The declining value of running backs at the NFL level means there must be something very special for a runner to earn a high draft pick. And two of those runners earned first-round spots in the recent mock draft by NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks.
Brooks projected Texas’ Bijan Robinson as the first running back at number 21 overall to the Los Angeles Chargers. And Alabama Jahmyr Gibbs went 10 picks later and went to the Philadelphia Eagles with the No. 31 pick overall.
“The Bolts could become a tougher offensive player by adding a robust runner with big-play ability to Austin Ekeler,” Brooks wrote of Robinson.
Brooks later touched on Gibbs’ choice.
“With Miles Sanders and Boston Scott As free agents, the addition of an explosive runner/receiver with big-play ability would undoubtedly improve an offense that’s always in attack mode Jalen hurts at the top,” Brooks wrote.
Robinson was ranked the No. 1 running back and No. 21 overall player in the 2020 class. And after standing nearly 900 yards from scrimmage and scoring six touchdowns as a freshman, Robinson has become one of college football’s greatest weapons in each of the last two seasons.
Robinson played in 10 games as a sophomore, rushing for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns and adding 295 yards with four more points. And that year as a junior in 12 games, Robinson rushed for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns, caught 19 passes for 314 yards (16.5 yards per carry) and scored two more goals as receiver.
Another product of the 2020 class, Gibbs joined Georgia Tech as the No. 4 running back and No. 44 overall player in the 247Sports rankings.
He rushed for 460 yards and had 303 yards as a freshman, scoring seven combined touchdowns. And he broke out with a better chance over 12 games as a sophomore, rushing for 746 yards and catching 35 passes for 465 yards.
That prompted Gibbs to transfer to Alabama, where he showed he was a playmaker at his new station as well. Gibbs averaged a career-high 6.1 yards per carry, rushed 151 times for 926 yards and had seven touchdowns. He also caught 44 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns.
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Both Robinson and Gibbs demonstrated the ability to influence plays as passcatchers from the backfield, an important trait for any running back looking to get an early draft. When the Kansas City Chiefs took over LSU Clyde Edwards Helaire By the end of the first round in 2020 — making him the first running back in that draft — the Chiefs were selling Edwards-Helaire less as a running back and more as a jack-of-all-trades who could also catch passes.