Falcons’ Bijan Robinson says he plays “everywhere” at minicamp; why that probably won’t translate into games

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By Webdesk

When the Atlanta Falcons made former Texas running back Bijan Robinson the No. 8 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, they immediately rationalized the selection by stating that Robinson is not. just now a running back. They said he is also a receiving weapon and they plan to use him that way.

According to Robinson himself, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith moves him during rookie mini-camping and uses him in a number of different roles.

“He uses me everywhere from receiver to running,” Robinson told ESPN. “He lets me use my abilities and skills in the right way, whether it’s catching the ball, running routes, of course playing football, blocking and doing it all.”

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Robinson was considered the best and most complete running back prospect not only in this year’s class, but perhaps since Saquon Barkley. His versatility is part of his appeal, and the idea of ​​using him not only as a running player, but in the slot or even outside is an enticing one.

However, as we wrote after designwhile teams say all the time they want to use one or the other this way, they rarely follow up on the conversation:

Anyway, the idea is that Robinson and [Jahmyr] Gibbs are so versatile and so explosive that you don’t have to just play them in the backfield and give them the ball. You can throw them the ball and you can set them up anywhere — including in the slot or even wide. The problem there is, well, that’s just not really something that happens.

For example, according to Pro Football Focus, Robinson lined up just 32 snaps last season in Texas. That’s 2.7 snaps per game. Gibbs lined up significantly more often there, but even he only did it 90 times, or 7.5 snaps per game. You’d think their NFL teams would use them that way significantly more often, but the Falcons and Lions should drastically scale up the use of running backs in locations beyond the backfield from where it’s been in recent NFL history.

Since 2017, just three times has a running back in the slot or wide for at least 10 snaps per game: Christian McCaffrey in 2017, Tarik Cohen in 2019, and JD McKissic in 2020. That’s it. Cohen and McKissic were part-time players whose roles were almost exclusively about receiving, while that 2017 McCaffrey season was his rookie year before becoming Carolina’s full-time starter at running back. Even last season, when McCaffrey played under positionless football enthusiast Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, he totaled just 108 slot or wide snaps in 17 games (6.4 per game), leading all running backs in the entire league .

Unless the Falcons, Smith and Robinson start drastically changing the way running backs are used, it is likely that Robinson will spend almost all of his time in the backfield. And that makes sense, because he’s a running back. But if that reality comes true, it means that some of the rationale the Falcons used to select him in the top 10 was wrong.

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