Falcons view No. 8 draft pick Bijan Robinson as 'more than a RB'

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons have never been afraid to ignore conventional draft theory, and on Thursday night, they did it again.

The Falcons took running back Bijan Robinson from Texas with the eighth pick of the draft, the highest a running back has been taken in the draft since the New York Giants took Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft.

There might be questions about value, since running backs in the top 10 are a rarity in the modern NFL, but the Falcons and Robinson view it differently.

"Yeah, conventional wisdom, he's a lot more than a running back," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. "He's an impact football player."

Robinson entered the draft unsure of whether he would be taken in the first round, let alone the top 10. He just didn't know, even though he had a strong private workout with the Falcons that included a trip to a local BBQ joint in Austin, Texas, where Smith saw Robinson's old Texas teammate, Falcons defensive lineman Ta'Quon Graham, eat the biggest rib he'd ever seen.

It was on that visit that the Falcons really got to understand Robinson and what he was about -- how he could help them on the field and off it. They ultimately took the idea of running back value and ignored it, like the team has done with other players and their perceived positional values in the past.

"I understand the running back position has been looked at as a less-than position, but for me it's a blessing that I can get these guys -- even that are in college now, running backs -- seen and looked at the right way," Robinson said. "And obviously for me, being a guy that can play running back, play receiver, be really versatile and to get an opportunity to do the same thing is definitely a blessing, and I'm happy to share with those guys as well."

Robinson demonstrated that at Texas, where he rushed for 3,410 yards and 33 rushing touchdowns in his career along with 60 catches for 805 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. That versatility appealed to Atlanta, which made him the first Texas player to be drafted in the top 10 since 2006, when quarterback Vince Young and safety Michael Huff went No. 3 and No. 7, respectively.

The Falcons' offense values positional flexibility -- almost all their skill position players can line up in multiple spots on the offense.

"Get unique with your personnel packages," Smith said. "You line up where it looks like 22 personnel, you line up where it looks like 10 personnel, get in the empty.

"So it allows you to put a lot of stress, even just pre-snap logistically as you're going onto the field the way we operate and play and we'll evolve."

Even though the Falcons drafted a running back and were a top-five rushing offense in the NFL, Smith said he is going to strive for more balance this year. Robinson provides an answer for that because he can be a slot receiver or a running back, something he tried to do more often his final year at Texas.

"I take pride in catching the football, too, as much as running the ball and blocking," Robinson said. "I think that if you're a complete player, it just makes the most sense."

Under Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot, the Falcons have used their past three first-round picks on a skill position player. Before Robinson this year, they took tight end Kyle Pitts in 2021 and wide receiver Drake London last year. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, only two other teams since 2000 have taken a running back, wide receiver or tight end in three consecutive drafts: the Jaguars in 2004-06 and the Detroit Lions in 2003-05.

Robinson's versatility and talent made him attractive enough for Atlanta to bypass defensive players at positions of potential need, including Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez and Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who were still available at No. 8.

When asked about choosing Robinson over Gonzalez or Carter, Smith said there are "a lot of talented players" in the draft, but it was clear the Falcons have a plan for how they want to use their talented new running back.

"You talk about positionless football," Fontenot said. "The versatility, the impact that he's going to make for us. We're extremely excited."