We need to talk about Texas running back Bijan Robinson and his place in the NFL.
Bijan Robinson might be the most talented prospect in the country.
Yes, Jalen Carter and Anthony Richardson are athletic freaks. Yes, Bryce Young can spin the ball like a young Russell Wilson. And yes, there are likely several future pro bowl defensive backs available… but how many players in the 2023 NFL Draft are going to enter the league as a probable top-15 talent at their position on day 1?
That’s what Bijan Robinson is. One of the top talents in the world at his position on day one. One of the fastest, strongest, quickest, most agile and durable running backs in the league is right there for the taking.
In end-of-February mock drafts Daniel Jeremiah had Bijan at 19th overall. Todd McShay had him at 22. Before he came out and said he believed the Lions would select Bijan at 18, Mel Kiper had him at 26. And believe it or not, those are the optimists. NBC Sports, CBS Sports and USA Today all had mock drafts showing Bijan Robinson to the Buffalo Bills at 27, and Pro Football Network had him at pick 30!
The role of an NFL General Manager should be to find the best fit for their team that makes them as competitive as possible right away, while respecting the trends and formulas of the league’s winningest franchises.
The trend for some time now has been to avoid taking running backs in the top end of the first round. In fact, since 2010, only seven running backs have been taken in the top 16 picks, and despite six of those seven players having Pro Bowl seasons to their name, almost every single one of them is still viewed as not having lived up to the expectations of where they were selected.
Trent Richardson and CJ Spiller really only had one decent season to their name, so I get the criticism there.
Ezekiel Elliot is 43rd in all-time rushing yards through just seven seasons, and he’s currently without a team.
Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon combined for five Pro Bowls, but Gurley was out of the league by age 26, and while Melvin Gordon just got a Super Bowl ring as a Chiefs practice squad player, he’s likely done in the NFL by age 29.
The two elite players in this category, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley, still have their own detractors despite all their success. Even though McCaffrey is the best pass catching back we’ve had in the league since Marshall Faulk, and Saquon has three 1,000 yard season and owns four different NFL records, people point to the injury history of both of these guys as the reason you wouldn’t want to invest a top pick in a running back.
Odds are, if you’re a top end running back, you’ll find yourself in the mix for a few Pro Bowls, and potentially be out of the league by age 30. We’ve decided there’s no value in that, but fans will happily watch their team reach for a quarterback, a position that has proved to be far more of a crapshoot over the same time period.
I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but Bijan Robinson is definitely being set up to be a victim of the same mindset that saw zero running backs picked in last year’s first round, despite the top two running backs that were picked, Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker, both flashing Pro Bowl talent.
Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe Bijan falling to Buffalo at 27 is the thing that finally puts Josh Allen and the Bills over the top.
That’s great for the Bills if it happens, but the difference between going 27 to Buffalo, or 9th overall, where Buffalo took CJ Spiller back in 2010, is around 8 million dollars.
That’s a lot of coin for a position that rarely reaches a second contract, much less a third.
Whoever gets Bijan Robinson is going to get a special player. Someone who managed to become fourth on University of Texas’ all-time rushing list despite playing in just 31 games, and averaged more yards per carry than the three guys ahead of him on that list, including the great Ricky Williams.
Any GM that has a need at running back, and passes on Bijan Robinson for the sake of modern roster building strategy, better hope they don’t come to regret it the same way that general managers do for the 43 times they passed on Heisman winner Derrick Henry.
Let that sink in.