ssOn Thursday, one of the most ignominious droughts for the Texas Longhorns will come to an end in Kansas City when running back Bijan Robinson is selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
In addition to failing to produce a first-round draft pick since 2015 when defensive tackle Malcom Brown was selected at No. 32 by the New England Patriots, the Longhorns haven’t had an offensive player picked in the first round since the Tennessee Titans took Vince Young with the third pick of the 2006 NFL Draft. It’s the longest such drought in school history.
Landing Robinson in the 2020 recruiting class was no easy task for the Longhorns — the Tuscon (Ariz.) Salpointe Catholic product was one of the most coveted players in the country, finishing the cycle as the No. 1 running back and the No. 15 player nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Robinson took official visits to Ohio State and USC in addition to the Forty Acres and even silently committed to the Buckeyes during the summer before his senior season. But a fortuitous phone call between Robinson and then-Texas running backs coach Stan Drayton convinced the star running back that his future was in Austin. And despite a disappointing 8-5 season for the Horns, Robinson never wavered with his pledge.
Robinson arrived at Texas as a summer enrollee following a high school career that saw him rack up 7,036 rushing yards and 114 rushing touchdowns, both Arizona state records. An injury suffered on a failed hurdle against Texas Tech early in the 2020 season set Robinson back as a true freshman in addition to a running back room that also included Keontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson. But Robinson’s talent was always bound to break out and he recorded his first 100-yard performance on only 12 carries against West Virginia before two sensational games to finish the season — a nine-carry, 172-yard performance with three touchdowns against Kansas State and a 10-carry, 183-yard performance with one rushing touchdown and two receiving touchdowns in the Alamo Bowl against Colorado.
The outburst in San Antonio was the best rushing performance by a Big 12 freshman in conference history to cap a season that featured Robinson averaging 8.97 yards per touch and saw him become the first freshman to lead the Longhorns in all-purpose yards since Cedric Benson in 2001.
As a sophomore, Robinson became the full-time starter, rushing 197 times for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns with another four receiving touchdowns, earning first-team All-Big 12 recognition in the process. Robinson finished third in the conference in scoring (nine points per game) and in total touchdowns (15). In a hard-fought win over TCU, Robinson flashed his upside in registering a career-high 216 rushing yards on 35 carries with two touchdowns.
The 2022 Doak Walker Award winner as the nation’s best running back, Robinson was the national leader in tandem yards with 1,894 (1,580 rushing, 314 receiving) and second in total touchdowns (20) while averaging a Big 12-best 131.7 rushing yards and 157.8 all-purpose yards per game. Over the last 10 games of the season, Robinson tallied nine 100-yard rushing performances, including two games over 200 yards, and scored touchdowns in nine of the 12 games for the Longhorns. A consistent big-play producer for the Longhorns, Robinson had 18 plays of 20-plus yards in 2022 (11 rushing, seven receiving), including runs of 78, 42, 41, 40, 36, and 31 yards.
During Robinson’s three seasons on the Forty Acres, he cemented himself as one of the best running backs in school history, ranking fourth on the all-time Texas rushing list with 3,410 yards trailing only Williams (6,279), Benson (5,540), and Heisman Trophy-winner Earl Campbell (4,443). Robinson is also fourth in school history in total touchdowns (41, 33 rushing, eight receiving) and tandem yards (4,215), eighth in rushing touchdowns (33) and all-purpose yards (4,231), and ninth in points scored (246).
As Robinson enters the NFL Draft, he’s considered a generational talent, arguably the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley or Adrian Peterson and perhaps the best athlete in the entire draft, assessments that will allow Robinson to overcome the modern NFL’s aversion to selecting running backs in the first round.
The lack of carries by Robinson in high school (527) and college (539) bolster Robinson was a prospect, but the glowing evaluations of him as a running back are about so much more than that.
In Relative Athletic Score, Robinson ranks in the 98th percentile thanks to his combination of size at 215 pounds and his testing numbers — a 37-inch vertical, a 10’4 broad jump, and a 4.46 40-yard dash.
Bijan Robinson is a RB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.83 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 29 out of 1634 RB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/hE37rdBCUi #RAS pic.twitter.com/3WUEcXZjBk— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 16, 2023
Robinson has game-breaking ability as a running back thanks to his ability to run between the tackles or bounce runs outside, where his elite contact balance and agility make him capable of breaking tackles. In addition to running with a low center of gravity, Robinson’s jump cut allows him to avoid defenders, but he’s also tough enough to finish runs with power. Robinson’s unique skill set as a runner made him difficult to bring down in the backfield — he showed a high-level knack for turning potential negative plays into positive gains.
As a receiver, Robinson adds value with his ability to catch balls out of the backfield or to split out as a wide receiver, where his route-running ability is strong enough to make him a difficult matchup for cornerbacks and matchup nightmare for linebackers. Robinson was known for having some of the strongest hands on the Texas team and showed the ability to go up and make contested catches outside of his frame.
Heading into Robinson’s junior season, he put a higher premium on improving as a pass protector and did make strides in that area, but the biggest area for improvement jumping to the NFL is becoming more decisive in the backfield and more willing to take short gains instead of regularly probing for home-run plays.
The final elements that make Robinson an elite prospect are his intelligence and character — he was a three-time member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll and was frequently referred to by Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian as a better person than player, praise that Robinson matched publicly through charity work in the community, acts like gifting Beat headphones to all of his teammates, and choosing to train for the draft in Austin in order to remain around the team this spring.
To put it simply, Robinson is the total package as a player and a person, ensuring that his immense ceiling is complemented by a remarkably high floor — he has future NFL star written all over him while carrying with him the virtual guarantee that he won’t derail his own future.
ESPN projects Robinson as the No. 21 pick to the San Diego Chargers.