The NFL Draft Case of Bijan Robinson: Why a running back is worth a first round pick.

It was not always this way when it came to being a running back. In the days of yesteryear, running back was once considered one of the most vital positions in the NFL. As the modern NFL game has transitioned to a more vertical and aerial attack, the need to spend first round draft capital on a running back has been greatly reduced. And while NFL franchises continues to draft more wide receivers in the first round, it leaves people to believe that a great running back prospect like Bijan Robinson may slip towards the bottom of the first round.

Bijan Robinson is truly a unique prospect coming out of Texas University. Robinson is 6’0 and 215 pounds. At the combine, he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash. He possesses a unique blend of speed and power. And has no problem being the focal point of an offense, like he was for the Longhorns in 2022. The question though remains on how good will Robinson be? Is he going to be in the breath of other first round running backs like Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott and Christian McCaffrey? Or will he be like Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel and Trent Richardson? Drafting a running back in the first round is not completely out of the picture, but the talent has to be view as a rare, 3-down back.

Only 7 running backs have been drafted in the first round over the last 5 drafts.

Since the 2012 NFL Draft, 15 running backs have been taken in the first round. Coming out of college, the majority of these running backs were huge contributors to their program’s success. People will all remember Ezekiel Elliott cutting through the Alabama and Oregon defense on the way an Ohio State National Title. It could be Saquon Barkley doing almost everything at Penn State. Barkley returned kicks, broke long runs and was a receiving threat out of the back field. 1st round running backs have to be uber productive in college for them to be considered within the first 32 picks of the NFL Draft.

Bijan Robinson as a prospect

Bijan Robinson came to the Texas Longhorns as a 5-star prospect out of Arizona. He was the 15th best high school player in the nation. He committed to Texas University while Tom Herman was the head coach of the Longhorns. Robinson was going to receive the opportunity to contribute immediately to the Longhorn offense. As a Freshman, Robinson had 86 carries for 703 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also was a threat out of the backfield with 15 catches for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns. But that season had some confusing play calling. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger had more rushing attempts than any other running back. Plus running back, Roschon Johnson split carries with Robinson to cut into his total. But even with all these factors, Robinson was clearly the best rushing option for the Longhorns. The Covid year was weird for a lot of players in 2020.

When breaking down Bijan Robinson’s tape, the first game to look at is the loss in Austin against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2021. People will be quick to forget that Oklahoma St. had a top 5 defense in 2021 and had the 5th best rush defense, allow only 89 yards a game rushing. Robinson put on a show against the Cowboys. His 21 carries for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns was an epic performance against the stingy Cowboys. Texas had limited weapons that would allow then defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to put 8 in the box to stop Robinson. Robinson added another 3 catches for 38 yards and a third score. This is all with a Texas team that didn’t make a bowl game and against an Oklahoma State team that allowed less than 17 points a game.

Against the Sooners in the Red River Rivalry
Another great tape to watch in 2021, is the epic showdown against the Longhorns hated rival, The Oklahoma Sooners. People will remember that game was won on a late touchdown by Kenny Brooks. A lot of fans are going to forget Robinson’s 20 carries for 137 yards and a touchdown on that day in the Cotton Bowl. And while Robinson was contained slightly during the second half, his first half was an impressive showing against the Sooners.

Going into the 2022 season, Bijan Robinson was a Pre-Season All-American. He showed that accolade was not in vain. Year two of Steve Sarkisian’s offense was extremely beneficial to Bijan Robinson. He was incredible for the Longhorns with 258 carries for 1580 yards and 18 touchdowns. He added 19 catches for 314 yards and two more scores. Many fans will point out that Robinson only had 57 yards against Alabama, but that game became a much different game when Quin Ewers went down with an injury. When the eyes of the nation were watching the annual Red River Rivalry at the Texas State Fair, Robinson performed well against the Sooners for 22 carries for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson was clearly the best running back in the Big 12, even with greats like TCU’s Kendre Miller and Kansas State’s Duece Vaughn.

NFL Running Back Comparison

When it comes to comparison, the first two players that Bijan Robinson will be compared to are Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott. Both players were the primary focus on top tier programs. The size and weight are roughly similar, but Elliott and Barkley were a touch heavier than Robinson coming out. Statistically, Robinson’s junior year is very similar to both players sophomore season. All three of these players were easily considered the best player in the program at the time. Then if you compare 40-yard dash times, Robinson is between Barkley’s 4.40 and Elliott’s 4.47. People will continue to make these comparisons as we get closer and closer to the draft. Which is interesting because both Elliott and Barkley were drafted in the top 4 in the NFL Draft.

Ezekiel Elliott (left) and Saquon Barkley (right) are the most common comparisons for Bijan Robinson.

Going into the 2023, Bijan Robinson should be a top 15 draft pick. His ability to produce in a sometimes-difficult Texas situation should not be ignored. He has the combination of speed and size that will allow him to stay on the field in passing situations. While he may not have the early career success like Barkley or Elliott, expect Robinson to be a vital part in the offense to any NFL Franchise. Look for Robinson to be a possibility for the Atlanta Falcons at 8 pick or he could be pair with whatever quarterback the Texans select at the 12th pick. Bijan Robinson is the exception to the rule for first round running backs.

About SHappel

Hosts The Irrational Confidence Podcast with Fresh.

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