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Bijan Robinson & Jahmyr Gibbs: The Case as an RB1

Updated: Jun 19

Written by: Austin Thomas

Are you afraid to draft Bijan Robinson and/or Jahmyr Gibbs in your leagues? Are you one of those people that think rookies need to earn their stripes first? Maybe you need a visual of NFL production before being completely sold? Regardless of your standpoint, I'm here to try and sway you the way of the rookie running back. The ones drafted in the first round at least. In the 2023 NFL draft there were two running backs to earn the honor of being selected in the first round; Bijan Robinson out of the University of Texas and Jahmyr Gibbs from the University of Alabama. Both have the talent, draft pedigree, and ideal situation to make a huge splash in their rookie season on the field, and in fantasy football.

The Data & History Behind 1st Round RB's (10-year study)

Reviewing the last ten drafts, there have been 14 running backs to hear their names called in the first round. Over the decade, 2014 and 2022 were the only draft classes that did not have a first-round running back taken. As you can see in the chart below, the highest-selected running back was Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick and the lowest selection was Clyde Edwards-Helaire at the end of the first round, with the 32nd pick.

Looking at the 12 players who have completed an NFL season, seven of those players exceeded their average draft position values in PPR (point per reception) leagues during their "rookie" season, while five failed to meet expectations. At a near-even split (58% hit rate versus a 42% failure rate of first-year players), it's not exactly reassuring gambling on just any rookie running back. Just look at this graph, where you can see their ADP against their season-ending rank.

*Travis Etienne missed his first season with a Lisfranc injury, so his first active season is recorded above*

However, if we confine the total players down to those selected within the first 15 picks, then things look a little different. Of the six running backs with top-15 draft capital, five were able to outperform their ADPs. Going from a 58% to an 83% hit rate certainly looks better, doesn't it? If you eliminate Melvin Gordon (pick #15) and compress the field further to the top-12, which applies to both Robinson and Gibbs, then we're looking at a 100% hit rate of surpassing their ADPs their rookie season. I get that it's a small five-man sample, but elite young athletes get a hefty amount of touches early in their careers.

*Christian McCaffrey also hauled in 3 kick returns and 22 punt returns to his "touches",

so if you add that to his total touches it equates to 222 overall touches*

From the chart above, it appears that every single one of those players with top-12 draft capital secures at least 220+ overall touches. Furthermore, analyzing the second chart with the fantasy point finishes, every running back ended with 200+ PPR points and, better yet, accomplished the long demanding season as an RB1 (top-12). Although, these are just numbers on a spreadsheet of other players' "rookie" season stats. We should take a deeper look into the actual prospects, and asses the situations on how they'll drive their way into a top-12 fantasy season.


Leading up to the NFL draft, Bijan Robinson was a presumed first-round lock, but his destination was always the question. For many months the Philadelphia Eagles were the favorites to land the former collegiate star, but as the big day got closer, the Atlanta Falcons rumors got louder and louder. Lo and behold, the Atlanta Falcons were on the clock, and selected Bijan Robinson with the eighth overall pick of the 2023 NFL draft. Now that we know his situation and team, what can we expect in the upcoming season?

In the 2022 season, the Falcons ran the ball 454 times with their running backs. Tyler Allgeier led the team with 210 rush attempts and then two others had 75+ carries a piece as well. Under head coach Arthur Smith, the Falcons have prioritized running the football while also giving their lead back 200+ total touches. Bijan Robinson is an outstanding athlete that'll be involved in both the running and passing game. Robinson is looking at elite volume, and could see north of 300 touches this upcoming season. He'll be the focal point of an Atlanta team looking to make some noise in a wide-open NFC South.

As it currently stands on FantasyPros, Bijan Robinson sits at RB3 in the ADP ranks. The running back landscape has a lot of contenders that could finish as a top-3 RB in fantasy, but not many will see the sheer volume that Robinson is about to consume. I think he has one of the safest floors, despite not playing a snap in the NFL yet. Maybe he doesn't generate enough points to return on his RB3 value, but still, I'd be shocked if he doesn't end up as a top-12 running back on the season and produce an RB1 season his first year. Saquon Barkley was able to finish as THE RB1 in his rookie campaign, and Bijan Robinson absolutely has the tools to be next. Don't fear the "R" next to his name. This rookie is the next superstar, and you won't want to miss out!


Unlike his counterpart above, Jahmyr Gibbs was a first-round bubble player. Some analysts had him going in the later portion of the first round, and others had him phased out completely. To the surprise of many, the Detroit Lions made a draft day trade with the Arizona Cardinals and moved back to pick #12, where they ultimately selected running back Jahmyr Gibbs. This was higher than most anticipated, yet fitting in a way. At first, it was a crowded RB room with newly acquired free agent David Montgomery and D'Andre Swift, but by the completion of the NFL draft, Swift was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, making the Gibbs selection that much more juicy for fantasy purposes.

The funny thing is, Gibbs has been commonly compared to Alvin Kamara, who in his rookie season was also behind two veterans Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson. Coincidentally, the Saints also traded one of their veterans in front of their rookie stud, however, it took until after week four of the regular season to move on from Adrian Peterson, in Kamara's case. So far, the career trajectory is kicking off in a similar fashion. If the comparisons continue to come to fruition, let's observe the rookie season of Alvin Kamara, along with Christian McCaffrey (who was also a "second fiddle" option in the running back rotation), to see how Gibbs' season could correlate behind David Montgomery.

Stat projections are very hard to predict season to season, based on how the NFL game is constantly changing, but if one thing stands out, it's that these types of running backs will be featured in the passing game one way or another. Both Kamara and McCaffrey getting 80+ receptions is a telling sign that Gibbs should have no issue being a target hog this season. Another bright spot in favor of Gibbs' receiving upside is the Lion's depth chart. Outside of Amon-Ra St. Brown, there isn't much firepower to threaten Gibbs in the passing game for at least the first six weeks, when Jameson Williams' suspension will conclude. Rookie tight end Sam LaPorta will be the biggest competition to Gibbs, but both see plenty of volume alongside St. Brown. Marvin Jones, a 12-year veteran, and journeyman Josh Reynolds are the other receivers atop the depth chart right now, and don't pose much risk of chipping away the large target share Gibbs will demand. Again, stat projections are hard to predict, but as of right now, I'd pencil in around 80 receptions for Jahmyr Gibbs this season, and that's a great start on becoming an RB1 this year!

From a rushing standpoint, I fully expect David Montgomery to handle the majority of the rushing load, which is okay. Consistent receptions are more valuable than rush attempts, and that's the main objective for Jahmyr Gibbs' fantasy value. Although, Gibbs will likely get 100+ rush attempts. Referring back to the FantasyPros ADP chart, Gibbs is going off the board at RB13 in the late third or early fourth rounds. If you decide to wait on a running back in your drafts, Gibbs is the absolute perfect RB1 to target with what I believe, is a safe weekly floor.


All in all, both of these two prospects profile as the next up-and-coming superstar running backs. They'll both be highly involved in the weekly game plan, and will produce the fantasy points we all desire. If they follow the trend of their fellow highly drafted running backs, they should find themselves among the top-12 at the position too. Any player has some sort of risk to them in a fantasy draft, so why let the rookie next to their name influence your decision? Don't stray, draft away!

Enjoy the article? Give me a follow on Twitter @Austin_Thomas18 - Appreciate you!

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