Mock draft watch: Lions beat writers show love for Texas RB Bijan Robinson at 18
The NFL draft cycle is entering the scouting combine mode. The annual extravaganza winds up producing a small lull in the mock draft production, what with loads of new information being absorbed by those of us who write them and are down in Indianapolis for the week.
That leads to a flurry of pre-combine mock drafts. Two recent mock drafts concocted by a couple of Lions beat writers both chose the same option for Detroit with the No. 18 pick:
Texas running back Bijan Robinson.
The latest mock drafts from Dave Birkett at the Detroit Free Press and Colton Pouncey of The Athletic each include Robinson to the Lions at the No, 18 overall pick. They both also (smartly) acknowledge that using a premium pick on a running back probably won’t be popular with the Lions fan base. Or, as Birkett notes,
Oh, man, I can see the angry emails already. A running back? In Round 1? Well, Robinson is a top-10 talent in this draft, and if the Lions are serious about continuing to give Jared Goff all the weapons he needs to succeed, Robinson could be their Todd Gurley.
And that’s the thing about Robinson. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any seasoned NFL draft evaluator that doesn’t include Robinson as one of the few potentially elite talents in this 2023 draft class. Robinson’s blend of speed, size, balance and eye-popping moves will have him in the top five of most big boards in terms of talent and next-level impact potential.
Yet taking a running back in the first round is a modern NFL anathema. None were taken in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft. The last running back selected in the top 20 overall was Saquon Barkley back in 2018.
That doesn’t dissuade Pouncey, who made his picks as part of The Athletic’s mock draft from all of its team beat writers.
That sound you’re hearing is Draft Twitter furiously typing away to tell me how dumb it is to take a running back in the first round. The problem? I don’t really care. Bijan Robinson is the best prospect to come out in years and a top-five talent in this class. What he brings as both a runner (104 missed tackles forced in 2022) and a pass catcher is special. He has a chance to take an already good Lions offense and turn it into an elite one. The idea of Jameson Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Robinson and this offensive line in the same offense is downright scary — and makes life easier for Jared Goff.
I understand the sentiment. Robinson is an outstanding prospect and would indeed fit very well into Detroit’s potent offense.
Yet I struggle with the idea of burning a premium pick on any RB, even one as great as Robinson. The difference between what Robinson offers at 18 and what someone like Jahmyr Gibbs from Alabama offers later in the first with a potential trade down, or what Sean Tucker from Syracuse or Zach Charbonnet from UCLA or Tank Bigsby from Auburn can offer a little later in the draft is negligible compared to the dropoff at positions like safety or wide receiver or defensive line. It’s a luxury that I’m not ready to say the Lions can afford just yet. I don’t hate the idea and I certainly like the player, but I’m just not there with the Lions taking Bijan Robinson in the first round.