UCLA Football 2022 Positional Preview: Running Backs

Zach Charbonnet is back in Westwood to boost his stats and NFL Draft stock, but the backups behind him are more unproven.

With UCLA football’s offseason winding down, it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2022 campaign and what lies ahead for the Bruins on the gridiron. Before scouting opponents and projecting the Pac-12 pecking order, it’s best to look within by picking apart how UCLA will shape up on its own sidelines.

All Bruins will be breaking down every position group over the next two weeks, and the running backs are up next. To catch up on the positions already covered, take a look below:

Aug. 24: Quarterbacks

Depth Chart

RB 1: Zach Charbonnet, senior
RB 2: Keegan Jones, redshirt junior
RB 3: Deshun Murrell, redshirt freshman
RB 4: TJ Harden, freshman
RB 5: Christian Grubb, redshirt junior
RB 6: Brian Kowall, redshirt sophomore
RB 7: Josiah Gonzales, redshirt freshman

While coach Chip Kelly and running backs coach DeShaun Foster remain committed to the two-back system heading into this season, Charbonnet will be the unchallenged No. 1 back in the Bruins’ offense.

Charbonnet broke onto the scene right away in 2021, rushing for 106 yards and three touchdowns on just six carries in the season opener against Hawaii. The former Michigan transfer then went on to seize the starting job and finish the year with 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage.

Of course, with the way Kelly and Foster plan to spread the workload, Charbonnet won’t be getting all the touches this season. But unlike the past few years, when the Bruins had Brittain Brown as the reliable No. 2 option, things are a lot more uncertain in 2022.

Instead of having a true two-man backfield with Charbonnet as the No. 1 and someone else as the No. 2, UCLA could split the “No. 2” role between multiple backs.

Jones is the most veteran ball-carrier behind Charbonnet, and Kelly and Foster have praised his performance so far in fall camp. The Tennessee native has rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries while adding 59 yards and one touchdown on five catches over the past two seasons.

At 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, Jones is primarily a speed back, and he could start to pick up reps as a route runner and pass catcher this fall despite his prior inefficiencies.

Murrell is more of a power back, as is true freshman TJ Harden. For Murrell, that mostly has to do with his playstyle throughout high school, while Harden is 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds who was built for that role.

In all likelihood, all three of those reserves will see the field in 2022, with Jones probably getting the lion’s share of the second-string snaps.

If receiver Kazmeir Allen gets more time at running back than he did last year – which is certainly in the question – then that will likely eat into Jones’ workload. Many of his carries could come off of end arounds and options, though, so it remains to be seen how the veteran speedster will impact the rest of the true running backs.

Kowall and Gonzales – a new walk-on arrival out of Turlock High School (CA) – will probably only ever get a shot during special teams or garbage time. 


Charbonnet has been pegged as a dark horse Heisman candidate, and if he were returning to the same offense he played in last year, that would certainly be warranted.

Both of UCLA’s starting tackles from a year ago are gone, though, and the passing game will be undergoing significant changes with its top targets over the middle out of the picture as well. How Kelly decides to tweak the offense to account for the turnover will likely impact Charbonnet’s production, even if he is just as talented as he was a year ago.

An increased emphasis on option runs, end arounds, outside passes and more could all eat into Charbonnet’s previously big numbers, and a new-look offensive line may not be able to open up as many holes as last year’s did.

Still, Charbonnet is one of the most talented runners in the country, and a soft start to the year could give him a chance to both pad his stats and adjust to a new offense. By the time conference play rolls around, UCLA could very easily have all the kinks worked out, and he could be just as efficient as he was in 2021, only with more volume.

Charbonnet racked up 203 carries in 2021, and that was with Brown starting the first few games and constantly eating into his touches. While Jones, Murrell, Harden and Allen will be around in 2022, Charbonnet should be leaned on a little more consistently than he was in the past.

Looking at Joshua Kelley’s 229 carries in 2019 as a measuring stick, Charbonnet should end this year with somewhere around 235. Going off his career 5.4 yards per carry, Charbonnet could go for roughly 1,300 yards on the ground alone this season, plus another 12 to 15 touchdowns.

That would put Charbonnet at just about 2,500 yards for his two-year UCLA career, sandwiching him between Kelley and Maurice Jones-Drew on the program’s all-time leaderboards. To break into the top 10, Charbonnet would have to exceed 1,400 yards, which could be possible if he stays healthy and plays in a bowl game.

Charbonnet’s improved receiving skills could give him another 250 yards on 30 catches, both slight improvements from last year. Jones and Allen will probably chip away at his production in that category, though, putting a hard cap on his receiving numbers in 2022.

Jones could end the year with 325 yards on 75 carries or so, while Murrell and Harden’s contributions will probably be more inconsistent and varied.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson will almost surely be the team’s second-leading rusher, in terms of attempts, yards and touchdowns. Adding in whatever Allen brings to the table, and Kelly has plenty of diverse options at his disposal in the running game.

UCLA led the Pac-12 in rushing with 220.1 yards per game in 2021, and they are very much in line to contend for the top spot in the conference again in 2022. Their overall numbers may slip a hair, just because of a potential increased emphasis on different types of passes and what that might do to the running game, but Kelly has made the ground game his bread and butter ever since arriving in Westwood, and that shouldn’t change all too much this fall.

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