X-factor: How will Falcons utilize rookie running back Bijan Robinson in opener?

Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) brakes the defense as he runs the ball during the first half in a preseason exhibition game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Friday, August 18, 2023, in Atlanta. 
Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) brakes the defense as he runs the ball during the first half in a preseason exhibition game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Friday, August 18, 2023, in Atlanta. Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons running back Bijan Robinson’s much-anticipated NFL regular-season debut is about to arrive.

Robinson, the eighth overall pick in the draft, and the Falcons are set to host the Panthers in the season opener at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

There has been a lot of anticipation for Robinson’s debut because of his electric running style and pass-catching ability.

“That’s what happens when you take somebody (early in the draft), there are great expectations,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said of the No. 8 overall pick this year. “When you make those investments, you make sure it’s the right person, you’ve got the right plan. So far, so good.”

Robinson was listed as the team’s No. 1 running back on the official depth chart this week. Tyler Allgeier, who rushed for a franchise rookie record 1,035 yards last season, was listed as RB2. Both are expected to carry some of the load against the Panthers.

“This will be his first big test in a stressful environment,” Smith said. “He has passed them all so far. He’s exactly who I thought he was. In some ways he’s even more mature than I realized in handling expectations and pressure because that’s not easy.”

The Falcons used Robinson sparingly in the exhibition season, but have loved what they’ve seen in practice.

“It gets harder and harder, especially with everything at your fingertips now,” Smith said. “If you live through your screen, it could be a toxic wasteland. There is a lot of things to handle on the mental side. I have to give Bijan a lot of credit. He does a good job of handling that stuff.

“He’s excited. There will be nerves just like there would be for any rookie and (for) guys going into their 10th or 16th year.”

Quarterback Desmond Ridder has been impressed with Robinson, too.

“Something that surprised me because I didn’t know anything about him before, is how humble that he is,” Ridder said. “He’s a hard worker. He comes from the spotlight down there in Texas. ... He came in here and has been incredibly humble. Came in here and worked his (expletive) off. I think y’all will see it pay off.”

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