When you do this long enough, there are examples of when you’ll turn on the tape of a player and know after eight quarters that this going to be “one of your guys” in this draft class. For UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet, I barely even needed eight quarters. I started with his 2022 games against Arizona and Stanford before moving on to his 2021 performance against an SEC staple — LSU. Charbonnet is often discussed in draft circles as a well-rounded running back prospect without the speed, but I think those evaluations are missing what his actual trump card is — his contact balance.
Out of the past three seasons evaluating the top-15 running back prospects in every class to enter the NFL for Fantasy Football and real-life NFL purposes, Charbonnet has the best contact balance of the bunch. Defenders fall off him both in the open field and in the hole. If you’re looking to see what I see, watch any of Charbonnet’s full-game cut ups and notice how many times he finishes the sideline plays upright on his feet. He doesn’t go down.
Contact balance is Charbonnet’s trump card, but he has a slew of other translatable traits for the NFL game and I’m excited to see him at the next level. Charbonnet is my RB2 in this class, over Jahmyr Gibbs and in some classes he’d be my RB1. While I don’t see the breakaway ability translating like a Bijan Robinson or even a Gibbs, Charbonnet’s vision and ability to make defenders miss in open space will lead to chunk plays.
Age as of Week 1: 21 | Height: 6-foot-0 | Weight: 214 | 40-time: 4.53
Comparable body-type to: Michael Turner
We’re breaking down everything you need to know about Walker from a Fantasy manager perspective, including best fits, Dynasty outlook, measurables, scouting report, key stats and an NFL comparison.
Best Fantasy Fits
Coming from a Chip Kelly offensive system at UCLA, Charbonnet has run behind a lot of power/gap blocking during his collegiate career. You’ll turn on his tape and often see a combination of shotgun runs and Charbonnet running behind pulling guards, centers and tackles. If he joins the Eagles, Charbonnet will play behind the best pulling center in NFL history in Jason Kelce alongside two dominant run-blocking offensive tackles and two guards who can move in space. The Eagles operate out of the shotgun often and use power/gap often. While this match hurts Charbonnet’s receiving upside, it maximizes his opportunity as a runner.
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Ezekiel Elliott might last one more season in Dallas simply due to how poorly the Cowboys structured his contract and how many times they kicked the salary cap can, but that’s not a guarantee and neither is his ability to stay on the field. Tony Pollard was franchise tagged but is coming off a major injury that may render him a different player when he returns, at least at first, and regardless he will not be returning as a workhorse. Opportunity is knocking in this backfield behind an offensive line that still features the best offensive guard in football and several key young pieces who are improving. The Cowboys also like to run power/gap, or at least they did at times with Kellen Moore running the show. Mike McCarthy is taking over more of an offensive say and wants to get back to the power run game. I like the fit. Dak Prescott is also a quarterback capable and willing to get Charbonnet involved in the pass game as he was at UCLA.
One thing I have a gut feeling on that I can’t shake is that Doug Pederson wants a different style running back than Travis Etienne, who by the way was selected by the prior regime. There were too many instances watching Jaguars tape where Etienne picked the wrong hole or bounced outside instead of processing what was ahead of him. Charbonnet gives Pederson what he wants — a no-nonsense back who will create extra yardage on every touch and help Jacksonville establish a power run game. This is all just part of his bigger plan to install an offense that allows Trevor Lawrence to attack in the vertical and intermediate ranges of the field on five- and seven-step dropbacks off play action.
After testing out as one of the best athletes at the running back position, despite running a 4.53 (Charbonnet dominated the explosive and quickness testing drills), he is moving up Dynasty rookie drafts that are taking place now before the draft. At the moment, Charbonnet is a back-end Round 1 pick in one-QB Dynasty rookie drafts and I expect him to float in that range. I don’t see his ADP climbing too much further.
- Contact balance. When it comes to contact balance, Charbonnet possesses arguably the best in the class. This is his defining trait and trump card. When he’s running outside of the tackle box and ends up on the sideline, he more times than not ends each play upright rather than on the ground. In between the tackles, he routinely bounces off first contact.
- Short area burst is evident. Although Charbonnet is not a burner and doesn’t have straight-line speed that will translate to home runs at the NFL level, he has plenty of quick acceleration.
- Charbonnet is a bowling ball in the red zone and uses his creativity (with a plan to always cut back and get vertical) to make him a weapon not just from within the five but also within the 10-yard line. He will translate to a red zone threat immediately and that makes him Fantasy relevant on most teams right away.
- Charbonnet forces missed tackles in the open field at a high rate and is at his best when forcing the end man on the line of scrimmage (overhang defender) in the wrong direction to create extra yardage.
- Natural hands catcher of the football. Charbonnet learned to be a receiving back in Chip Kelly’s offensive system that used him on screens, swing passes, flares and arrow routes. He made several impressive hands catches including one that was thrown behind him and forced him to flip his shoulders and still make the catch (with his hands rather than letting it come into his body).
- Incredibly productive at the collegiate level — averaged 7.0 yards per carry on 1,359 rushing yards in 2022.
- Explosive athlete — as evidenced by his elite postings in the vertical and broad jumps at the Combine and you see it on tape when he’s in space or trying to get through a crease.
- Can accelerate from 0-to-60 fast to get through a crease — elite testing in the 10-yard split with 1.54 seconds flat.
- Breaks tackles at a high rate in large part due to always having a plan in the open field. He sets up defenders well to create broken tackles.
- Plenty of moves and variety in his arsenal — Charbonnet uses a stiff arm when he needs to but does an excellent job positioning his lower half to shake off tackles and/or create forced missed tackles.
- Has experience as a bell cow/foundational back plus the passing down chops to play all three downs at the NFL level as one of the rare workhorse types in this class.
- Straight-line long speed and home run upside is not in the cards for Charbonnet. Although he ran a much better 40-yard dash than expected at 214 pounds (4.53), that isn’t quite the number you need to break off long runs at the NFL level. And even at UCLA, he was often tracked down on longer runs.
- Although Charbonnet has the natural hands and athletic traits to be a great receiving back, he doesn’t have much experience running a full route tree. He was mostly used on swing passes, flares and screens in the receiving game.
- Charbonnet benefited from an excellent blocking scheme and well-executed blocks within the scheme. It was a very power/gap-heavy blocking scheme.
Advanced stats to know
- His 145 rushing first downs/touchdowns since 2021 led all Power Five players, per Pro Football Focus.
- 806 yards after contact, 13th-most, per PFF.
- 122 forced missed tackles over the last two seasons — third-most, per PFF.
- 26 carries of 15-plus yards in 2022 — fifth-most, per PFF.
Charbonnet reminds me of a bigger version of Maurice Jones-Drew and not just because they both played at UCLA. Check that, he’s a combination of MJD and former Falcons running back Michael Turner. Charbonnet’s ability to run behind his pads but also make defenders miss in space is reminiscent of MJD in his prime.