The Atlanta Falcons will be on the clock in a few short days, and to this point, it has been difficult to get a read on where they’ll go with the No. 8 pick. They have so many avenues available to them with most of their needs addressed in free agency—at least with passable options—and so many options likely to be available that chaos has reigned.
Is that changing in the final days before the 2023 NFL Draft? The past couple of years, it seemed that some insiders had a pretty good bead on what the Falcons wanted to do, with Peter King in particular correctly predicting both the Kyle Pitts and Drake London picks in his final mock drafts. Now ProFootballTalk’s King and Sports Illustrated reporter Albert Breer have both arrived at the same conclusion: That the Falcons love Bijan Robinson and he could very well be the pick, but the team would prefer to pick him later than 8th. While longtime mock draft guru Todd McShay thinks the team prefers Christian Gonzalez or Devon Witherspoon to Robinson, he too thinks they might move back.
8. ATLANTA: Bijan Robinson, running back, Texas.
This is too high to pick Robinson, of course. I do know the Falcons really want to trade down, and I do know they like Robinson (who doesn’t?) because he’s the best running back in the draft and has the rare ability to segue into receiver mode with great hands and strong slot capabilities. Of course they’d want to trade down, because taking Robinson at eight would be leaving draft capital on the table. But if they take Robinson, here or lower, imagine the investment in young offensive weapons if this comes true. Round one, fourth pick, 2021: tight end Kyle Pitts … Round one, eighth pick, 2022: wide receiver Drake London … Round one, eighth pick, 2023: running back/slot receiver Bijan Robinson. Add 1,000-yard rookie running back Tyler Allgeier from the fifth round in 2022, tight end Jonnu Smith in free agency this year, and maybe one more profitable year from runner/receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson and tell me—would there be a team in the NFC South that’s better in in-prime offensive weaponry than Atlanta?
And here’s Breer:
What you need to know: Robinson’s name has come up pretty consistently in connection to the Falcons, and it makes some sense, in how Arthur Smith built an imposing, dominant offense in Tennessee around a bell cow back, which allowed him to manage the quarterback spot a little differently. Trading for Jeff Okudah lessens the team’s need at corner a little, though Gonzalez could entice GM Terry Fontenot. And if you want a wild card, I’ve heard new Falcons DC Ryan Neilsen loves Wilson, seeing a little Cameron Jordan in his game (and the Saints system does favor bigger edge players). Along those lines, Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness is another I’ve heard would fit that mold for Atlanta. But … back on Robinson … is it possible he’d be the target after a trade down? Could be, since I’m told Fontenot has explored the idea of falling back a few slots. A team looking for, say, a tackle could conceivably come up.
It’s worth noting that there isn’t broad agreement on this, with plenty of mocks (like ESPN’s Matt Miller, who has Georgia pass rusher Nolan Smith going to Atlanta and also nailed Pitts and London in 2021 and 2022 late in the cycle) still focusing on other players. A quick check of the Falcons’ mock draft roundup shows Smith, Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson, Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, and Illinois corner Devon Witherspoon joining Robinson as popular picks, and chances are we won’t see a true consensus on this ahead of the draft Thursday night. There are simply too many possibilities for Atlanta and not enough leaks in that particular ship to assume we know with real confidence who they’ll take.
What makes Breer, King, and McShay’s takes worth mentioning beyond further confirmation that the Falcons do indeed like Robinson as much as widely suspected is the reporting that the team is looking to move down. That would make sense if the Falcons think they can get Robinson (or another really good player) a little later while picking up additional draft capital, which seems within the realm of the possibility if they move back a handful of spots. The team has thinned out the number of picks it has to make in 2023 with a handful of trades, so collecting more capital this year (and potentially next year, when they’re lining up to get a third or second round pick for Calvin Ridley) is a move that would be hard to quibble with.
Can they move down and still get Robinson? Chances are good that the answer is yes, but Chicago and Philadelphia are lurking as teams that could take a chance on a hyper-talented back to juice their offenses. Once you get past them, no team feels particularly likely until Tampa Bay at No. 19, so if the Falcons love Robinson and are confident the Bears and Eagles are going in a different direction, they’d probably be willing to skip down into the mid-teens. If not, and Robinson is the guy—something I still am not entirely convinced of, even if I do believe the team has legitimate interest—they may as well just take him at 8 and be done with it.
We’re going to find out just how much the Falcons love Robinson, as well as their interest in and ability to move down from No. 8. At the moment, there appears to be enough smoke here to suggest a fire, and while no outcome should be truly surprising, landing a top corner or Robinson with their top pick is starting to feel more and more likely. My guess is still Christian Gonzalez, but as is the case with everyone else, I’m left to guess a little longer.