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Can Bijan Robinson Be the RB1 Overall in 2023?

Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson is one of the best prospects in recent memory, but can he be the RB1 in fantasy football?
Bijan Robinson Fantasy Football

Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson has yet to play a snap of football against NFL competition, but he’s already one of the top picks in any fantasy football format. The Houston product is arguably the most talented dual-threat back to enter the NFL since Ladanian Tomlinson, but are fans and analysts alike getting carried away with offseason hype?

Bijan Robinson 2023 Fantasy Football Outlook

Bijan Robinson Himself

Before we project Bijan Robinson, we first need to talk about why the fantasy football community is so enamored with him in the first place. From both a film and analytics standpoint, Robinson is simply without peer. Just one look at any one of his games will tell you everything you need to know about his elite traits. He breaks tackles at an absurd rate, has the speed to outrun defenders, and looks like a natural wide receiver when running routes. Honestly, it’s hard to think of anything he can’t do well.

As mentioned earlier, the numbers tell a similar story. According to PlayerProfiler, Robinson finished with an 86th percentile college dominator, a 77th percentile target share, and a 102.3 athleticism score. He’s also an early declare and received top-10 draft capital, which officially checks off every box you could possibly hope for out of a running back prospect.

Now, it should go without saying that both film and analytics have blind spots. There is a chance that Bijan Robinson goes the way of Trent Richardson in fantasy football irrelevance. However, based on everything we know, there are only two recent running back prospects that can compare to Robinson.

Historical Precedence

Based solely on what they did in college, it’s safe to say that the three best running back prospects of the past 10 years are Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Bijan Robinson (order them however you like). Obviously, Elliott and Barkley were two of the best running backs in football at their peak, but were they able to make an impact right out of the gate?

In short, yes. Elliott entered the league as a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and quickly established himself as an elite fantasy football weapon. Starting and appearing in all 16 games, the running back recorded a league-leading 322 carries for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding an additional 32 receptions for 363 yards and a score through the air. This performance made him the RB2 in PPR leagues, behind only David Johnson’s herculean campaign.

Elliott’s debut was obviously fantastic, but Saquon Barkley was somehow even better. Starring on a terrible New York Giants team, the running back finished the season with 261 carries for 1,307 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with 91 receptions for 721 yards and four additional scores. Defenses knew he was getting the ball every single time, but that didn’t stop Barkley from finishing as the overall RB1 in 2018.

Bijan Robinson’s Fantasy Football Surroundings

So, now that we’ve established that elite running back prospects can put up insane finishes as rookies, it’s time to see if Robinson can follow in Elliott and Barkley’s footsteps. Atlanta’s backfield is wide open and, with all due respect to Tyler Allgeier, Robinson should be able to earn a three-down workload on Day 1.

Bijan Robinson is going to see the field early and often, and he should receive the ball at a high rate. While just about every other team in the league has embraced the aerial explosion, head coach Arthur Smith and the Atlanta Falcons are all about running the ball. Last year, the team finished with the lowest early-down pass frequency in football, and that’s not going to change now that they invested a top-10 pick in a running back.

There is a chance that some of that heavy rush rate had to do with Atlanta’s questionable quarterback situation. Fortunately for Bijan Robinson fantasy football managers, the Falcons have not done anything to improve their situation. After taking over as the starter in the final weeks of the season, Desmond Ridder figures to be the primary starter for the 2023 Atlanta Falcons. The jury is still out on whether or not he can be a franchise quarterback, but it’s safe to assume that Arthur Smith will want to protect him as much as possible. The best way to protect an inexperienced passer is to build a strong ground game, so Robinson will likely be the focal point of this offense.

Ultimately, despite being a rookie, Bijan Robinson has as good a chance as any to finish as the overall RB1. He is behind only Christian McCaffrey in my running back rankings and, barring injury, he should dominate opposing defenses week in and week out.

Main Photo: Dale Zanine – USA Today Sports


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