When Washington selected Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez in the 6th round of the 2023 draft, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Commanders took an RB there - this draft was loaded with RB talent across the board. And it shouldn’t really have been a surprise that they took Rodriguez, who the coaches sure saw a lot of at the Senior Bowl.
It was a little surprising though, that they took a back with Rodriguez’s apparent skillset.
What was it that Jennifer King, Randy Jordan, and Eric Bieniemy liked so much about Rodriguez that they gave him a “third round grade?”
“This is a guy that Eric was very high on. He’s a guy that Eric thinks will most certainly have a role for us on the offensive side.” - Ron Rivera
Rodriguez was a captain for the Wildcats for the past two years, and posted a 1,377 yard season - finishing second team All-SEC - in 2021. Last season, despite missing the first four games as part of a DUI suspension, Rodriguez rushed for over 900 yards, with 699 of those yards coming after contact.
He’s a bruising runner who is routinely described along these lines:
“He runs with an attitude and physicality that is difficult to prepare for.”
In some respects, that sounds a bit like Brian Robinson, who Washington took in the third round last year, so why would Washington have duplicated that skill set?
As I look more closely at Rodriguez, though, I don’t necessarily think that’s what they’ve done. The sort of lazy take on him is that he’s only got “two down” back upside in the NFL because he didn’t do much pass catching in college and he’s a fairly straight-line runner. After all, over the last two seasons, he only put up 102 yards through the air.
In a recent interview with CRod’s former offensive coordinator (which can be seen below), John Keim dug into that criticism a bit:
Keim: “What did you see in him that indicates he could be a 3-down back?”
Coen: “There were some moments in training camp in 2021 where we had him on free release wheel routes, and he’s catching the ball off his body and behind him and over the shoulder. He’s got the hands. We actually tried to get him off the field on third down sometimes because he was carrying the load. We weren’t taking him off the field for any specific reason, but just to give him a blow.
He can handle all that stuff. He’s physical enough to block at the second level. He’s sturdy at the point of contact. And once he truly gets down Washington’s pass pro system, I can definitely see him being an all three down back.
We didn’t ask our backs to run a lot of routes. He was involved in the screen game and in check downs. He can get better at that, and that’s something he can learn.”
At this point, Keim points out that Rodriguez was the top YAC (yards after contact) gainer in the SEC since 2020 (followed up by Isaiah Spiller and Brian Robinson).
Coen: “He just doesn’t get tackled. I’d see him in practice, and I wondered “is this really the guy?” Then we’d go to games and scrimmages, and he was a guy no one wanted to tackle. He gets better as the game goes on.”
Watch some video on Rodriguez, and that’s not hard to believe:
Keim’s interview with Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, Liam Coen, revealed some other good information about Rodriguez as well.
Coen also emphasized Rodriguez’s growth as a blocker in his time at Kentucky, which would obviously be a critical element of staying on the field during potential passing downs.
Keim: “How did you see him progress?”
Coen: “Before I got here, in their pass protection roles, he wasn’t getting out. It took him a little while, but as he grew, he got better at it you could see the comfort level rise.
Last year, the guys around here said he became much more detailed and responsible in those situations.”
On the topic of the running back’s DUI, which it’s speculated caused his draft stock to drop significantly, Coen mentioned how the sickness (and eventual death) of Rodriguez’s mother seemed to play into him losing his way for a bit, but that that sort of behavior was unusual based on his experience:
Keim: “Last year he had the DUI. What kind of a kid is he?”
Coen: “To me, the DUI is out of character. It was poor mistake. He’s not a bad kid. He’s a great kid. I’ve never once had an issue with his character. I believe in him as a person in terms of his character.”
Youtuber It’sMeJase_ used the opportunity of Rodriguez’s appearance in the Senior Bowl to do a film breakdown of the running back earlier in the year:
I’d encourage you to watch the video yourself, but here are some of the highlights.
- Rodriguez had the most yards in the SEC after contact, and in at least one respect reminded the reviewer of Zeke Elliott in his prime: He falls forward for an extra 2-3 yards on almost all his runs, just churning relentlessly.
- “All the plays, people miss tackles.”
- “He runs like a barrel.”
- “Common themes with his game: He runs low, he is hard to tackle, and he will run you over. He will run you the hell over.”
Rodriguez is a “bulldozing runner that churns out yardage in between the tackles,” and a player that I have a sneaking suspicion could quickly develop an outsized role in Eric Bieniemy’s offense in 2024, if not earlier.
For me, Rodriguez brings to mind Atlanta’s Tyler Allgeier, who had over 1,000 yards rushing last year in just seven starts - and who the Falcons seemed bafflingly intent of nerfing with the addition of Bijan Robinson. Allgeier’s rookie highlights can be found below:
I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on what role you think Rodriguez is likely to play in 2023 in the comments below.