UCLA football running back Zach Charbonnet announces his return and passes the NFL Draft

When quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson announced he would return to Westwood for another year, the Bruins locked down one of their best offensive weapons for 2022.

On Friday, they got another one.

UCLA football running back Zach Charbonnet took to Instagram and let the world know he would return for another year in blue and gold on Friday afternoon, rather than declare himself for the 2022 NFL Draft. Charbonnet still has two years of eligibility.

The Bruins lost No. 1 receiver Kyle Philips and tight end Greg Dulcich to the draft earlier in January, and with starting tackles Alec Anderson and Sean Rhyan also tied to the NFL, left guard Paul Grattan and carry out-of-eligibility Brittain Brown and receiver Chase Cota’s future up in the air, it seemed for a moment that Thompson-Robinson might return to an empty closet on offense.

Now, with Charbonnet back, UCLA has arguably retained the best quarterback and running back in the Pac-12 from the 2021 season.

Thompson-Robinson ranked No. 1 in the conference in passer rating and total touchdowns last season, while finishing No. 8 in the nation in estimated points added among quarterbacks. Charbonnet was the third Pac-12 runner, and he finished No. 6 in the nation in estimated runs added among running backs, despite sharing runs with Brown for most of the year.

The Bruins could miss another back to run alongside him like Brown did last fall – Keegan Jones, Christian Grubb and Deshun Murrell stand out as inside options, with new rookie Tomarion Harden also joining the fray – but that only sets up Charbonnet to add some extra volume to his already top numbers from 2021.

Charbonnet had 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry while rushing for 197 yards on 24 receptions in his freshman year at UCLA. The former Michigan transfer posted seven 100-yard performances, and after scoring seven touchdowns in the first four weeks of the season, he scored six more in the last four.

Even in this scoreless middle third of the season, Charbonnet averaged 102 yards per game from scrimmage.

Charbonnet dominated running back actions in the final weeks of the season when Brown was injured, allowing him to reach 202 carries on the year. Brown still accounted for 120 touches and found the end zone seven times, meaning there’s plenty of production for Charbonnet to eat to get out of the backfield going forward.

BetOnline released its opening futures odds for the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner on Tuesday and Charbonnet came in with the 37th-best odds in the country at +8000. With news of his return becoming official, those odds could start to increase.

Just looking at the Pac-12, Arizona State’s Rachaad White, Oregon State’s BJ Baylor, Washington State’s Max Borghi, USC’s Keaontay Ingram and Utah’s TJ Pledger have declared for the NFL Draft while Travis Dye of Oregon, Jarek Broussard of Colorado and Nathaniel Peat and Austin Jones of Stanford entered the transfer portal. Charbonnet was a second-team All-Pac-12 in 2021, and he could push for a first-team spot with only Utah’s Tavion Thomas to compete.

The group that will have to open holes for Charbonnet will change next fall, however, with three starters leaving the offensive line and offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Justin Frye taking a job at Ohio State earlier in the week.

Either way, Charbonnet and Thompson-Robinson are both back to lead what was already one of the most efficient and powerful offenses in the country. Should coach Chip Kelly agree to an extension in the coming days, the Bruins may be able to replicate that production in 2022.

Find out about the status of every UCLA player for next season on the All Bruins’ 2022 NFL Draft Declaration Tracker.

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