Bijan Robinson had a ton of hype heading into his third year at Texas and he didn’t disappoint, earning the Doak Walker Award, given to college football’s top rusher, after finishing with 1,580 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, at over six yards-per-clip. And though his receiving work was modest, his pro day only helped his cause, and no one denies he can handle a three-down role.
But, there are situations where that three-down role isn’t handed over immediately. Fantasy players have pined over a fully-unleashed Nick Chubb for years. It also might be hard to believe that Derrick Henry wasn’t given a full workload until his fourth year in the league, playing second fiddle to DeMarco Murray for two years, then only out-carrying another veteran, Dion Lewis, 215-to-155 his third year.
There aren’t many destinations that can put up a roadblock in front of Bijan’s immediate ascension in the pros, but let’s address a few of the more realistic ones. And so it’s not all bad news, let’s balance it out with practical spots where he could smash right out of the gate.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Austin Ekeler requested a trade after the Chargers refused to give him a contract extension, saying, “When it comes down to what’s going on with the whole trade and all that stuff, really, look, we’re trying to find a long-term partner.”
Despite his uptick in usage the past couple of seasons, Ekeler has averaged only 200 touches per year, which is less than a lot of premier backs can say. Even so, it’s hard for any running back entering their age-28 season to garner interest from an NFL team to be a long-term centerpiece.
It seems like something has to give, and if it’s not Ekeler’s expectations in a trade partner, then he very likely stays suited up in powder blue. With one year left on his deal, and considering the contract issues this offseason, the Chargers might look to address the position by drafting Ekeler’s heir. If that’s Bijan at No. 21, LA’s backfield could be a timeshare in ’23. Even in a 50/50 split, both backs could be fantasy starters but it wouldn’t guarantee either back RB1 numbers.
If Ekeler does get traded, Bijan could immediately step in as the Chargers’ RB1 and feast, with the best competition for touches only coming from Joshua Kelley, unless maybe Isaiah Spiller can take a second-year leap.
The Titans aren’t poised to transform into a pass-heavy team overnight, and by drafting Bijan with pick 11, they have someone they can feel confident in continuing to build the offense around the run for the future. And if they want, take some of the burden off of Henry as he enters his age-29 season, by using Bijan the same way Henry was utilized his first couple of seasons.
110 and 176 carries… not appetizing, though one advantage Bijan would have in a similar situation is that he’d likely get play in the passing game more so than Henry has throughout his career.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (WITH DALVIN COOK)
The Vikings have been rumored to be looking to trade Dalvin Cook, to no avail so far, as the front office has seemed to make it a point to get the roster younger. If Cook remains with the Vikings this season, the front office may still be content to draft their future workhorse at pick 23.
Alexander Mattison resigned with the Vikes at 2 years, $7 million, which doesn’t scream starter money. Here’s a back that showed he could handle a three-down role, receiving work included. Yet, he was signed later than many of the notable names in free agency, and no other team had the drive to throw $10 or $12 million his way. Some are still entertaining the idea that with Cook gone, Mattison could eat, but to me, the signs point to him continuing to be one of the best insurance policies at running back.
BEST CASE SCENARIOS
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (WITHOUT DALVIN COOK)
So, if Cook does end up donning a new uniform in ’23, Bijan could be poised to step in immediately if the Vikings grab him. He would be joining PFF’s fourth-highest graded run-blocking offensive line unit from 2022, whose starters are all returning.
Head coach Arthur Smith showed that he still enjoys deploying a run-centric approach on offense even though he didn’t get to bring Derrick Henry with him from Tennessee. Tyler Allgeier put up one of the quieter 1,000-yard seasons during his rookie year and if the Falcons feel so inclined to take Robinson with pick No. 8, one would certainly expect Allgeier to become the secondary back.
If Allgeier could hit 1,000 yards rushing and 4.9 yards-per-clip, Bijan could feast, along with the added receiving upside.
Invested in Kyler Murray, the Cardinals have a unique opportunity to trade down from No. 3 and still have a good shot at landing the former Texas star. Plus, there will still be (at least) two quarterbacks that a team could expectedly trade up to draft.
This is one situation where entering a running back room with an established vet may not matter all that much. Current lead back James Conner has been one of the more injury-prone backs in the league, having missed games in every season including a hefty list of partial games played, and is entering his age-28 season. With no one brought in during free agency to challenge the starting job, drafting Robinson could mean he becomes the alpha of that room sooner rather than later on a team that’s rebuilding.
Finally, my personal favorite to land Bijan is the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones wasn’t afraid to trade a first-round pick to get Amari Cooper in 2019, and it wasn’t the first time he’s made a move like that:
He also wasn’t afraid to use the 4th overall pick on Ezekiel Elliott, and he had the faith in him to make him the NFL’s highest-paid running back in 2019, with a contract lasting six years. If money and contract lengths talk, then consider the faith the Cowboys front office has shown in Tony Pollard, only giving him the franchise tag despite being more productive per touch than Zeke now for multiple seasons. That’s not going to make those who’ve been salivating over Tony Pollard SZN happy, ourselves included, but the backs behind Pollard are uninspiring.
Mike McCarthy wants to “run the damn ball” more than Kellen Moore did during his time in Dallas, so it stands to reason that they’ll be drafting a running back at some point. To me, Jerry Jones comes off like a guy who would give up three firsts in his dynasty league to secure Bijan, and he’s proven not to be shy about making splash moves using high draft capital.
With a draft pick in every round the next two years besides a 2024 sixth, I could see the ‘Boys trading up if they want Bijan rather than risking him getting snatched up before they pick at 26. Trading up with the Eagles or Commanders to ensure that they don’t have to face Bijan twice a year is another factor to monitor, though drafting a first-round back doesn’t seem to be Eagles GM Howie Roseman’s style.
How the NFL Draft shakes out can substantially influence a player’s fantasy projections, and despite being in a tier of his own in rookie dynasty drafts, Bijan is no exception for having his 2023 outlook in redraft formats monitored depending on which NFL team lands him.
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