2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Zach Charbonnet (Fantasy Football)
For most fantasy analysts, Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs rank at the top of this class. And while there are multiple running backs in contention for RB3, there is a strong argument that Zach Charbonnet firmly belongs in that spot. A four-year player out of UCLA, Charbonnet has been one of the most productive running backs in the nation over the last two seasons. And in a running back class filled with multiple smaller prospects, Charbonnet stands out with his size, accomplished production profile, and potential day-two draft capital as someone who could be an immediate difference-maker for dynasty managers.
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
While many will know Zach Charbonnet for his time at UCLA, he began his career as a 4-star recruit at Michigan. In his true freshman season, he would lead the Wolverines in attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns despite sharing the backfield with Hassan Haskins. Charbonnet would also account for about 18% of the team’s scrimmage yards and touchdowns, making an immediate impact in his first campaign. Perhaps the more concerning number in his profile was his receiving yards market share at only 0.92% as he was sparingly used as a receiver as a freshman. So while it was far from an elite season, it was still encouraging to see Charbonnet immediately involved for the Wolverines. Unfortunately, his role would diminish in 2020 as he played behind Haskins, while also sharing the backfield with Blake Corum (a potential day-two pick in the 2024 draft). As a result, Charbonnet would enter the transfer portal and join the UCLA Bruins ahead of his junior season.
While we saw glimpses of his potential at Michigan, Charbonnet was unable to showcase his true ceiling due to his limited usage. That all changed at UCLA where he was used as the lead running back in Chip Kelly’s offense. As you can see below, in his first season with the Bruins, he averaged a respectable 1.56 Yards per Team Play and about 25% of the team’s total offense (yards and touchdowns). More importantly, his usage in the receiving game drastically improved as he averaged over 7% of the team’s receiving yards in 2021. With an impressive breakout campaign, many believed that Charbonnet would declare with Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker. Instead, he would return to UCLA for another year.
There is always a risk in returning for your senior season, especially after building up your stock like Charbonnet did in 2021. After all, many projected him to be a day-two pick in last year’s class. However, looking back at his 2022 season, there is no doubt that he made the right decision as he absolutely dominated last year. He finished the season with an elite 2.26 Yards per Team Play while accounting for 33.3% of the team’s total yards. In addition, he improved his receiving yards market share even further to 11.9%, proving that he can be an impactful receiver out of the backfield. To put his production into perspective, there were only two Power 5 running backs to average +2.25 Yards per Team Play in 2022:
- Bijan Robinson
- Zach Charbonnet
In short, Charbonnet was one of the most accomplished running backs in the nation during his time at UCLA. Assuming he does receive round two capital, as projected by many mock drafts, he should be firmly entrenched near the top of this rookie class.
*Pro Day Results
At 6’0” and 222 pounds, Zach Charbonnet is one of the larger running backs in this class. His height and weight rank in the 84th and 77th percentile respectively, per NFL Combine Results, which is extremely encouraging for his outlook as a potential three-down running back in the NFL. His 4.53 40-yard dash is not quite as impressive (69th percentile) as Devon Achane’s; however, we have to keep in mind that he is nearly 30 pounds heavier. So when we adjust for weight, Charbonnet’s speed score comes in a little higher in the 72nd percentile.
Where Charbonnet does stand out is in his short-area burst and explosiveness. His 10-yard (1.53) and 20-yard (2.58) splits rank in the 89th and 99th percentile respectively. In addition, his vertical of 37 inches ranks in the 82nd percentile, while his broad jump (122 inches) is in the 77th percentile as well. In other words, Charbonnet checks multiple athletic thresholds that we look for in a running back, making him one of the more complete prospects in this class.
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 Zach Charbonnet’s film.
