With their final pick in last year’s NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected running back Isiah Pacheco, who became the starter during the team’s championship season. The 216-pound prospect with 9 1/4-inch hands had run the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds, making him the fastest running back at the 2022 Combine.
Then after the 2023 NFL Draft, Kansas City acquired another 216-pound running back with 9 1/4-inch hands: Tulsa’s Deneric Prince, who ran 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. He was 2023’s fourth-fastest running back in Indianapolis.
Deneric Prince is a RB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.58 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 74 out of 1745 RB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/Mlq3BtRbIX #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/YvfxQXb6pa— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 30, 2023
These comparisons are just some of the many similarities between these two running backs.
Let’s see what kind of player the Chiefs have acquired.
Running between the tackles
Like Pacheco, Prince is tough to bring to the ground — and displays impressive acceleration. Prince recorded a 1.53-second 10-yard split at the Combine; Pacheco’s time was 1.55 seconds in 2022.
#Chiefs UDFA RB Deneric Prince feels like a strong candidate to make the roster & round out the RB room— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 17, 2023
Has a downhill, hard-nosed running style. Runs through arm tackles, finishes every carry forward pic.twitter.com/QYpZGvEQmO
At Tulsa, Prince was regularly asked to take handoffs in shotgun formations, so he often had to move horizontally before making his vertical cut to get downhill. While this isn’t usually an ideal approach for a back like Prince, he maximized his carries by brushing off backfield penetration and quickly getting downhill when running lanes opened.
He displays a good feel for finding the cutback lane on zone runs, hitting them hard and finishing his runs with a lowered shoulder. His vision isn’t perfect, but he is smooth in in his transitions from one potential running lane to the next.
Prince's run style can be compared to Pacheco's, but Pacheco can be a very linear runner— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 17, 2023
It's encouraging to see Prince turn this corner after avoiding penetration, seamlessly going from lateral to downhill into the emptied box
Translates well to KC's shotgun run game pic.twitter.com/xaCjCWUjxo
On this particular play, you see Prince’s cutback ability very clearly. He quickly bends up through a seam that is opened by backfield penetration. He accelerates to avoid the penetration — and then displays the flexibility to still turn upfield, taking advantage of a defender who is selling out through his gap.
These are exactly the kinds of skills Prince will need to succeed in Kansas City’s running game.
Prince’s acceleration and 4.41 speed were most obvious when Tulsa deployed him to sell out for the corner on outside runs.
Prince's 4.41 speed shows up on runs to the edge, he can get there in a hurry.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 17, 2023
He won't overwhelm with speed, but a lot of snaps he's just fast enough. He also has a good feel for run angles & getting north-south pic.twitter.com/yknCCZjlfZ
He showed himself to be deceptively fast towards the sideline, erasing angles more effectively than many backs with similar physical profiles. By itself, Prince’s speed isn’t going to blow NFL defenders away — but when it is combined with his ability to break tackles, Prince is an asset in the open field.
Playing in a Tulsa offense that passed frequently (and often played from the shotgun), Prince did a lot of pass blocking, for which he developed a solid foundation.
Prince has the size to hold up in pass pro, and showed some of the willingness in college. Not always the cleanest reps, but a good foundation to work from pic.twitter.com/oe6s4cJqC6— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 17, 2023
In pass protection, the important thing is to show a willingness to take on a defender flying in with momentum — and bad intentions. Whether it is by squaring up against a linebacker or cutting a defensive back coming across the formation, Prince demonstrates the fearlessness required to hang in against a blitz.
Here's a nice lead block w/ some pop pic.twitter.com/eTq2OqjpNk— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 17, 2023
On this play, Prince serves as the lead blocker on an outside run, stonewalling a flowing linebacker, showing a strong base as he engages each block.
While Tulsa often asked Prince to block, he was only rarely given opportunities in the passing game. In 2022, he set a career high with nine catches for 84 yards. He had only 17 receptions in college.
The bottom line
Some expected Prince to be taken in the draft; The Athletic’s Dane Brugler graded him as a fifth-to-sixth round prospect.
The Chiefs have often found success with running backs taken late in the draft or signed in undrafted free agency — not just with Pacheco, but with players like Darrel Williams, Damien Williams, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West.
Still, Pacheco is unique. He showed he could be an early-down, high-volume runner who doesn’t have to be schemed into success. Prince shows similar traits. He is able to do the dirty work, forcing defenses to remain honest by defending between the tackles.
We recently learned that Pacheco played in Super Bowl LVII with a broken hand and a torn labrum. Less than two weeks ago, head coach Andy Reid didn’t have a clear timeline for Pacheco’s return — and we already knew that the team’s other backs (Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire) play with completely different styles.
But in Prince, the Chiefs have a player who can step right into Pacheco’s shoes. As the starter recovers, we can expect Prince to get plenty of repetitions. He should have a clear path to make the active roster as a backup — and perhaps an even bigger role.