2022 NFL Draft Profile: Fresno State RB Ronnie Rivers
The Bulldogs running back rewrote the school’s record book. Now, he’ll look to follow his father’s footsteps into the National Football League.
The do-it-all back could make an impact at the next level.
Michael Pittman. Dwayne Wright. Ryan Mathews. The Fresno State football program may be more well-known for their ability to put quarterbacks into the National Football League, but the Bulldogs have had eight running backs selected in the annual draft dating back to 1976. Now, the team’s all-time touchdown scorer hopes to be the ninth, continuing a family legacy in the process.
Measurables (Combine results taken from DraftScout.com, Pro Day results from Barkboard.com)
40-yard time – 4.53 seconds
Shuttle time – 4.34 seconds
3-cone drill time – 6.91 seconds
Bench press – 19 reps
One thing that Rivers does exceptionally well is catch passes out of the backfield: He had 150 receptions, trailing only BYU’s Curtis Brown among Mountain West running backs in Mountain West history, and 11 receiving touchdowns in his Bulldogs career. Better-than-average agility and balance played a role in that, too, as his three-cone drill time is similar to that of Giovani Bernard, who’s made a career out of being a receiving back and makes for an interesting comparison (they also had the same number of bench press rep and same 40-time, as well).
While he’s physically smaller than other running backs in this year’s class, that comes with its own assets, as well. He benefits from a low center of gravity and superior balance, traits noted by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, as well, both of which combine with well-above-average agility to help keep him out of trouble when running into traffic at the line of scrimmage or making a defender miss in the open field.
That lack of size also hasn’t kept him from being a capable pass blocker when called upon. Zierlein notes Rivers’s “toughness” in that regard while Devin Jackson of Blue Chip Scouting mentioned a need for improvement to his post-contact technique on that front. In all, however, he sported a 67.5 pass blocking grade in 2021 according to Pro Football Focus.
Rivers’s versatility should make him a viable option on special teams, as well, as he chipped in as a punt returner and averaged 7.8 yards per return.
While Rivers has good speed, he may not possess the extra gear that separates good running backs from great ones: His 40 time at the NFL Combine saddled him with one of the lowest Speed Scores of this year’s participants and while he improved that somewhat at Fresno State’s pro day, the rise to 92.6 doesn’t lower that potential red flag much.
Rivers isn’t afraid of contact, either, but the lack of size may catch up with him at times since he also doesn’t possess outsized strength, so he isn’t likely to move many piles at the next level. Some teams might also proceed with caution given Rivers’s recent history of injuries, none of which were serious but slowed him in both 2020 and 2021.
He also enters this draft as one of the oldest running back prospects in the class, too, at 23 years old, meaning that some war rooms may seem him as more of an “is what he is” athlete rather than one with more room to grow. At a position with so much turnover, that’s no small thing.
Rivers doesn’t possess the same size, strength or speed as this year’s higher-profile prospects at running back, but then not many of those who could be selected in the NFL Draft before him can return kicks or line up in the slot without it looking like a ridiculous ask.
That ability to do a bit of everything should tempt someone to take a flyer on Rivers, though it may take until Day 3 for him to be selected, probably in the sixth round.