Bijan Robinson will be over-drafted, and the Green Bay Packers should not be the team doing that drafting. Some teams will jump to draft Bijan Robinson in the first round, Running Backs, in general, is a position that gets over-valued. Robinson is just the latest version of this phenomenon.
Avoid Bijan Robinson in the First Round
This has been a hotly contested matter among Packers writers.
3. Running back talent is far more consistent throughout the draft. Aaron Jones being a prime example.
Running backs also have shorter shelf lives than other positions.
Measuring the relative contributions of each position by yards is also not a good way to do it.
— BadgerNoonan (@BadgerNoonan) April 18, 2023
Getting directly to the point, Paul Noonan is exactly right.
Avoid Early Running Backs
One of the first things to review is the usage of Robinson and the team around him. Roschon Johnson is also coming out in this Draft. Bijan was clearly the lead back, getting 258 carries to Johnson’s 93, but the comparison is pretty stable. Robinson averaged 6.1 yards per carry, and Johnson countered with 6.0 yards per carry.
Passing favored Robinson, but not to a huge extent. Robinson caught 19 passes and Johnson had 14. Robins had a considerable edge in yards per catch (16.5 compared to 9.1), but the sample size was rather small. Overall, Robinson averaged 6.8 yards to touch, and Johnson had 6.4. Considering Robinson out-touched Johnson 277 to 107 (meaning Johnson had just 27.8% of the total volume), the 20-to-67 touchdown difference is basically nothing. That would mean at 27.8% of the total touched, Johnson accounted for 23.1% of the touchdowns.
I reviewed back over the Running Backs drafted in 2017. There have been nine first-round Running Backs in that time. They have been, generally, fairly productive. So far, only Josh Jacobs and Najeh Harris have managed to be the leading rushers in their respective classes.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been out-rushed by D’Andre Swift (second round), Jonathan Taylor (second round), A.J. Dillon (second Round), and Antonio Gibson (third round). Other players in the 2020 draft, like Cam Akers and J.K. Dobbins, have similar numbers when adjusted for volume.
Saquon Barkley has put up some great numbers. Still, Nick Chubb is a second-round back who has over 2,000 yards more. That 2018 draft also saw the Seattle Seahawks reach for Rashaad Penny and the New England Patriots pick Sony Michel. Both were nice players who were relegated to roles behind stronger Running Backs.
2017 Draft Class Example
Even a strong first round class in 2017 does not support the early pick. Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery both went in the first round and have put up significant numbers. McCaffery has 60 touchdowns to date. McCaffery has 8,482 total yards on 1,467 touches (5.78 yards/touch). Yet, fifth-round selection Aaron Jones has 7,127 yards on 1,277 touches (5.58 yards/touch). Jones has also matched McCaffery’s 60 touchdowns. Both fall short of third-round selection Alvin Kamara.
The 2017 draft had top-end talent in the first round. Still, the second round featured Dalvin Cook. Cook leads all 2017 Running Backs in rushing yards to date. Cincinnati Bengals also found Joe Mixon in the second round that year.
The third round was led by Kamara. Kamara leads all Running Backs in this class in touchdowns and total yards. Additionally, Kareem Hunt, D’Onta Foreman, and James Connor were still available in the third round.
One other notable name is Chris Carson. He has been very effective back in the NFL and was not selected until the seventh round. Contrast this against Penny getting selected in the first round by the same team, just one year later.
B.V.A. over B.P.A.
“BPA” (Best Player Available) has been a commonly used term in NFL Draft coverage over the last few years. Teams throw this term around as if they are always just seeking the “best players” at any point regardless of needs.
The reality of the situation is teams need to focus on the Best Value Available. When you can get Running Backs up and down the board but Offensive Tackles are at a premium, then the value matters. Drafting Bijan Robinson in the first round does not provide the sort of value that waiting does.
Using 2017 as an example, the Packers traded out of the first round and got Kevin King, and added Aaron Jones in the fifth round. The Panthers selected McCaffery with the eighth overall pick and then got Cornerback Corn Elder in the fifth. Corn Elder lasted four years and started one game. Say what you will about Kevin King, but the Packers got better value.
Even compared to the Jacksonville Jaguars selection of Leonard Fournette fourth overall. Jacksonville ended up selecting Blair Brown in the fifth round. He started two game and was cut after two seasons. The value of Running Backs is not tied to overall production but to the relative production of waiting.
Cornerback is a position where drafting early matters. The 2017 draft is a key example of this same phenomenon. High-end talent in the first round. Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, Adoree Jackson, and Tre’Davious White were all first-round picks that year. The second round dropped off to names like Kevin King, Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor.
In the fourth round and beyond, there are only two players who have managed to play in 70 games or more. Those players are Demontae Kazee and Jamal Agnew.
This situation is very similar among Edge Rushers.
Stop the Running Back Madness
Bijan Robinson is really good. This is not a critique of his talent so much as a critique of the draft principle. The 2019 Raiders (then in Oakland), could have taken Deebo Samuel, Marquise Brown, or Montez Sweat in the first round and still grabbed Devin Singletary, David Montgomery, or Tony Pollard later. The 2018 New York Giants could have drafted Josh Allen, Roquan Smith, or Quenton Nelson in the first round and still draft Nick Chubb in the second round.
If the Packers select Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Paris Johnson Jr., or Myles Murphy in the first round, they can still get a valuable Running Back later. Roschon Johnson will be around yet. Players like Eric Gray or DeWayne McBride also give considerable value in the following rounds. There are other, more valuable positions of need.
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