2023 Fantasy Football Player Profile: Bijan Robinson has RB 1 potential as a rookie

2R19M7F Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson (7) stretches during the NFL football team's rookie minicamp Friday, May 12, 2023, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

  • Bijan Robinson is an elite talent: Robinson has a better run grade than any college running back of the past nine years.
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ offensive line is also elite: Their line consists of three of the league's best run blockers along with two average run blockers.
  • Atlanta’s young skill players could be a problem: Tyler Allgeier put together a great rookie season while the team has invested a lot in Drake London and Kyle Pitts.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

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Last updated: 7:15 a.m. Thursday, August 10

Bijan Robinson‘s player outlook

Robinson is the best running back prospect heading into the NFL in the last few seasons.

  • His 95.1 PFF offensive grade over his college career was second best among Power 5 running backs since PFF began grading in 2014, only behind Jonathan Taylor, whose 97.5 rushing grade was the best.
  • He had the best contact balance in the draft class after breaking the PFF college single-season broken tackle record at 104.
  • The PFF draft guide described him as “more than just a bell cow. He’s a back that you make the focal point of your offense.”
  • Robinson is the first running back selected in the top 10 since Saquon Barkley in 2018. Barkley finished as the overall RB1 as a rookie.
  • The four other running backs picked in the top 10 in the NFL draft also finished as top-10 fantasy running backs as rookies.
  • According to his offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom, “You see at least one or two ridiculous plays every day” during training camp.
  • Head coach Arthur Smith has also praised his first-round pick despite comically landing third on their initial depth chart.

Competition for touches

The biggest reason for pessimism for Robinson is how many good young skill players the Falcons have on their roster.

  • His primary competition for playing time is Tyler Allgeier, who earned an 88.0 PFF run grade as a fifth-round rookie and seemed primed for a larger role before the team drafted Robinson.
  • His 3.6 yards after contact per carry ranked fifth-best among running backs with at least 100 carries. Three of the four ahead of him are top-10 fantasy running backs this season.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson remains on the depth chart despite a down season.
  • Patterson was RB9 in 2021 and fell to RB31 last season, in part, due to injury.
  • He’s 32 years old making him ancient in running back years, but the Falcons likely have a plan for him considering they’ve kept him on the roster.
  • The good news is the Falcons are one of the few teams where two running backs had double-digit carries in the same game. It’s possible Allgeier can see 10-12 carries in a game, and Robinson still gets enough volume to be an elite fantasy running back.
  • Atlanta spent the previous two years spending top-eight draft picks on wide receivers Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts.
  • This is a lot of star power to get the football to, but luckily the Falcons' wide receiver depth chart is very thin after London.
  • We could very well see formations with two halfbacks on the field at the same time, potentially with Patterson playing significantly at wide receiver, or Robinson lining up in the slot.
  • While this might seem like a lot, Austin Ekeler was still RB1 last season despite having Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the roster, Christian McCaffrey was RB2 with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle, and Josh Jacobs was RB3 despite Davante Adams at WR.

Impact of teammates

Landing in Atlanta was the best-case scenario for Robinson.

  • The Falcons were the only team to run the ball on more than half of their offensive plays last season, which included maintaining the run even when playing from behind.
  • They ran 48.8% of the time while losing, which was five percentage points more than any other team.
  • Those rates shifted slightly toward passing once Desmond Ridder took over as the team’s starting quarterback.
  • Falcons running backs have a 21.0% targets per route run over the last two seasons, which ranks eighth among teams. A shift slightly toward passing isn’t the worst thing.
  • He will be running behind some of the best interior linemen in the league. Chris Lindstrom and Matt Hennessy are two of the five interior linemen to earn a 90.0-plus PFF run-blocking grade over the past two seasons.
  • Kaleb McGary was the highest-graded run blocker last season among right tackles at a 91.6 grade.
  • Jake Matthews is returning at left tackle and Drew Dalman is returning at center. Both received a 69.5 run-blocking grade last season.
  • Atlanta was the clear top team in terms of run blocking last season, and it could easily finish first again this season.
  • The Falcons have the eighth-best schedule for running backs in terms of the strength of their opponent over their first 16 games.
  • They also have the easiest schedule according to our power rankings, which should keep them in games and keep them getting the ball to Robinson.
  • Some might be concerned about Ridder playing quarterback, but having a subpar quarterback hasn’t stopped other running backs from finishing at RB1 in recent seasons.
  • Jonathan Taylor was RB1 in 2021 with Carson Wentz, who is currently not on a roster. Christian McCaffrey put together his elite 2019 season with Kyle Allen as his primary quarterback. Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley put together their RB1 seasons when Drew Brees and Eli Manning were in the last seasons of their careers.

Bottom line

Robinson’s talent mixed with the situation in Atlanta should make him a mid-first-round fantasy pick despite the fact that he’s never played a down in the NFL.

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