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The best player in the NFL Draft? It's Bijan Robinson, say NFL scouts
"He’s an absolute freak show. There is a lot of Edgerrin James to this player." Also, inside: Who do the scouts view as their favorite player? Their answers may surprise you.
For the running backs, this might be the unkindest cut of all.
Bijan Robinson of Texas was voted the best player in the draft by a panel of personnel people but there’s almost no chance he’ll be the first selection of the draft. In fact, his name might not be called among the opening 10 choices; there’s no telling how long his wait will be.
In the last month, I polled 18 scouts and asked them for their choice as the best player in the draft regardless of position. Here were the results:
BEST PLAYER IN THE DRAFT REGARDLESS OF POSITION
6: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas.
4 ½: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia.
3: Will Anderson, edge rusher, Alabama.
2 ½: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama.
1: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State; Tyree Wilson, edge rusher, Texas Tech.
“He’s an absolute freak show,” an NFL personnel man said. “There is a lot of Edgerrin James to this player. Excellent lateral quickness and power. Balance through contact. Got hands. Top speed. Exceptional character. He’s a knock it out of the park kid.
“If you want a running back, he’s a top-10 pick. Top-5? Yeah, if you want him.”
Aside from the 1930s and 1940s, when passing was rather limited, the halcyon years for the position of running back was 1977-’81. In those five drafts, the No. 1 pick was a running back four times. Drafted No. 1 as so-called “franchise” backs were Ricky Bell by the Buccaneers in 1977, Earl Campbell by the Oilers in 1978, Billy Sims by the Lions in 1980 and George Rogers by the Redskins in 1981.
Since then, only two running backs have led off the draft: Bo Jackson by the Buccaneers in 1986 and Ki-Jana Carter by the Bengals in 1995.
Since Carter’s inglorious selection, there have been running backs drafted in the top 10 that made long, lasting impacts. That list includes Fred Taylor by the Jaguars in 1998, Edgerrin James by the Colts in 1999, Jamal Lewis by the Ravens in 2000, LaDainian Tomlinson by the Chargers in 2001, Adrian Peterson by the Vikings in 2007, Todd Gurley by the Rams in 2015 and Ezekiel Elliott by the Cowboys in 2016.
Since the 2018 draft, when Saquon Barkley went No. 2 to the Giants, the position has fallen almost off the map. Just four backs in the past four years have been drafted in the first round, none higher than the No. 24 selection. Increasingly, teams see backs as a dime a dozen, many of which are capable of perfectly capable performance almost regardless of draft status if their skills can be matched with the most suitable offensive scheme.
“I think Bijan Robinson is a top-5 pick but he probably won’t be because of the position,” said a veteran evaluator. “I still disagree. If you run the ball and play good defense, you win.”
At the same time, those 18 executives also were asked to name their favorite player in the draft. That is, what one player did they most love to watch, evaluate on tape or interview this year? Here were the results:
FAVORITE PLAYER TO SCOUT IN THE DRAFT
4: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois.
3 ½: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama.
2 ½: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas.
1: Stetson Bennett, QB, Georgia; Matt Bergeron, T, Syracuse; Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State; Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State; Dawand Jones, T, Ohio State; Cody Mauch, G, North Dakota State; Peter Skoronski, G, Northwestern; C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State.
“If I had to characterize him I’d just put dog,” an AFC personnel man said in reference to Witherspoon. “He’s a stubborn player. Played press on the outside. Plays with confidence. Takes the ball away. Willing tackler to lay a hit. Has ideal makeup for corner. Fun to watch.”
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