NFL Teams Most Likely to Make Texas' Bijan Robinson a 1st-Round Pick in 2023

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2023

NFL Teams Most Likely to Make Texas' Bijan Robinson a 1st-Round Pick in 2023

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    Texas RB Bijan Robinson
    Texas RB Bijan RobinsonAdam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    With the NFL season nearing its end, a lot of fans (and franchises) are already looking ahead to the 2023 draft. Quarterbacks and blue-chip defenders, such as Alabama's Will Anderson Jr., will get a lot of the predraft attention.

    However, one player figures to be a complete wild card between now and the end of the draft's opening night. We're talking about Texas running back Bijan Robinson, the fourth-ranked prospect on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's latest big board and perhaps the best incoming back since Saquon Barkley entered the league in 2018.

    The entire conversation around first-round running backs is intriguing. Quality backs such as Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb and Alvin Kamara were found on Day 2, and recent first-round picks Sony Michel and Clyde Edwards-Helaire have largely disappointed. Yet, teams regularly use first-round selections, sometimes high ones, on ball-carriers.

    While Jacobs, Edwards-Helaire and Najee Harris were taken near the bottom of Round 1 in recent years, Barkley, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott were all top-10 selections.

    This past draft was the first since 2014 in which a running back didn't go on opening night. Robinson will almost certainly resume the first-round trend, but he could go near the top of the order, near the bottom or anywhere in between.

    Here, we'll examine six teams for which taking Robinson in Round 1 would make the most sense and why. Teams are listed in projected draft order.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Cardinals QB Kyler Murray
    Cardinals QB Kyler MurrayCooper Neill/Getty Images

    Could Robinson be a top-two selection like Barkley? It's possible, but the top three teams in the draft order seem more likely to look elsewhere. The Houston Texans feel destined to use the No. 1 pick on either a quarterback or Anderson, the top-ranked player on the B/R board.

    The Chicago Bears will almost certainly snatch up Anderson at No. 2 if the Texans don't take him, and the Seattle Seahawks just used a second-round pick on blossoming running back Ken Walker III.

    However, Robinson's ceiling could rest with the Arizona Cardinals at No. 4. Arizona has a solid starting back in James Conner, who has 782 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards and eight touchdowns entering Week 18. However, he doesn't possess Robinson's elite potential.

    "Robinson checks just about every box for an elite running back prospect," Derrik Klassen of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "He should step in right away and be able to carry the workload for a rushing offense, as well as contribute in the passing game. Robinson has the potential to be a multi-time Pro Bowler and one of the better backs in the NFL."

    Arizona has a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in Kyler Murray, but he's recovering from a torn ACL and probably won't be ready for the start of the 2023 campaign.

    Robinson could help the Cardinals navigate the early season sans Murray and would pair with Arizona's quarterback once he's healthy to give the team one of the NFL's most dangerous backfields.

Detroit Lions

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    Lions QB Jared Goff
    Lions QB Jared GoffNic Antaya/Getty Images

    The Indianapolis Colts have Jonathan Taylor and aren't taking Robinson with the fifth pick. However, the Detroit Lions could be in play at No. 6—a selection owed to Detroit by the Los Angeles Rams from the Matthew Stafford trade.

    The Lions' third-ranked offense has been spectacular this season, and Jared Goff has played the role of reliable starting quarterback to perfection. However, Detroit is set to lose a major piece of the offensive puzzle in free agency.

    Jamaal Williams, who has been the hard-running complement to D'Andre Swift, is scheduled to hit the market in March. He rushed for 994 yards and 4.0 yards per carry and leads the league with 15 rushing touchdowns.

    Swift has been a solid dual-threat back for Detroit, but he hasn't proved capable of filling the featured role. He's also slated to be a free agent in 2024.

    With Detroit set to lose both Williams and Swift over the next two seasons, adding Robinson would make plenty of sense. He'd be the Lions' new backfield star, and alongside receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and 2022 first-round pick Jameson Williams, he'd potentially give Goff three elite weapons with which to work.

    Admittedly, Detroit feels more likely to address its 32nd-ranked defense at No. 6, but this is a possible pairing. And with Detroit also holding its own first-round pick (currently No. 17), the Lions could pass at No. 6 and still take Robinson in the middle of Round 1.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Eagles QB Jalen Hurts
    Eagles QB Jalen HurtsMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Eagles feature the league's fifth-ranked rushing attack, and they have a Pro Bowler in Miles Sanders. Why would they consider Robinson in the first round?

    It largely comes down to money.

    Dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts has been a big piece of the rushing puzzle in Philadelphia, and he'll be extension-eligible this offseason. With Hurts playing at an All-Pro level (104.6 passer rating, 747 rushing yards, 35 combined passing and rushing touchdowns), he's likely earned a new deal.

    The Eagles, though, are projected to have just $10.5 million in cap space next season. Even if they let Hurts play out the final year of his rookie deal, keeping Sanders could be problematic.

    The fourth-year running back will be a free agent in March, and he has a projected market value of $7.2 million annually. That's an awful lot for a back with one 1,000-yard season—especially when the Eagles also have impending free agents such as James Bradberry, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Brandon Graham and Javon Hargrave to consider.

