Vaughn finished their careers with a slot rate of over 10%.
I do believe this is an aspect of Achane’s game that could expand in the NFL as he showcased the athletic ability to be an effective route runner in his time at Texas A&M. Therefore, I would not be surprised if he was leveraged more frequently in the slot as he presents a mismatch for most linebackers and safeties in the open field.
2. Success in Short-Yardage Situations
Because of Achane’s smaller frame, there were multiple occasions in his film where he struggled in between the tackles in short-yardage situations. You rarely saw him driving through a pile of defenders or breaking through multiple tackles because he was running up against much larger defensive linemen and linebackers. Part of that is likely also driven by the struggles of the offensive line in 2022 as they were not the most effective unit at creating opportunities for their running backs. However, this could be an area of the game where Achane may be limited at the next level due to his smaller frame, potentially preventing him from being a featured running back in the NFL.
2023 Fantasy and Dynasty Outlook
As with any running back entering the NFL, draft capital is a key indicator of the ability to produce both in rookie seasons and beyond. However, it may be even more important for someone like Achane because we rarely see someone his size selected within the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Let’s take a look at some historical data.
Since 2013, we have only seen four early-declare running backs selected in the NFL draft who weighed in at 200 pounds or less. None of them were selected within the first three rounds of the NFL draft or broke out at the next level. Of those four running backs, the closest we got to a breakout season was Nyheim Hines (198 pounds), who was the RB28 in half-PPR points per game in 2020. Naturally, setting an arbitrary threshold of 200 pounds does limit our sample size. What happens if we increased that number to 205 pounds? Does that drastically change our results? It does improve our sample size as it now includes multiple players who were selected within the first three rounds, highlighted by Christian McCaffrey, Ronald Jones, and Gio Bernard. However, by widening our sample size, we are also deviating from a direct comparison to Achane’s size as all three of those players are nearly 15 pounds heavier.
All that to say, Achane is a true unicorn because we rarely see a player with his frame selected in the early rounds of the NFL draft. Despite that, nearly all mock drafts have him cemented as a day-two pick. It is also important to remember that Achane has hovered around 180 pounds for most of his collegiate career. However, that did not stop him from dominating defenses such as LSU and Florida last season. So while there are concerns regarding his size, that does NOT change the fact that Achane is one of the most productive and efficient running backs in this class. And assuming he is selected within the first three rounds of the NFL draft, Achane should remain an intriguing pick in the late first round of dynasty rookie drafts.