Is Bijan Robinson a first-round running back?
That was one of the biggest questions ahead of the 2023 NFL Combine. Robinson put together an impressive three-year career with the Longhorns. The Sporting News first-team All American rushed for 1,580 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and scored 20 total touchdowns in 2022.
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In all, Robinson compiled 3,410 yards rushing in three seasons, fourth all time at Texas behind Ricky Williams (6,279), Cedric Benson (5,540) and Earl Campbell (4,443) and one spot ahead of Jamaal Charles (3,328). That’s impressive company when you consider the NFL careers those players had.
It’s admittedly a different game now. The draft value of running backs fluctuates from year to year, and Robinson will have to impress at the combine to retain his draft value.
Still, he fits the prototype as the next great running back from Texas. Here’s why:
Bijan Robinson college career
Robinson, who played his high school ball at Salpointe Catholic in Tucson, Ariz., was the No. 1 running back in 247Sports’ recruiting rankings for the Class of 2020. He rushed for 703 yards (8.2 yards per carry) as a freshman before back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2021 and 2022.
He averaged 6.3 yards per carry and rushed for 33 TDs in his three seasons, but he also displayed high-end ability as a receiver out of the backfield. He averaged 20 catches for 268 yards per year.
The 6-0, 215-pounder lived up to the hype despite Texas’ 20-15 record during his time there.
Bijan Robinson & Texas RBs in NFL Draft
We mentioned the list of Texas running back greats. Robinson has work to do to stay in the conversation. Williams, Benson and Campbell were all top-five picks in the NFL Draft.
First-round Texas RBs in NFL Draft
|Player||Year||Pick||NFL rushing stats|
|Ricky Williams||1999||5||10,009 yards, 66 TDs|
|Earl Campbell||1978||1||9,407 yards, 74 TDs|
|Cedric Benson||2005||4||6,017 yards, 32 TDs|
We don’t see an NFL general manager trading an entire draft like Mike Ditka did for Williams in 1999, but the point stands.
Other Texas running backs have had success at the next level, too. Priest Holmes was an undrafted free agent in 1997 and finished with 8,172 yards and 86 TDs. Jamaal Charles was a third-round pick in 2008 who had 7,563 yards and 44 TDs.
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Robinson will be compared to all of those backs as the combine unfolds. He also will be compared to first-round running backs in recent drafts.
Bijan Robinson & recent first-round RBs
No running back was selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Breece Hall was the first running back selected last year when the Jets took him with the No. 36 pick. The Seahawks’ Kenneth Walker III (No. 41) and the Bills’ James Cook (No. 63) also were second-round picks.
In the last six NFL Drafts, nine running backs have been selected in the first round.
NFL first-round RBs since 2017
|Leonard Fournette||2017||4||4,478 yards, 34 TDs|
|Christian McCaffrey||2017||8||4,726 yards, 38 TDs|
|Saquon Barkley||2018||2||4,249 yards, 29 TDs|
|Rashaad Penny||2018||27||1,918 yards, 13 TDs|
|Sony Michel||2018||31||3,243 yards, 18 TDs|
|Josh Jacobs||2019||24||4,740 yards, 40 TDs|
|Clyde Edwards-Helaire||2020||32||1,622 yards, 11 TDs|
|Najee Harris||2022||24||2,234 yards, 14 TDs|
|Travis Etienne||2022||25||1,225 yards, 5 TDs|
Robinson is not projected to be a top-10 pick; Fournette, McCaffrey and Barkley were. Barkley was voted Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018.
Robinson is expected to be selected in the back half of the first round. In recent drafts, other running backs were value picks in the second round, including Dalvin Cook (No. 41, 2017), Joe Mixon (No. 48, 2017), Nick Chubb (No. 35, 2018) and Jonathan Taylor (No. 41).
Bijan Robinson draft projection
If SN’s NFL Mock Draft projection comes true, then Robinson will be getting more attention in the Lone Star State. Vinnie Iyer has the Cowboys selecting Robinson with the No. 27 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
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“With the possibilities of Tony Pollard exploring free agency after his breakout season and Ezekiel Elliott being cut for salary-cap purposes, Jerry Jones might be interested in replacing them with a potential superstar from down the road in Austin,” Iyer writes. “Robinson is a three-down back with explosive qualities including vision, quickness, determination and open-field burst as a runner and receiver.”
Dallas is just one potential landing spot. If Robinson falls to the back half of the first round, then there is a good chance he’ll land with a Super Bowl contender. The Eagles, Bills and Ravens all are potential fits for a player who would be considered a luxury pick for those teams.