College News & Analysis

Why Texas RB Bijan Robinson is a surefire first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft

Dallas, Texas, USA: Texas Longhorns running back Bijan Robinson (5) celebrates after scoring a touchdown inst the Oklahoma Soonduring the annual Red River Showdown agaers at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Aaron E. Martinez/Austin American-Statesman- USA TODAY NETWORK

“But he’s different.”

It’s the rallying cry for every NFL decision-maker who either drafts a running back highly or signs one to a big-money contract. Sometimes, the backs truly are different. The likes of Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor have proven that (none first-rounders, by the way). And in a loaded 2023 running back draft class, Texas' Bijan Robinson will undoubtedly get hit with the “different” moniker.

Whether that comes to fruition at the NFL level remains to be seen, but he certainly qualifies for the label at the collegiate level. While he may not go No. 2 overall, Robinson is entering the Saquon Barkley tier of prospects where his abilities reach mythical status. That’s what happens when you are elite at almost every aspect of a position. Let’s dig a little deeper.


Size

Robinson is 6-foot and 220 pounds. The average height of the 1,000-yard rushers a season ago was 5-foot-11 7/8, while the average weight was 220 3/8 pounds. I’d say he ticks this box. 


Athleticism

If there is a “knock” on Robinson’s game, it would likely be his pure speed. He’s not a guy who’s going to run in the 4.3s. I could see him sneaking into the 4.4 range, but long speed really isn’t his game. What he can do, however, is stop and start on a dime. Robinson’s cutting ability is out of this world, and you see that really shine in the open field. Just watch him leave this Oklahoma State safety grasping at air.

That’s plenty athletic enough to join the elite at the position in the league.


Elusiveness

This is where Robinson really shines. He racked up the third-most broken tackles in the FBS as a sophomore in 2021 (79). This season, he’s taken it to another level. His 65 broken tackles are 10 more than anyone else in college football. It’s safe to say Robinson is as good as any prospect in the PFF College era in this regard.


Power

220 pounds isn’t big by NFL standards, but Robinson still runs plenty hard enough to make onlookers believe he can grind out tough yards in the league. His 4.11 yards after contact per attempt (fifth in the FBS) while averaging 5.7 yards per carry is pretty indicative of that. When he lowers his shoulder, college linebackers hit the turf.

It’s a big reason why he’s earned a 92.0 rushing grade so far this season (second in the FBS).


Receiving Ability

This is the real separator for Robinson — and yes, that was a double entendre. He has a better highlight reel as a pass-catcher than some wide receivers you’ll see get drafted.

While he hasn’t split wide as a receiver much (83 snaps in his career), Robinson has looked like he could hang there full time when he has. He’s averaged 2.14 yards per route when split out as a receiver. That’s in the same ballpark as now-New Orleans Saints wideout Chris Olave averaged in his final season at Ohio State (2.29). And he can run routes out of the backfield, too — unsurprisingly.

There’s no such thing as a “can’t-miss” prospect, but Robinson stuffs the scouting report so much that it’s going to be difficult to envision him not providing value somewhere in the NFL. That’s why he’ll be drafted somewhere in the first round next spring — possibly even in the top 10.

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