Two decades ago, nobody in NFL circles would have batted an eye at a running back being selected in the first round of the draft. Now? It has become increasingly rare as overall stock in running backs has been on the decline for some time now. The days of a single player toting the rock 25+ times on a weekly basis are gone, and the running back by committee approach has become the new norm. However, there are always outliers. Ball carriers so talented that they become one of the few exceptions to the rule. Come on down, Bijan Robinson.
A junior out of the University of Texas, Robinson is not only the best running back in the 2023 draft class, he is one of the best overall prospects coming out this year. He is a durable, all-purpose back—capable of being a workhorse in the running game, and a weapon in the passing game. Could he be in play for the Detroit Lions at pick 18 in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft? Let’s take a look at why it would make sense for the Lions to add Robinson to their backfield.
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Cutting on a dime
The first thing that jumps out at you when you watch Robinson’s tape is his ability to cut and change directions. Whether it’s a perfectly-timed jumpcut or Robinson simply putting his foot into the ground and changing directions—he routinely made opposing defenders look silly.
Fill in the blank:— PlaymakerU (@playmakerU) April 20, 2023
Bijan Robinson is the best RB prospect since _________ pic.twitter.com/DLR9fJFE2y
Beyond the sorcerer-like ability to seemingly bend time and space like Robinson does, his acceleration as a runner is also on another level. He will take his time sifting through the muck before seeing an opening, hitting the gas, and taking off—all in the blink of an eye.
First play is just a masterclass of footwork, balance, quickness and power.— Luca Sartirana (@SartiranaLuca) April 12, 2022
Second play is just pure explosiveness from a player who's 6-0, 220 lbs.
Bijan Robinson is insane. pic.twitter.com/xgs1ay6gOl
Balance and vision
I don’t often compare running backs to my favorite athlete of all time, but with the way Robinson is able to stay on his feet at times, at times he reminds me of the greatest to ever play the position—Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. Robinson is a twitchy athlete, but his strong, well-built frame allows him to absorb contact and keep on moving forward with the best of them.
Bijan Robinson’s balance is something ELSE— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) February 20, 2023
The Texas RB led all of college football in forced missed tackles last season with 104.
One of the best RB prospects the NFL Draft has seen in a WHILE. pic.twitter.com/OFpGhp2E4W
At 6-foot-0 and 222 pounds, arm tackles won’t work with Robinson, and if defenders aren’t able to really square him up, there is a good chance that they are going to bounce off of him.
The best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley, Bijan Robinson.— CFBLIVE247 (@CFBLive247_) September 8, 2022
The vision, balance and cuts on this run is nutty stuff lol. pic.twitter.com/ilGT8VP13J
Robinson’s vision is one of the attributes that separates him from other running back prospects. There are plenty of backs out there that are strong, have great agility, or a nasty stiff-arm. But when you have all of those tools in your tool box and elite vision? You get a generational prospect like Robinson.
Texas RB Bijan Robinson has it all: the size, the physicality, the burst, the vision, the lateral movement, the long speed, the contact balance, the stiff arm and knows how to finish by punishing defenders. What a run. Wow. pic.twitter.com/9XuC9arLN4— Brandon Lejeune (@DevyDeepDive) October 12, 2021
Bijan Robinson runs with exceptional vision, contact balance and lateral quickness. Running backs like him don’t come around very often. pic.twitter.com/5bGBUS6JdU— Kendell Hollowell (@KHollowell_) March 5, 2023
If you want to nitpick, you could point out that Robinson could improve as a pass-blocker. Beyond that, he is every single thing a coach or general manager could possibly want in a running back. Texas used him as a true feature back. You name it, Robinson did it in Austin. As a junior in 2022, Robinson carried the ball 258 times for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns—good enough for a staggering 6.1 yards per carry.
As a pass catcher, Robinson runs excellent routes out of the backfield, and has the ability to work out of the slot as well. Lions’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has to be over-the-moon with the idea of having Robinson as a weapon in his offense. Think of all the creative ways Johnson has come up with in order to get the ball into star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown’s hands and now imagine doing the same with Bijan.
Split him out wide, send him on a jet motion towards the right side of the line, throw him a bubble screen with Pro Bowl right tackle Penei Sewell out in front and watch the magic happen. The possibilities would be endless.
Long-term fit with the Lions
In the short term, Robinson would come in and be part of a mean three-headed monster in the Lions’ backfield, alongside running backs David Montgomery and D’Andre Swift. Beyond the 2023 season, Robinson would likely slide into a more prominent role on the Lions’ offense.
2023 is the final year of Swift’s rookie contract, and while many view drafting a running back high as a luxury pick of sorts, I would argue that this is a long-term position of need for Detroit. General manager Brad Holmes has invested significant capital into the offensive line, and it’s no secret that the Lions want to be a physically dominant team—capable of running the ball effectively whenever they may desire. Adding an elite talent at the position like Robinson would elevate this offense to new heights, and maybe, just what this team needs to do something crazy—like win a home playoff game.