Bijan Robinson was an absolute legend at Texas. Robinson capped off his brilliant collegiate career with a stellar 2022 season; landing him ninth in Heisman Trophy voting and winning the prestigious Doak Walker award. Now, with Bijan Robinson likely turning his eye to the 2023 NFL draft, his name seems to be the only one that comes up when discussing who will be the top running back off the board.
The value of the running back position has dropped precipitously in recent years, with many teams electing to ignore the position in the first round completely. In 2022, only three running backs were taken in the first two rounds, with none coming off the board until Breece Hall at pick 36 to the New York Jets.
Robinson has been mocked anywhere from the top ten picks to the late second round. But, in every mock draft, one thing always remains the same: He’s the first running back selected. Every time. Is Bijan Robinson the clear best player at his position for the 2023 NFL draft? Does anyone even come close?
Tale of the tape
Games watched: Alabama (2022), Iowa State (2022), Kansas State (2022)
The first thing that immediately jumps off the screen with Bijan Robinson is his size. He’s listed at 6-0, 222 pounds on the Texas official roster (the real numbers will be revealed at the combine). When bent in his stance, Robinson looks more like a linebacker than a running back. The size of his legs alone serve as a sign to defenses that it’s going to be a long day.
Robinson is so remarkably hard to tackle. He easily sheds would-be tacklers time and time again. Whether it’s a stiff-arm or just simply bouncing off of them, Robinson rarely goes down on first contact and typically requires multiple tacklers. He also couples these extra yards with elite vision. If a hole appears, the chances are rather high that you might find number five in burnt orange bursting through it. Robinson keeps the Longhorns on schedule repeatedly with his meat-and-potatoes running style.
While he doesn’t possess elite long speed, Robinson does have the requisite quickness and fluidity to find the hole and also hit those cuts to the outside. He has countless reps where he hits the edge and picks up some yards. His strength and contact balance make him a nightmare for defensive backs to come up and tackle.
While being one of the best runners in the country, Robinson had a surprisingly impactful role in the passing attack. He’s not a crisp route runner like Christian McCaffrey, but he is a diabolical weapon in the screen game with his ability to get downhill, follow his blockers, and shrug off tacklers. He can also catch the ball and turn up-field quickly.
Where he stands to improve in the pass game is in pass protection. He lacks instincts there and could use some work. However, there are some encouraging reps, including one against Alabama where he delivers a powerful blow to Will Anderson.
Biggest Competitor to Bijan Robinson for NFL Draft RB1
The 2022 running back class looks like a deep one, but there seems to be a drop off after the first two names. That other name is Jahmyr Gibbs, originally a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket who transferred to Alabama prior to the 2022 season. Gibbs is a player who has the potential to be an elite weapon in the passing game.
Gibbs excels at those angle/Texas routes out of the backfield, and also spent a good portion of his time lined up out wide and working the middle of the field. He has also shown some nice reps in pass protection. While not perfect in that area, he is good enough to make him one of the better third down backs in the 2023 NFL draft class.
As a runner, Gibbs is incredibly dynamic. He has good vision and does a nice job following his blockers to find the green grass. His explosiveness and speed make him a threat to score on every play. Speedy guys typically don’t fight for extra yards, but Gibbs showed many times that he never quits on a play and can lower his pads to power through for extra yards.
What’s the verdict?
Almost everyone you ask will have Bijan Robinson as the top running back in the 2023 NFL draft class. There is certainly good reason to do so. Robinson may have the highest ceiling in this class. He should without a doubt be the first running back taken. How high should that be?
Many draft websites have him as a top five player in the class. That means he almost certainly gets taken in round one. Whether or not that is wise to do so is up in the air. Najee Harris and Travis Etienne went in the first in 2021, and Robinson looks like an unquestionably better player than both. Could he go in the top 20, which no running back has done since Saquan Barkley in 2018? We shall see.