Bijan Robinson should be one of the top rookies from the 2023 NFL Draft
The Atlanta Falcons entered the 2023 NFL Draft with the eighth pick and an opportunity to add a phenomenal talent to their roster. This was the third year in a row that the Falcons owned a top-ten pick, and they continued their trend of selecting skill positions early as they drafted Texas running back Bijan Robinson.
There are few players who have ever received as much hype prior to joining the NFL as Bijan Robinson. Some people have gone as far as calling him a generational prospect, and many people view him as the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley.
With Bijan Robinson heading to a favorable landing spot in Atlanta, it begs the question: just how good can he be as a rookie? Let’s break down what makes him such a special player and what we can expect from him in his first season in the NFL.
Few running backs are as well-rounded as Bijan Robinson
Bijan Robinson played three seasons at Texas, starting in 2020, and he was extremely productive the moment he stepped foot on campus.
As a freshman, Robinson ran for 703 yards and four touchdowns and caught 15 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. His productivity as a rusher was pretty incredible that year, as he led the Longhorns in rushing yards as an 18-year-old.
His efficiency was incredible, too, as he averaged 8.2 yards per carry, 6.09 yards after contact per carry, and 1.63 yards per route run. To be fair, he only played 114 snaps that year, but these numbers are still remarkable and signaled that he had an extraordinary amount of talent.
Robinson took over as the Longhorns’ premier running back in 2021, a role he would play for the next two seasons. In 2021, he rushed for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns while also catching 26 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns. His PFF grade of 86.7 ranked 14th in the country among running backs with at least 150 rushing attempts.
The next season is where things got ridiculous. In 2022, Robinson took over college football, rushing for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns while catching 19 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns. His dominance as a rusher and receiver was on full display as he ranked sixth in the nation in rushing yards and 8th in receiving yards. This led to him ranking second in yards from scrimmage behind Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn.
This was by far Robinson’s most impressive season as a receiver, as he averaged 16.5 yards per reception and 1.52 yards per route run. His 16.5 yards per reception ranked second among running backs with at least ten receptions, and his 1.52 yards per route run ranked 7th among running backs with at least 150 carries.
PFF recognized how great his final season was, giving him a grade of 95.2, which ranked second in the nation behind Michigan’s Blake Corum.
Bijan Robinson’s college football career was nothing short of exceptional. From the start, he made a significant impact and was extremely productive at a very young age. His success didn’t stop there, though. Over the course of his last two seasons, he improved a lot and cemented his status as one of the sport’s top players.
The production is not the only reason why Robinson is seen as an elite prospect. Size and athleticism are pretty important for running backs, and he shines in these areas. At the NFL combine, he measured in at 5’11 and 215 lbs. and he recorded a 37-inch vertical (86th percentile), a 10’4 broad jump, and a 4.46 forty-yard dash (90th percentile). These are impressive numbers, especially for a 215 lbs. running back.
Bijan Robinson has it all. He’s big, athletic, and he provides immense value as a runner and receiver. This is rare, and over the last couple of years, there have only been a few running back prospects that fit this mold.
I have two custom stats, a rushing grade, and a receiving grade, which combine collegiate production and athletic testing to measure how good running back prospects are as runners and receivers. Since 2014, only four running backs in my database have a rushing grade and a receiving grade of 90+: Saquon Barkley, Breece Hall, Jay Ajayi, and Bijan Robinson.
Simply put, Bijan Robinson is an unreal prospect with a special skill set.
The Atlanta Falcons are a perfect fit for Bijan Robinson
You can make an excellent case that the Atlanta Falcons are the perfect landing spot for Bijan Robinson. It seems like they are going to make Robinson the focal point of their offense, and they have all the pieces in place for him to shine in that role.
Last season the Atlanta Falcons had one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, ranking top five in key metrics like rushing yards per game, yards per carry, and EPA (expected points added) per rush attempt.
This was made possible for a few reasons, starting with their offensive line. Last season the Falcons ranked 5th in PFF run block grade with a mark of 90.6. Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary played a huge role in turning their offensive line into a run-blocking machine, as both players ranked top three among all offensive linemen in PFF run block grade.
Another reason for their dominant rushing attack was their rookie running back Tyler Allgeier, who they drafted in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Last season, Allgeier ran for 1,035 yards and three touchdowns, which is insane production for a guy who was a day-three pick. The counting stats were great, but there’s plenty of evidence that his success wasn’t just a byproduct of his team’s offensive line.
In 2022, he had a PFF grade of 86.7, averaged 3.58 yards after contact per rush attempt, and forced 51 missed tackles. All of these marks ranked top ten in the NFL. These advanced stats aren’t what you would expect from someone who benefited from elite offensive line play.
It’s fair to wonder why the Falcons need or would even want Bijan Robinson if they already have a great rushing attack and a productive running back on a cheap contract. However, there are a few reasons why they’re interested in his services.
For starters, Robinson is a significantly better prospect than Allgeier. Robinson is younger, a much better athlete, was more productive in college and was a top-ten pick rather than a fifth-round pick. He also has a different and more valuable skillset, as he is an elite receiver, which Allgeier is certainly not.
Allgeier was a fantastic rusher as a rookie, but he provided zero value as a receiver. Last season, he caught just 16 passes and averaged 0.79 yards per route run, both marks ranking outside the top thirty in the NFL.
Based on Bijan Robinson’s receiving profile, we can expect him to be way more productive in this area than Allgeier. Depending on how the Falcons use him within their passing attack, he could be one of the more productive receivers in the NFL from day one, even if the Falcons continue to have a run-heavy offense with a low volume of pass attempts.
There’s also a chance that Robinson is more efficient as a runner than Allgeier, which would be extremely impressive because Allgeier was one of the most efficient runners in the league. The reason Robinson could be more efficient is because he is better at breaking tackles, he is more explosive, and he has better long speed. Even if Robinson isn’t a more efficient runner during his rookie year, I believe it’s fair to expect him to be just as efficient.
Based on his size, production, athleticism, and the fact that the Falcons have an elite offensive line, Bijan Robinson could very well be one of the most productive running backs in the NFL from day one. I believe he could have a similar rookie season as Breece Hall, who averaged 96.7 yards from scrimmage per game last year before getting injured and likely would have been named the offensive rookie of the year if he played the entire season.
If Bijan Robinson can replicate that production and stay healthy, he should easily win the offensive rookie of the year award.
Bijan Robinson could be one of the best running backs in the NFL as a rookie
Bijan Robinson’s size, athleticism, and all-around skills make him an elite running back prospect and arguably the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley. Now he is a member of the Atlanta Falcons, who are an ideal landing spot due to their elite offensive line and Arthur Smith’s scheme, which can highlight his talents as both a runner and receiver.
Because of his talent and the situation he was drafted into, Bijan Robinson has the potential to be one of the most productive running backs in the NFL year one and a key piece of the Falcons’ offense for years to come. It’ll be fun to watch him develop at the next level. Hopefully, he’s able to hit his ceiling, which might just be located in Canton, Ohio.