Bijan Robinson’s big smiles and bigger plays: Texas superstar ready to change perception of running backs in modern NFL

Texans Longhorns running back Bijan Robinson is ready to make an impact in the NFL

Texans Longhorns running back Bijan Robinson is ready to make an impact in the NFL

With a big smile and even bigger plays, Texas superstar Bijan Robinson is ready to rock the NFL and change the perception of running backs in the modern league.

You know about the quarterbacks. Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson, Will Levis and even Hendon Hooker could be first-round picks – likely very high ones – in Thursday night’s NFL draft.

Defensive line is a strength in the 2023 class, with the chance of a pair of edge rushers being selected in the top five. Cornerback, too, has real depth and quality.

The focus on these ‘premium’ positions makes sense. You need a top quarterback in order to achieve sustained success. You need to be able to slow down the opposing passing game.

Running backs? Who needs ’em? It’s not exactly a new sentiment, but it continues to shine through. The position is devalued, and teams know they can likely select a runner in the later rounds of the draft or pick up a cheap free agent and still achieve success on the ground.

Robinson will have one fanbase extremely excited on Thursday night, even if he is 'just' a running back

Robinson will have one fanbase extremely excited on Thursday night, even if he is ‘just’ a running back

Look no further than last year’s two Super Bowl teams. Philadelphia used a second-round pick in 2019 on Miles Sanders but have used a committee approach to the backfield for years.

The Chiefs burned a first-round pick on Clyde Edwards-Helaire in 2020 but at Super Bowl LVII he was inactive, while seventh-rounder Isiah Pacheco and veteran free agent Jerick McKinnon helped Kansas City to the Lombardi Trophy.

How much of an impact did the regular-season rushing leaders (Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb) make in the playoffs? They did not even get there.

Robinson is the player who – in the eyes of many scouts, analysts, and likely head coaches and general managers too – bucks the trend. He can revolutionize an offense.

Production and fulfills potential

Robinson in his college football debut against UTEP

Robinson in his college football debut against UTEP

Robinson has been labeled a ‘can’t-miss’ prospect ever since he stepped on the field, and, so far, he has lived up to the hype.

At Salpointe Catholic High School in Arizona, he set state records with 7,036 rushing yards and 114 touchdowns. In his final season – in which he was named Arizona High School Football Player of the Year – he managed 2,235 yards and 38 touchdowns on just 126 carries.

Yes, that is 17.7 yards per carry!

Naturally, expectations were high after he elected to join the Texas Longhorns, and he did not disappoint. In 31 games, he had over 4,000 total yards (3,410 rushing, 805 receiving) and 41 touchdowns.

Robinson was dominant on the field. He won the Doak Walker Award for the best running back in all of college football.

Off it, he became friends with Matthew McConaughey, and calls him a mentor. Robinson has stated a desire to be an actor in the future – do not be surprised to see him shoot up in fame in his first year in the big league as a strong interviewee and a true ‘character guy’.

Go and take a look at his game logs from the 2022 campaign and you will see just how consistently outstanding he was in the Longhorns’ backfield. He went over 100 yards in nine of his last 10 games, and had two with over 200. He scored at least one touchdown in 10 of 12.

All of that, however, was expected.

Now he takes on his next challenge: putting running backs back on the map in the NFL as game-changing, build-your-team-around-them weapons.

What makes Robinson special?

Robinson has a nose for the end zone

Robinson has a nose for the end zone

Saquon Barkley. Adrian Peterson. Reggie Bush. Robinson is up there with some of the greatest running back prospects to enter the NFL.

However, there have been hundreds of highly-rated runners who ticked the boxes for outstanding college production and freakish athleticism, and hundreds who have only gone on to underperform.

No running back has been selected in the top 20 picks of the last four NFL Drafts (Barkley went second overall in 2018), but you do not have to look hard to see why Robinson will change that.

In NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s latest ranking of the top 150 prospects in the class, he has Robinson third overall, citing his three-down ability and combination of running and passing game prowess.

Dane Brugler of The Athletic, in his NFL Draft Guide, called Robinson “the complete package as both a runner and receiver” and “one of the most talented players in the draft class”, placing him sixth in his overall rankings.

The 21-year-old ticks all the boxes with his production and measurements, having performed excellently at the NFL Scouting Combine in March, and he most certainly passes the eye test too.

Robinson impressed with his workout at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine

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Robinson impressed with his workout at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine

Robinson impressed with his workout at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine

Head over to YouTube and watch him make people miss like Barry Sanders, exploit the open field like Bush, and power through defenses like Peterson.

His quick-twitch acceleration from left to right and north to south is unmatched, and at 5ft 11ins and 215lbs, he is no scat back – he can use his legs and be an inside runner as well as an outside one.

‘Bijan’ will be a name that becomes synonymous with highlight-reel runs and catches, electric plays, and long touchdowns for years to come, and he immediately jumps into the group of elite NFL backs.

For those of you who play fantasy football, he is already having a massive impact before even seeing the field. In ‘dynasty’ fantasy football, which requires building a team for the long term, he is already as the top running regarded back to own – ahead of Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, you name it – and we do not even know which team he will play for! In your 2023 leagues, he is likely a first-round pick.

Robinson is a superstar in the making and will be making headlines for years to come.

Where will he land?

NFL teams will use Robinson as a receiver, not just a runner

NFL teams will use Robinson as a receiver, not just a runner

With all the above said, and what we know about the way the NFL treats the running back position, how high and where will Robinson actually go?

NFL Mock Draft Database rounds up a selection of NFL mock drafts (and there are a lot) to give an idea of ​​where each player will go, and the general consensus is the Atlanta Falcons at eighth overall would be the best fit.

Neil Reynolds’ NFL Mock Draft top 10 | Colts trade up for Stroud

Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds predicts how the top 10 picks of the 2023 NFL Draft will come off the board ahead of Thursday night’s first round.

Despite their general lack of high investment in the position, would the Eagles pick Robinson at the No 10 spot? Will he even reach them? He described his pre-draft visit to Philadelphia as “amazing” and said if he could play with one quarterback in the NFL outside of Patrick Mahomes, it would be Jalen Hurts.

But the NFL Draft is unpredictable, and teams tend to surprise us. Does Bill Belichick fall in love with a player who could revamp New England’s offense? Might a team in the mid-late first (Washington, Tampa Bay, Dallas) feel the need to move up to poach him and gain a superstar?

Robinson’s presence in the 2023 NFL Draft will be felt – his high selection, his destination, his impact on the league will all be discussed when we hear his name called on Thursday night.

And you can guarantee we will be hearing it a whole lot more come September.

Watch all three days of the 2023 NFL Draft live on Sky Sports from Thursday April 27 to Saturday April 29.

Neil Reynolds and Phoebe Schecter will be joined by former Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman to preview the opening night on Thursday from 9pm, with the first draft picks expected to be made just after 1am.