There’s no debating that choosing the right player in the 1st round of the NFL Draft is important. Equally, and perhaps more, important is the ability to hit it big in the later rounds. If you look at all the top franchises in the league, that’s one thing they all have in common. You’ll see Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections outside of the 1st round up and down their rosters. Chris Rodriguez Jr. is an interesting 2023 NFL Draft prospect, with lots to like about what he brings to the table. Because he’s a Running Back, it’s natural to look at his stats first.
Lesser-known prospects will be talked about in my “Making A Case For…” series. They’re names who probably won’t be selected on Thursday, but a Friday selection is within their grasp.
Chris Rodriguez Jr Career Stats
2018: 2 rushes, 43 yards
2019: 71 rushes, 533 yards (7.5 yards per carry), 6 touchdowns
2020: 119 rushes, 785 yards (6.6 yards per carry), 11 touchdowns
2021: 225 rushes, 1378 yards (6.1 yards per carry), 10 touchdowns
2022: 175 rushes, 904 yards (5.2 yards per carry), 6 touchdowns
What jumps out right away? Those yards-per-carry numbers are really good. The fact that he has those numbers in the SEC makes them look even better. SEC football features defenses on a weekly basis that are filled with the best talent in the country, with names that are going to end up on NFL rosters. If you succeed as an RB in the SEC, it’s a good sign for your future.
In the last ten seasons, 53 different SEC Running Backs have rushed for 1000 or more yards in the regular season. Of those 53, 32 of them would go on to be drafted. With the remaining 21 names, one (Arkansas’ Rawleigh Williams) retired due to injury while he was still in college, three (Rodriguez, Auburn’s Tank Bigsby, Texas A&M’s Devon Achane) are involved in this year’s Draft, and three (Vanderbilt-to-Kentucky’s Re’Mahn Davis, Arkansas’ Raheim Sanders, Ole Miss’ Quinshon Judkins) are still in college.
Further, Rodriguez is a no-nonsense runner, with good size (listed at 5’11” and 224 pounds) and a desire to play with physicality. With a listed 40-yard-dash time between 4.55-4.6 (he didn’t run at the Combine), he isn’t going to blow defenders away with his speed. He makes up for that lack of straight line speed with nimble feet and very good vision, locating holes and having enough burst to get to the second level.
His physical style really pops when he’s at that second level and beyond. He can make defenders pay if they don’t come correct with their tackling. Even if a defender squares up properly, Rodriguez runs with enough balance, a good pad level, and constantly moving legs that he regularly breaks tackles for additional yardage. A whopping 74% of his yards last season came after contact.
There are questions about his role in the passing game. Rodriguez didn’t catch a lot in college, hauling in 20 passes for 116 yards and 3 touchdowns. As a pass blocker, he is more than willing to pick up blitzing defenders. His inconsistent technique as a blocker will need to be coached up, though. Additionally, he sometimes finds himself becoming impatient as a runner, not waiting enough for blockers to finish their jobs.
What could hurt him in the NFL is the fact that he probably isn’t an every-down player yet. He can carry the ball on early downs or closer to the end zone. Obvious passing downs will probably see him taken off the field. He might be able to find success as a change-of-pace guy later in games, taking advantage of tired defenses.
With a good showing at Kentucky’s Pro Day on March 24th, Rodriguez can easily improve his stock. Right now, he’s someone that has 4th or 5th round grades. A good time in the 40 will really help him a lot. If he can show teams that his hands will allow him to be more involved in the passing game, that will really benefit him. You might even see his name sneak into discussions as a late-2nd/early-3rd round pick. He’s not a perfect prospect, but his statistics are almost impossible to ignore.
Altogether, Chris Rodriguez is someone who can easily contribute for an NFL team in the right spot and situation.