How much better would the Los Angeles Rams be this season if Matthew Stafford was playing with the best running back in the NFL? If the Rams had Saquon Barkley or Derrick Henry or Nick Chubb or Josh Jacobs, could they be in contention for a wild card spot even despite all the injuries to the offensive line?
Perhaps no player outside of an elite quarterback could truly “save” a team in a dire situation like this one, but that doesn’t mean that the Rams couldn’t have a new and improved identity with a monumental upgrade to Cam Akers at running back.
One such upgrade would be Texas running back Bijan Robinson and only because we are living in an era of running back devaluation is he even a realistic option for the Los Angeles Rams in the 2023 draft. With a high second round pick, a hole in the backfield, and an aggressive general manager who once picked Todd Gurley 10th overall, the Rams certainly qualify as a team that could make a play for the best running back prospect since Barkley in 2018.
Who is he and what does he do?
Only a month ago, when the playoffs didn’t seem so far off and distant, the Rams were connected to rumors for Christian McCaffrey. Supposedly willing to sacrifice a second, third, fourth, and fifth round pick for him.
Robinson is younger, healthier, and could potentially do a lot more for L.A., plus he might not even cost as much as that offer.
Bijan Robinson final regular season stats:— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) November 25, 2022
• 229 attempts
• 1,401 yards (1st in Big 12)
• 16 TD (1st in Big 12)
• 314 receiving yards (1st among Big 12 RB’s)
• 2 receiving TD’s
The Longhorns RB is going to be a PROBLEM in the NFL pic.twitter.com/dAwyAm5ySJ
A five-star recruit in 2020, Robinson has out-played the hype at Texas. Compare his career stats to another Texas running back:
Bijan Robinson: 539 carries, 3,410 yards, 33 TD, 6.3 YPC
Jamaal Charles: 533 carries, 3,328 yards, 36 TD, 6.2 YPC
And Robinson has more career catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns at Texas than what Charles had. Robinson’s career YPC average is also higher than Texas legends like Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson, and Earl Campbell.
Bijan Robinson is an impressive athlete with ideal size and power for a traditional workhorse back. Has produced wherever he has played and looks like the kind of player who twenty years ago could be viewed as a likely number one overall pick. Given the current lack of demand for running backs in the NFL, especially as high selections it’s unlikely he’ll be a top ten selection but assuming he continues to play to form he’s not going to last past the 20th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Robinson’s instincts and natural running ability make him a dominant back. With incredible vision and feel, Robinson seems to be a step ahead of the defense, and that that leads to him making defenders look silly in their tackling attempts on a routine basis. Robinson has incredible cutting ability. He cuts in an instant, showing ridiculous change-of-direction ability. It is rare to see a big back who is so sudden in his movements to out-cut defensive backs and second-level defenders, but Robinson jukes and cuts by them with shocking ease. With his feel, Robinson can be a one-cut downhill zone rusher or function in a man-blocking scheme that can create on his own. Robinson has a superb jump cut that leaves defenders grasping at air. With his natural ability, Robinson is capable of carrying his offense and his team to a win.
In the past, I’ve written about how bountiful the 2023 free agent class could be at running back and the Rams could go that route. They could even try to get Barkley himself. But the Rams could also sign a running back and draft Robinson, those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Even Henry spent two years in tandem with DeMarco Murray.
What we know is that Sean McVay has to come back next season with a backfield better than Akers and Kyren Williams. L.A. can’t approach another season like he did the last few, expecting Akers, Darrell Henderson, or Sony Michel to create yards where there are no yards.
A player like Bijan Robinson would be working with a great degree of difficulty behind this Rams offensive line right now, but he’d also be more suited to create yards after and around contact than Akers, Williams, Henderson, etc.
What would it take for Les Snead to end the draft with Bijan Robinson? Probably a trade up into the first round.
The Rams seem headed for a pick between 33 and 36 in the second round. Robinson might end up getting drafted around the 15th-25th pick. Najee Harris went 24th, as did Josh Jacobs. It only takes one overzealous GM, same as Snead and Gurley in 2015, to be in love with Robinson and take him in the top-20 picks.
This year, the Chiefs wanted Trent McDuffie in the draft and they traded picks 29, 94, and 121 to the Patriots for pick 21 so that they could secure his rights. If the Rams have pick 33 and they want to go to pick 20 because Robinson has fallen that far, they might need to get creative. Because the Rams don’t have their own fourth round pick.
It could cost picks 33 and ~65 (their own third round pick), if not a little more. L.A. is not expected to get a compensatory pick higher than the fifth round.
However, Snead was reportedly willing to deal his second and third round picks for a running back already. This running back is younger, cheaper, and healthier.
The Rams and drafting the first running back in the entire class: Is it time to go back to an old classic? Or does L.A. have greater needs than trying to boost the engine for a classic car that’s out of style?