Should the Los Angeles Chargers draft Bijan Robinson with their first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft?
For those who will see this question and immediately think, “don’t draft a running back in the first round”, I get it.
I come in peace. I understand. I am one of you.
But with every rule there are exceptions, and the Los Angeles Chargers adding Bijan Robinson to their offense could be the rule-breaking move that puts this offense back amongst the elite units of the NFL.
Let me walk you through why whilst addressing a couple of elephants in the room.
Let’s start with the first elephant; the Los Angeles Chargers’ need for speed at the receiver position.
During the 2022 season, it was blindingly obvious that the Bolts possess one of the slowest receiving corps in the NFL. This meant that opposing defenses showed a lack of respect for the receiver’s abilities to access the deep part of the field and therefore sat on the short routes that were being run in Joe Lombardi’s sleep offense.
Thankfully times have changed. Kellen Moore was appointed as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator and in his introductory conference with media members he addressed the topic by saying:
A quick browse of the Chargers’ Twitter showed that this was a popular statement. Many fans want the team to draft a sub-4.3 pass catcher, someone of the ilk of Jaylin Hyatt or Zay Flowers.
Would this be helpful?
Of course! But would it be something that they can get later in the draft?
Ok, so if I’m not giving the Chargers their most significant offensive need with the 21st overall pick, why would it be better to draft a running back when they already have a good one, and a touchdowns machine in Austin Ekeler?
This brings me to the second elephant in the room, Austin Ekeler. And by extension, the team’s recent draft philosophy of trying to draft day 3 runners to support their RB1.
Let’s start with Ekeler.
Firstly, Austin Ekeler is an elite player in the NFL.
Ekeler just set a franchise record for receptions in a season with 107, surpassing Keenan Allen. The former Western State Colorado product also has 38 touchdowns across the past two seasons, which is 12 more than any other player.
However, if we rewind to last offseason after the team had drafted Isaiah Spiller, Ekeler spoke about wanting young running backs to challenge him, to take snaps off him.
"“I want these guys to come challenge me. Let’s go. Bring it. Come on. Come earn some reps. That what I want it to be and I hope that’s what their mindset is”"
Ekeler wants to have a reliable running mate so that he can stay fresh and be as efficient as possible each snap he’s on the field.
In the past three drafts, the Chargers have drafted, Joshua Kelley (4th round, 2020), Larry Rountree (6th round, 2021), and Isaiah Spiller (4th round, 2022).
Unfortunately, none of these players have made the desired impact and been able to spell Ekeler effectively.
In 2022, this led the Los Angeles Chargers to be ranked 22nd in the NFL in rushing DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), per Football Outsiders.
The offense was too reliant on a passing attack that required perfection from slow receivers and a banged-up quarterback.
This ultimately led to Joe Lombardi’s firing and where we are today.
Head coach, Brandon Staley has spoken on multiple occasions about wanting to be more balanced on offense. This leads us to the hiring of Kellen Moore…
Last season the Cowboys ranked 13th in pass DVOA and 10th in rushing. For comparison, the Chargers were 17th in passing and 22nd in rushing.
The bottom line is that this team needs to be better at running the ball.
This will open up the passing attack, which will hopefully add a speedy receiver and tight end to their ranks this off-season.
Running the ball better will mean fewer Cover 2 shells and the opportunity to jazz up their personnel groupings, with more frequent usage of pony personnel and Kellen Moore’s Hulk package, as seen below.
The Los Angeles Chargers only need to look across the division at Kansas City and how they have shown how to be successful out of heavier personnel groupings, although their success has come via a heavy dose of 13 personnel. But heavy groupings that can be used in a multitude of ways, with versatile players, seem to be the way forward in the NFL. The 49ers and Eagles can also attest to this.
With Robinson playing the Ezekiel Elliott role, the bigger back, the smasher and crasher between the tackles, and Ekeler bringing the receiving chops a la Tony Pollard in Dallas, it should work! And dare I say, be an upgrade on the two Cowboys backs?
Robinson has the vision, play-making, and tackling abilities to be a special runner in the NFL, the guy who brings the balance that Staley wants, he can be the guy Ekeler wants alongside him… He can also be the guy who replaces him as the RB1.
Let’s not forget that Ekeler has only one year to run on his current contract which will take him to age 29.
Are the Chargers going to give a 29-year-old running back a second big contract?
I know I’m arguing for the team to draft a running back in the first round, which is against my usual tendencies but come on.
So not only does drafting Bijan Robinson give the Chargers a potential top-shelf running game in 2023, but it also keeps the floor high for them in 2024 and beyond.
For a team pushing their chips into the middle and trying to win a Super Bowl in the final years before they pay their superstar quarterback ungodly sums of money, can they afford to not take blue-chip talent in the first round?