The expectations are sub-orbital for Bijan Robinson. For one, he’s a top ten pick at running back at a time where the debates over the fungibility of elite backs compared to just stocking your roster with late rounders and free agent pickups run rampant, meaning the Falcons have to make the most of his talent. For another, he’s a phenomenal player the team is talking up as a runner and receiver, and even those who disliked the pick seem to agree that there’s little danger of Robinson being anything less than one of the NFL’s more dangerous weapons.
That’s why it’s little surprise to see Robinson emerging as an early favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. From a panel of experts and analysts at NFL Network, 26 of 34 panelists selected Robinson as the obvious choice for the honor, with longtime league reporter Judy Battista summing it up nicely:
The Falcons ran the ball quite often last season — finishing third in rushing yards — and that was before they spent a top-10 pick on a back, so there is no reason to think they will abandon that strategy now that they can line up Robinson behind one of the game’s better offensive lines. Combine that with Robinson’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and beat defenders in space, and the new face of the Falcons will be the first running back to win this award since Saquon Barkley in 2018.
The reasons to believe in Robinson for the role are myriad, but the reasoning Battista cites is as sound as any. Arthur Smith and this offense turned a quality and dependable but not superlative back in Tyler Allgeier into a 1,000 yard rusher in 2022, and Allgeier is still here to spell Robinson whenever needed, allowing the Falcons to use the rookie in high-leverage situations. They have vowed to line him up out wide and in the slot when they can, and the team’s excellent run blocking should open up the kind of holes that a lesser back could turn into 10 yards and Robinson might turn into 30. Given how fast, elusive, strong, and savvy Robinson is with the ball in his hands, I wouldn’t want to bet against him being the league’s best rookie on this side of the ball.
The greatest threat for Robinson for this particular honor will definitely be a trio of rookie quarterbacks, with Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson, or C.J. Stroud potentially catching fire and running away with an award that has traditionally been easy for quarterbacks to win. However, Young isn’t stepping into the most gifted offense in the world, Stroud definitely isn’t, and Richardson isn’t necessarily being set up to succeed right now with a thin, top-heavy receiving corps and no Jonathan Taylor. There’s little question that Robinson is in the situation with the best chance of maximizing his talent and production in 2023.
The hype for him has been out of control for good reason, and assuming good health and smart usage, the Offensive Rookie of the Year award should be well within his grasp. More importantly, if Robinson’s as good as everyone seems to believe he can be, the Falcons should be very hard to stop in 2023.