Bijan Robinson hopes top-10 NFL draft picks on RBs becomes new trend
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Bijan Robinson is hoping he is not the outlier, but rather the beginning of a new trend.
When the Atlanta Falcons selected Robinson with the No. 8 overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, the former Texas star became the first running back drafted the top 10 since Saquon Barkley went No. 2 overall in 2018.
Robinson and Detroit Lions pick Jahmyr Gibbs (No. 12 overall) became the first duo of running backs selected in the top 15 since 2017, when Leonard Fournette went No. 4 to Jacksonville and Christian McCaffrey was taken No. 8 by Carolina.
It had been a while, and Robinson wants to make sure it won’t be another six drafts until it happens again.
“I know the running back position in the top 10 is really, really rare,” Robinson said Friday. “But I mean, it’s pretty cool to be a guy that can share that and to show the younger kids in the college football, the younger running backs, that it’s possible — you just got to do everything the right way and just be as effective as you can for their program.”
Running backs drafted inside the top 10 have become rare in the modern era of football. Two running backs going inside the top 15 has been a bit more common, as this marks the eighth time it has happened since 2000. The most notable duos may be the Fournette-McCaffrey combination and in 2007, when Adrian Peterson went No. 7 to Minnesota and Marshawn Lynch was picked 12th by Buffalo.
Three running backs have been drafted inside the top 15 on two occasions since 2000: in 2005, Ronnie Brown (No. 2, Miami), Cedric Benson (No. 4, Chicago) and Cadillac Williams (No. 5, Tampa Bay); and in 2000, Jamal Lewis (No. 5, Baltimore), Thomas Jones (No. 7, Arizona) and Ron Dayne (No. 11, Giants).
But as the NFL has moved increasingly toward passing as its offensive focus, the top-10 running back has seemed to almost disappear.
Robinson believes he and Gibbs could “absolutely” be the start of a shift back toward valuing the position more. In their case, they had other things in common, as both were coached by Tashard Choice — Gibbs at Georgia Tech before he transferred to Alabama, and Robinson at Texas.
“Our games are kind of similar, and you can line us up anywhere on the field and be just a mismatch as we are at the running back position,” Robinson said. “I see that’s where the running back position is being valued now. That’s where I think it’s going to be headed.”
Robinson had 1,580 rushing yards and 314 receiving yards for 20 total touchdowns last season at Texas, while Gibbs had 926 yards rushing yards and 444 receiving yards for 10 total TDs at Alabama.
Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Thursday night that he viewed Robinson not as a running back but as a high-impact player. Lions general manager Brad Holmes said Detroit put Gibbs “in his own separate box” in terms of how the organization evaluated him.
Gibbs also noted Thursday that he was “shocked” to be chosen as high as he was, in part because of the history of running backs in the draft.
“I didn’t know I would get picked as high as I did,” Gibbs said. “Running backs don’t get picked as high in this new age and new era of the NFL draft. But it was pretty shocking to me.”
ESPN’s Eric Woodyard contributed to this report.