April 15, 2023

Should the Eagles go all in on RB Bijan Robinson? – Philadelphia Eagles Blog

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PHILADELPHIA — One working theory leading into the 2023 NFL draft is that the Philadelphia Eagles should go all in on offense by drafting star Texas running back Bijan Robinson in the first round.

The reasoning goes like this: There’s no way the defense is going to be as good after losing a pair of starting safeties and linebackers in free agency, along with standout defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Philly’s best chance of making it back to the Super Bowl, therefore, is by fielding an offensive juggernaut that can carry the day.

Most of the pieces are in place. The Eagles have quarterback Jalen Hurts, receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, tight end Dallas Goedert, and arguably the best offensive line in football. Imagine inserting Robinson — one of the top running back prospects in recent memory — into that lineup? It would be difficult to find good answers on how to try and stop them.

The Eagles hold the 10th and 30th overall picks. Will Robinson be in play? Let’s break it down:

The case for Robinson

Look no further than Super Bowl LVII for why teams should heavily prioritize the offensive side of the ball. Philadelphia led the league in pass defense (179.8 yards per game) and finished the regular season with the third-most sacks all-time (70), but it was unable to slow down Patrick Mahomes and Co. when it mattered in a 38-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“Offenses dominate in this league, and that’s why we’ve always focused more resource allocation on making sure we have an outstanding offense, because it’s very hard to stop — I’ll add Jalen to this list — the Jalen Hurts, the Patrick Mahomes, the Josh Allens, the Joe Burrows, the young guns and the old guns, Aaron Rodgers and all of that group,” Eagles CEO Jeffrey Lurie said at league meetings in late March. “It’s impossible, given the rules of this league.”

The Eagles were strong in their own right on offense last season. Led by Hurts, an MVP candidate, they finished third in points per game (28.1) and total yards (389.1 avg.), behind only the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills.

Robinson would add another dimension to an already potent attack. Showing a rare combination of speed, agility, power and patience, he led the Big 12 in rushing yards (1,580) and rushing touchdowns (18) while contributing as a receiver with 19 catches for 314 yards (16.5 avg.) last season en route to winning the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top back.

He is ranked ninth on Mel Kiper’s Big Board and is No. 4 in Todd McShay’s list of the top 32 prospects.

“Everybody says that Bijan Robinson is not only the best running back in this class, he is one of the five best players in this class,” former Eagles scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said heading into the scouting combine. “He is elite.”

Robinson would leap immediately into a starting role in Philadelphia, replacing a departed Miles Sanders, who signed a four-year, $25.4 million with the Carolina Panthers in March after setting personal highs in rushing yards (1,269) and touchdowns (11) in 2022. Given the strength of the O-line and Hurts’ ability to keep defenses honest as a running threat in his own right, it’s easy to envision Robinson tearing it up as a rookie and helping to position the Eagles once again at the top of the NFC. It should also be noted that Hurts and Robinson are repped by the same agent: Nicole Lynn.

The case against it

As tempting as this all sounds, drafting a running back high has proven to be a risky proposition.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell recently explored the topic of hit rates for running backs, defined by whether first-round backs had their fifth-year options picked up or signed an extension before their team had to make a decision. From 2011-19, just five of the 13 first-round running backs garnered a fifth-year option or a contract extension before their fourth season began. That’s a 38.5% success rate, the worst of any position and well below the overall rate of 62% for first-rounders over that stretch.

Using a top pick on Robinson would represent a major shift by the Eagles, who haven’t selected a running back in the first round since 1986 (Keith Byars). Running back is well down the list of priority positions within the organization. Year after year, Philadelphia has shown it believes in investing in quarterback and the trenches above all else. Former Eagles coach Andy Reid once said“I want two offensive tackles, a quarterback, two pass rushers, two corners, and I’ll figure the rest out”, and the team has stayed pretty true to that philosophy, though interior linemen have grown in importance.

And it’s worked. The Super Bowl-winning backfield in 2017 was pieced together over the course of the season. They signed Corey Clement as an undrafted free agent, inked veteran LeGarrette Blount to a one-year contract in May, and acquired Jay Ajayi from the Miami Dolphins at the trade deadline.

This past season, the Eagles allocated just over $5 million to the running back position — 15th most in the NFL, per Spotrac — and finished fifth overall in rushing (147.6 yards per game). They’re projected to be 24th in running back cap dollars this year ($6.1 million) with a group that includes Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott and the recently signed Rashaad Penny, who has dealt with a number of injuries over his career but has shined when healthy.

“We feel really good about the room as it is right now,” coach Nick Sirianni said. “Love the addition of Rashaad and have wanted to coach him for a long time.”

With Hurts expected to sign a deal that could come in at around $50 million per season in the near future, this would be an odd time to alter the formula and shift more dollars to running back. The 10th overall pick is slated to land a four-year, $22 million deal for an average of $5.5 million per season.

What will they do?

The Eagles have been tempted by top-flight running backs in the past. They were heavily linked to Christian McCaffrey in the lead-up to the 2017 draft, but he was taken by the Panthers at 8 before Philly got on the clock.

With a bevy of quarterbacks expected to go early, talent will be pushed down the board this year. Couple that with the fact that the running back position has been devalued across the league, there’s a good chance Robinson could fall to the Eagles at 10 — or maybe lower if Roseman trades away the pick.

Odds are, they won’t take him. This management group has been pretty predictable when it comes to drafting habits. If the grades are close between two players or a group of players, they’re going with the positions they value — namely, offensive and defensive line — just about every time. As good as Robinson is, it’s unlikely the Eagles would pass on a high-ceiling player at a premium position — edge rushers like Tyree Wilson, Myles Murphy and Nolan Smith are projected to go off the board in this range, for example — given the high demand and low supply of difference-makers at those spots league-wide.

It’s unlikely the gap between Robinson and the rest of the available players would be wide enough at 10 for the Eagles to go against the grain.

Pick 30 could be an entirely different story. If Robinson drops due to how the running back position is viewed across the league, there’s a real chance his value would stand head and shoulders above the remaining field. When teams are faced with either walking away with an instant-impact player with Pro Bowl potential or a borderline starter, even the most heavily-weighted draft boards start skewing in favor of the former.

That’s the most probable scenario in which Robinson lands in Philadelphia, where he’d arguably have the best chance to take the NFL by storm.

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