- Previously covered University of Michigan for ESPN.com and AnnArbor.com
- Also covered Notre Dame for Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Bijan Robinson is hoping he is not the outlier, 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 first-round 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 are uncommon in the modern era of football. Two running back selections inside the top 15 has been a bit more commonplace, as this marks the eighth time it’s happened since 2000. The most notable ones 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 separate 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 more toward passing as its offensive premise, the top-10 running back disappeared in some ways.
Robinson believes he and Gibbs could “absolutely” be the start of a shift back toward valuing the running backs more. In their cases, they had other commonalities, 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 touchdowns 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 spoke similarly of Gibbs, saying they put him “in his own separate box” in terms of how the organization evaluated him.
Gibbs also noted Thursday that he was “shocked” to be drafted 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.
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