Games Viewed: 2022 vs Bowling Green, 2022 vs USC, 2022 vs Oregon, 2022 vs Stanford, 2022 vs Washington
1. Patient Yet Powerful Running Style
This aspect of Zach Charbonnet’s game was extremely prominent in his film. While he is very patient behind the line of scrimmage, allowing his blocking to develop before making his moves, he consistently attacks the lane with force and strength. His short-area burst stands out as he can be explosive with his initial cut, taking advantage of openings as soon as they develop. Charbonnet is also difficult to take down in between the tackles and in the open field due to his impressive lower body strength, often pushing for additional yards even after being tackled. With multiple smaller running backs in this class, evaluating Charbonnet’s running style was very refreshing as he often leveraged his 220-pound frame and athletic ability to gain the upper hand. The clip below exemplifies Charbonnet’s running style as he patiently follows his blockers, avoids the safety as he was closing in, and then fights through contact for additional yards.
2. Impressive Contact Balance and Ability to Gain Yards After Contact
As I alluded to above, Zach Charbonnet is a tough running back to take down due to his frame and outstanding contact balance. All too frequently defenders would attempt to tackle him and Charbonnet would simply absorb the contact, keep his feet moving through the tackle, and extend the play. He also does an outstanding job of anticipating the collision and then lowering his shoulder to brace for impact, leading to defenders bouncing off of him instead of taking him down. In the clip below against Stanford, Charbonnet showcases some of the aforementioned contact balance and elusiveness that make him such a special running back, evading multiple defenders for an impressive touchdown.
3. Low Average Depth of Target
While Charbonnet was heavily involved in the receiving game in his final two years at UCLA, his average depth of target (ADOT) landed in the negatives in both seasons. In other words, most of his targets came behind the line of scrimmage as he was mostly leveraged on short routes out of the backfield. Even then, he still managed to average over 8.4 yards per reception at UCLA as he was often a mismatch in the open field. He would routinely break tackles against smaller defensive backs, creating plenty of yards after the catch. In addition, Charbonnet is also a natural pass catcher as he displayed the ability to track and pursue the ball, adjusting when throws are slightly off target. So despite his unexciting and limited route tree, I do believe Charbonnet can be a productive receiver at the next level.
What’s Not on Tape
1. Heavy Reliance on Speed to Produce
As I mentioned above, Charbonnet does not have the elite speed of Devon Achane or Jahmyr Gibbs. That is partially expected because he weighs nearly 30 pounds more than both of those players. However, we do see his lack of top-end speed in his film as he rarely outpaces DBs and LBs in the open field. Instead, he relies much more on his strength and tackle-breaking ability to gain yards. Especially once he gets into the secondary, smaller defensive backs were often outmatched by his size and frame. Therefore, while he may not be the fastest running back in this class, that should not be a concern as he has a variety of tools in his arsenal that allow him to produce on the field.
2. Consistent Reps as a Pass Protector
This could be driven by the sample size of games that I reviewed, but I was surprised to find that Charbonnet was rarely asked to pass protect. Does this mean he was never on the field on passing plays? Not necessarily. Instead, he was on the field running routes acting as the safety valve for his quarterback. This was also driven by the offensive scheme of UCLA as they ran a lot of RPOs (run-pass option) and uptempo plays, often leveraging Charbonnet as the outlet if there was nothing available. On the few plays that he was asked to protect his quarterback, it was a mixed bag of results. While he does have the size and quickness to hold back the pass rush, there were a couple of plays (mostly in his game against Stanford) in which he displayed poor technique and allowed the linebackers to slip by far too easily.
2023 Fantasy and Dynasty Outlook
In short, Charbonnet’s complete profile makes him an intriguing first-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts. Naturally, his lack of production early in his career does stand out as a glaring red flag. However, he also showcased that he can be an RB1 for an offense by leading the Bruins backfield over the last two years. Therefore, if he can secure second-round draft capital, he should be a popular candidate to be the RB3 in this talented class.
To provide additional context on his profile, since 2013, which running backs entered the league with a similar profile as Charbonnet:
- Non-Early Declare
- Received Day Two Capital (Rounds 2 – 3)
- Weighed in at +220 pounds
- Averaged 1.25 – 1.50 Career Yards per Team Play
The running backs that make this list are:
While Moss never realized his potential in the league, Lacy and Hyde produced multiple top-24 fantasy seasons throughout their careers. Considering the upside that his profile presents, Charbonnet should absolutely be considered a mid-first-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts, potentially making an impact for dynasty managers as soon as this year.