    Getting Robinson on a rookie contract would be tremendous for a Philadelphia team trying to keep its championship-caliber roster together. The Eagles could have two chances to make that happen.

    Philadelphia holds the 10th pick thanks to last year's trade with the New Orleans Saints. With few glaring needs on the roster (before free agency, anyway), using that pick to replace Sanders would be entirely logical.

    The Eagles also have their own first-round pick, which will fall in the bottom 14 since they're a playoff team. If Robinson is available at their second selection, taking him there would make even more sense.

Houston Texans

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    Texans RB Dameon Pierce
    Texans RB Dameon PiercePeter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Texans taking Robinson at No. 1 overall would be one of the biggest draft stunners in recent memory. However, seeing Houston use the 12th pick on the 20-year-old wouldn't be surprising at all.

    The Cleveland Browns owe Houston the selection from the Deshaun Watson trade.

    Now, if the Texans do use the first pick on Anderson, there's a good chance that they'll take a quarterback with their second opening-round selection. Signal-callers C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young and Anthony Richardson all have first-round potential, and Houston must find its quarterback of the future.

    If the Texans take their pick of QB prospects at No. 1, pairing him with Robinson would be a great way to build a foundation. The rival Jacksonville Jaguars took a similar approach when they selected Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne Jr. in the first round of the 2021 draft—though, to be fair, Lawrence and Etienne were also teammates at Clemson.

    Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce (939 rushing yards) has shown promise this season. However, he fell off in the few games before he suffered an ankle injury in Week 14.

    Johnson reached four yards per carry only once in his last four games, and with 30 catches for only 165 yards, he also isn't the sort of dynamic receiver that Robinson can be.

    "He has soft, natural hands and can run more than just the typical checkdown routes expected of a running back," Klassen wrote. "Robinson flashed the ability to get vertical, particularly against Alabama, and still has some potential left untapped for the pro level."

    Having Robinson would make a rookie quarterback's job in Houston a whole lot easier.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
    Buccaneers QB Tom BradyCliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an 8-8 record, but they're also playoff-bound as NFC South division champions. This means Tampa will pick somewhere in the bottom half of Round 1.

    Robinson would make a ton of sense for the Bucs in that range, with a caveat. This pairing would work best if impending free-agent quarterback Tom Brady chooses to play in Tampa for his age-46 season.

    Brady has long enjoyed utilizing his running backs in the passing game. That's been particularly true this season, as shaky offensive line play hasn't afforded him enough time to frequently attack downfield.

    Despite having pass-catchers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at his disposal, Brady has completed 72 passes to running back Leonard Fournette and 50 to Rachaad White. The tandem has been targeted 140 times.

    Neither back—Fournette and White have averaged 3.5 and 3.7 yards per carry, respectively—has been special in the ground game. Robinson could be, while still providing Brady with a go-to outlet receiver.

    While Fournette is under contract through 2024, the Buccaneers could save $5 million off the 2023 salary cap by releasing him with a post-June 1 designation. Robinson could pair with White to give Tampa a financially team-friendly backfield for multiple years.

    And Robinson would be an ideal runner/receiver to pair with Brady. His ability to run various routes and turn short passes into big gains would be a dangerous combination with the legendary QB running the offense.

    Even if Brady isn't back for 2023, Robinson could make sense for the Bucs. If the signal-caller walks, Tampa will likely turn to Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask or a rookie to be named. Having Robinson would do wonders for the Buccaneers' next quarterback too.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Bengals RB Joe Mixon
    Bengals RB Joe MixonIan Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals have a championship-caliber roster with few glaring weaknesses. One position they could improve, though, is running back.

    Joe Mixon is a quality starter, capable of handling volume carries and hauling in passes—he has 55 receptions and 1,187 scrimmage yards this season. Samaje Perine has been a fantastic backup and spot starter.

    However, Perine is set to be a free agent, and Mixon isn't exactly a home run hitter. Mixon has averaged just 4.0 yards per carry this season and has a mere eight broken tackles on rushes after logging 20 of them as a 2021 Pro Bowler. The longest run of Mixon's career is 51 yards, and that came in 2018.

    While Mixon is solid, Robinson could be special, and he'd be the sort of breakaway threat in the backfield that the Bengals don't have.

    "Robinson can hit his top speed almost instantly if he needs to and rarely loses any of that speed when he's turning the corner on perimeter runs like outside zone or pitch plays," Klassen wrote.

    Cincinnati's offense is plenty potent, but partnering Robinson with Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd could make it nearly indefensible.

    Money could come into play for the playoff-bound Bengals as well.

    Burrow will be eligible for an extension this offseason. While the Bengals have $47.9 million in projected 2023 cap space, their wiggle room will shrink significantly once his extension kicks in, and it's hard to envision Mixon as a part of the club's future.

    He is due to a carry cap hit of $12.9 million in 2023, and Cincinnati could save $10.1 million of that by releasing him with a post-June 1 designation. The Bengals have a team option for 2024.

    Robinson would be a huge asset on the field, and with a rookie contract, he's one Cincinnati could have in place for several seasons.


    Cap, contract and market information via Spotrac.

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