“I’ve got him as one of the top five players in this entire draft class,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “Just basing it on skill and football playing.”
Robinson is fourth behind Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama linebacker Will Anderson in McShay’s overall rankings.
However, he’s projected to go in the latter half of most mock drafts because teams have devalued the running back position.
“(Quarterbacks) will come off the board early, and there is a lot of need for offensive tackles, cornerbacks and edge rushers,” McShay said. “Those guys are going to go pretty quick. But after that, it’s hard to draft a guy that you have a late first-round, second-round grade on over a guy who’s a top-five prospect just about on every team’s boards.”
Robinson, who’s from Tucson, Arizona, played three seasons for the Longhorns.
“He had 91 forced missed tackles, which was the most in the FBS this past year,” McShay said. “He does it with a combination of power and elusiveness for a big back at 215 pounds. Then in the passing game, he has exceptional ball skills.”
Most rookie backs have problems in pass protection, but Robinson is solid.
“It’s hard to find many weaknesses in his game,” McShay said. “That’s why I think he’s going to be so special at the next level.”
Over the past five NFL drafts, only one running back has been taken in the top 10. In 2018, the Giants took Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick.
Last year, no running back was taken in the first round. NFL teams took three in the first round in 2018, one in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Some teams, like the Falcons and the Chiefs last season, have discovered that they can find running backs in the late rounds. The Falcons selected Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round, and the Chiefs drafted Isiah Pacheco in the seventh.
Pro Football Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian doesn’t agree with this approach.
“I’m a bit of a contrarian in that regard,” Polian told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “First of all, I don’t devalue the position. Second of all, the studies that I’ve done, and they’re up to date, indicate that you should take running backs high.
“They also indicate that you probably shouldn’t give them second contracts. But the idea that the great ones are available anywhere in the draft is fallacious.”
Even in the passing era, championship-level teams still need to run the football.
“If you’re going to win in a 17-game schedule and in seven-team playoff, you have to run the ball,” Polian said. “You have to run it convincingly. The better the play at that position, the better off you are.”
Robinson is a candidate to buck the trend of skipping over running backs.
“I will make an argument that he’s slightly, not significantly, maybe slightly better as a prospect coming out than Saquon Barkley,” McShay said.
Barkley, who’s been selected to two Pro Bowls, will play this season on the Giants’ franchise tag, which pays $10.91 million.
“If there is an elite talent, you draft (him) in the first round,” McShay said. “You get him at a cheap price and bring him in for his first five years when he still has tread on his tires. Then if you don’t pay him the second contract because it’s astronomical (that would make sense).”
The Chargers (who pick 21st), Jaguars (24th) or Cowboys (26th) are teams where Robinson could land, and Gibbs perhaps could help the Bills, who pick 27th.
“(Robinson) belongs in the top five, top 10,” McShay said. “We’ll find out a lot how the running back position and how it’s viewed by NFL teams.”
Robinson is not too fond of the Barkley comparisons.
“Word’s been going around that my pro comp is Saquon,” Robinson 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.”
Gibbs was productive for the Crimson Tide last season. However, he credited former Georgia Tech running backs coach Tashard Choice with developing his game.
Gibbs believes he’s ready for the NFL.
“When I first get there, I want to earn the respect of the veterans and all the teammates,” Gibbs said. “So, I want to do that first and get that out the way, and everything else, I think that’ll come just by itself.”
AJC’S 2023 POSITION-BY-POSITION DRAFT SERIES
WIDE RECEIVERS – Past few drafts have spoiled NFL teams looking for wide receivers | Top 10 WRs
RUNNING BACKS – Running backs Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs may have to wait to hear their names called | Top 10 RBs
TIGHT ENDS – Saturday
QUARTERBACKS – Sunday
OFFENSIVE LINE – Monday
DEFENSIVE LINE – Tuesday, April 18
LINEBACKERS – Wednesday, April 19
CORNERBACKS – Thursday, April 20
SAFETIES – Friday, April 21
SPECIAL TEAMS – Saturday, April 23
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