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Bijan Robinson Is Rare Prospect, but Is He Worth First-Round Pick?

Best College Running Backs / Bijan Robinson

Texas' Bijan Robinson (scouting report) is the most gifted running back in the 2023 NFL Draft, which is not a strong draft overall. Because of that, it will be interesting to see where Robinson eventually gets picked.

When it comes to drafting running backs, the thought process has changed several times over the years. In 2000, when I was with the Baltimore Ravens, we drafted Jamal Lewis with the fifth overall pick of the draft. Those Ravens were a run-first team with a rare defense. We believed we were one player away from really winning big — and we did, beating the New York Giants in the Super Bowl XXXV that season. Lewis ran for more than 1,300 yards as a rookie and gave us 102 yards and a touchdown on the ground in the Super Bowl. Obviously, he was a terrific pick.

As time went on, with teams slanting toward the passing game, the running back has been devalued. There are several reasons for this. Running backs take a pounding, and usually, after their fourth year, tend to go downhill and lose their speed. Teams are now fine using a running back by committee: having two or three backs where each has a specific skill that can be exploited.

Now we are at the point where teams would rather take a back later in the draft rather than spend a high first-round pick on one.

First-Round Running Backs, Last 10 Years

Year Round-Pick Running Back Team College
2022 -- -- -- --
2021 1-24 Najee Harris Steelers Alabama
2021 1-25 Travis Etienne Jaguars Clemson
2020 1-32 Clyde Edwards-Helaire Chiefs LSU
2019 1-24 Josh Jacobs Raiders Alabama
2018 1-2 Saquon Barkley Giants Penn St.
2018 1-27 Rashaad Penny Seahawks SDSU
2018 1-31 Sony Michel Patriots Georgia
2017 1-4 Leonard Fournette Jaguars LSU
2017 1-8 Christian McCaffrey Panthers Stanford
2016 1-4 Ezekiel Elliott Cowboys Ohio St.
2015 1-10 Todd Gurley Rams Georgia
2015 1-15 Melvin Gordon Chargers Wisconsin
2014 -- -- -- --
2013 -- -- -- --

What has more value? Picking Saquon Barkley at No. 2 overall or taking Nick Chubb in the second round? There are backs to be picked in every round, you just have to get the right player. When you look at a draft board, the running back column is stacked with several really good runners. But when you look at the edge rushers column, you see a few at the top, but then it thins out quite a bit after that.

That is the reason NFL general managers would rather wait a bit longer and pick a back in the second or third round. Look at who the Giants could have taken in the first round in 2018: CB Denzel Ward, pass rusher Bradley Chubb or QB Josh Allen. They could have just waited and picked Chubb in Round 2. Allen and Chubb sound a lot better than Barkley and Will Hernandez.

Robinson is sixth overall on our big board, and that reflects what we think of his talent. What popped out to me was his ability to run a route and catch the football. He is a big threat when matched up against linebackers and will be a difficult player to cover. He made plays at all three levels in the passing game and will bring another dimension to an offense. His strength, speed and balance in the run game are outstanding as well.

I could see a team like the Philadelphia Eagles, who have two first-round picks, selecting him just like the Ravens did 23 years ago in selecting Lewis. With what Robinson can do in both the run and pass game, he could make that offense even scarier.

T.J. McCreight is a former front office executive for the Philadelphia Eagles and the former director of college scouting for the Indianapolis Colts. He also previously served as the director of pro personnel with the Arizona Cardinals. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLTJ25.