Early 2023 NFL Draft Running Back Rankings: Familiar Face At 1

Bijan Robinson, 2023 NFL Mock Draft. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Bijan Robinson, 2023 NFL Mock Draft. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /
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An early top five of the running back class in the 2023 NFL Draft features a name many have been ready to talk about for some time.

The modern NFL is heavily focused on the passing game. Of the teams that finished in the top ten in team passing yards, only two failed to make the playoffs. NFL teams understandably feel like they need to be able to throw to pick up chunk plays and convert third downs, and there’s some validity to that. But there’s still something to be said for teams that can run the football.

Being able to run the ball in the modern NFL sets up play-action passes where the offense fakes a handoff to the running back and the quarterback drops back to pass. Running the ball effectively also helps hold the linebackers in any run-pass-option concepts. Having a stout offensive line bolsters the running game but having a stud running back is a game-changer. Running backs who can run between the tackles and are skilled enough to catch passes out of the backfield are still valuable commodities despite teams’ growing reluctance to use high draft picks on them.

In the last five NFL Drafts, there have only been seven running backs picked in the first round and only one of them got picked in the top 20 (Saquon Barkley went second overall to the New York Giants in 2018). The running backs in the 2023 NFL Draft class have a chance to be impact players right away. There’s a mix of production and traits that should catch the attention of 2023 NFL Draft scouts this fall. Obviously it’s early and things will change rapidly throughout the season, but let’s take a look at the running back class for the 2023 NFL Draft, ranked from 1 to 5.

1. Bijan Robinson, Texas

Going into each college football season, it’s rare that a player sits definitively atop his position group. But Texas’s Bijan Robinson is the clear-cut number one running back going into the 2022 college football season and 2023 NFL Draft. After averaging 8.2 yards per carry his freshman year, Robinson performed even better last season on his way to first-team All-Big 12 honors. The 6’0” 221-pound running back ran for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 25 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns.

Robinson has shown a nice blend of power and speed. According to Pro Football Focus, Bijan Robinson was third in the nation in forced missed tackles last year with 79. He’s demonstrated elite short-area burst while getting up to and through the hole. Robinson has terrific contact balance, as he’s often able to bounce off of tacklers and keep on trucking for extra yardage. His agility is underrated and better than you might expect. He can make defenders miss in a phone booth, and more than once on film I saw him plant his foot in the ground and send defenders flying past him.

The best running backs have great vision, and Bijan Robinson has shown that as well. If he gets stacked up at the line of scrimmage, he’ll simply bounce it outside or cut back against the grain. Many of his chunk plays on film were instances of Robinson making great individual plays: a stiff arm here, a cut back there, a few broken tackles, or a burst of acceleration to the outside. Scouting reports claim he doesn’t have incredible top-end speed and project him to run about a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash.

But from what I saw he never got caught from behind and his ability to accelerate and get up to top speed quickly was unparalleled. Bijan Robinson is the total package. He’s got power, speed, and receiving skills, and for those reasons he’s the top running back in the 2023 NFL Draft class.