Texas Longhorns running back Bijan Robinson evades Baylor Bears safety Devin Lemear on Nov. 25, 2022. Syndication Austin American Statesman
INDIANAPOLIS – University of Texas running back Bijan Robinson is the safest pick in the draft. He’s the highest-rated player at his position. He’s one of the highest-rated prospects overall. There are no questions about his talent or character. His game has no weaknesses. He’s an outstanding runner and receiver – a workaholic who excels on and off the field, a leader who’s respected by his coaches and players.
Robinson is a multitalented prospect who’s good enough to be selected among the top-five picks. There’s a chance he won’t become the first running back chosen among the top-10 picks for the first time since 2018 when the Giants took Saquon Barkley second overall. There’s a chance Robinson will fall out of the top 10 for one simple and preposterous reason – running backs have been devalued. Most general managers don’t think they have to use a high pick on players at Robinson’s position.
Of the 15 backs who rushed for at least 1,000 yards last season, only five were drafted in the first round, and three made the playoffs, including Barkley, who finished with 1,312 yards. The Raiders’ Josh Jacobs led the NFL with 1,653 yards, and yet there are predictions Robinson could fall into the bottom half of the first round. Don’t believe it. Robinson is just too good to fall too far on April 27, the first day of the draft.
“I don’t want to say it’s unfair,” Robinson said Saturday during his interview with the media at the combine. “God has a plan for me. You never know on that day where you’re going to go. For me, it’s important to keep enjoying the moment because we might get to draft day and some surprise could happen. I’m just trying to keep staying positive and keep having fun.”
Chicago has the first overall pick for the first time since 1947. The Bears could keep the pick and take defensive tackle Jalen Carter or edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. The Texans have the second pick, but they’re desperate for a franchise quarterback. They need a back to play with Dameon Pierce, but it’s doubtful they’d use the 12th pick in the first round on Robinson, even if he’s available. Robinson, who’s represented by Houston agent Nicole Lynn, isn’t ruling out any team or any situation, including the Texans.
“That would mean everything,” he said when asked about the possibility of coming to Houston and playing with Pierce. “He (did) it right in his first season in the NFL. I respect his game a lot.”
Robinson would be the highest-rated Longhorn to play running back in Houston since the Oilers drafted Earl Campbell first overall in 1978.
“If that’s the case, I’ll go there and learn as much as I can behind (Pierce) — compete my butt off to make him a better player and to make me a better player to make sure it’s a smooth transition to play with somebody like that,” Robinson said. “I think it’s important to always have two running backs that can complement each other. You last longer in the league. He’s a great player, and if that’s the case, I’m all for it.”
Unfortunately for Texans’ fans, that doesn’t appear to be the case. General manager Nick Caserio and coach DeMeco Ryans have too many holes to fill, including finding a back to pair with Pierce, but it’s doubtful they’ll try to solve that problem with the 12th overall pick.
The general manager smart enough to draft Robinson is getting a Day One starter with All-Pro ability. As a junior last season, Robinson rushed for 1,580 yards, including 6.1 a carry, and scored 18 touchdowns. He caught 16 passes for 314 yards – a 16.5-yard average – and scored two more touchdowns.
Asked about what he can do for an NFL team, Robinson said, “I can do three (things) for your offense, whether it’s as a unique player at (wide) receiver or in the slot and, obviously, at running back. Just creating mismatches for defenders all over the field and being able to create space and opening up the offense. I think I have a high-value everybody should look at.
“I feel like at the size (6-0, 222) I’m at and doing the things I can do on the field — pretty much line up anywhere you need me to be – it’s (valuable) if you have a guy that can run routes and the next play will run between the tackles and try to make as much of a difference as possible. Doing everything I can that’s necessary and doing it at a high level. When I’m at receiver, they have to account for me because I can be a difference-maker for the offense.”
Robinson showed an engaging personality during his media session. He smiled a lot and didn’t dodge any question – not that he should have because there are no questions about him as a prospect. But there are questions about other players rated higher. For instance, Carter has character issues. Anderson lacks size for a defensive end. Quarterback Bryce Young is undersized.
Everything about Robinson is close to perfect. That’s why some team will draft him higher than he’s being projected. He’s an Arizona native, and the Cardinals need a running back with his ability. They have the third overall pick, but they also need defense, and new coach Jonathan Gannon was Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator.
Carolina has the ninth pick and a new coach in Frank Reich, who had Jonathan Taylor at Indianapolis and knows what a great back can do for a team. But the Panthers also need a quarterback.
No matter where Robinson goes, he’ll always be a target because opponents will know they have to contain him. He’ll get the kind of attention that’ll result in absorbing a lot of punishment, which is something he’s accustomed to. Defenders have to catch him first.
“All through college, people were stacking the box,” he said. “I feel like that’s a sign of respect. Any defense that comes out, I’m trying to dissect it and trying to find ways to open holes and create lanes for myself, no matter what it is. I’m trying to figure out ways to find creases because dudes are shooting gaps and making sure I don’t get inside (or) outside runs.”
Robinson was asked what NFL back he’s most often compared to.
“Word’s been going around that my pro comp is Saquon,” he said. “I want to be myself. I know people have compared me a lot to (Barkley), but it’s just me trying to be myself and to be the man God blessed me to be.”
As for his ability, Robinson said, “It’s a gift from God, but, obviously, you have to work on it every single day. I’m a knee-bender when I run the ball. Another knee-bender was Barry Sanders trying to redirect and trying to be as low to the ground as you can get and understand you have to feel defenders, read their shoulders, and read angles to break as many tackles as you can to try to get north and south. I take pride in that.”
Robinson disclosed how much he loves watching Sanders run on the Internet. Sanders, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, may be the most elusive back in league history.
“I watch him probably every other day,” Robinson said. “I’m always trying to mimic his moves. Every single time he touched the ball you would stand up to see what he was trying to do. There’d be some full games on YouTube, and I’ll watch them all – every single game he (played). He’s the most exciting player I’ve seen on a highlight tape. If God can bless me to be at that caliber one day, that would be amazing.”
Anderson, who won the Rotary Lombardi Award this season, called Robinson the toughest player he played against in college. The Longhorns lost a close game in Austin to the Crimson Tide.
“I appreciate him saying that (and) my reaction was that he was the toughest player I played against,” Robinson said. “I think he was the best defensive player in college football ever since he stepped on the field at Alabama. Being able to talk to him now, it’s just so great to be with a guy like that and to understand where he’s coming from on the field. Every single play, I had to do something to (keep) him on his toes, but he was right there in my face. He’s the best defensive player I’ve played against without a doubt.”
If an owner or general manager needs any more incentive about drafting Robinson, they should check out the work he’s done off the field within the Austin community. He plans to keep doing it in his new city.
“There are so many people I can help in advance of them watching me on the field, and I’m trying to be a role model – not just for kids and not just for teenagers but for everybody,” he said. “People see me on the field, but I love it when people ask me about off-the-field stuff. They can see what I’m trying to do for communities. I’m just a positive guy that loves to put a smile on somebody’s face. I love that motivation, and that’s why I love playing this game.”
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).