As an elite running back prospect from the University of Texas, Bijan Robinson has naturally been linked to the Dallas Cowboys throughout this 2023 NFL Draft process. If Robinson does somehow fall to the 26th pick on Thursday night, or even close to it, how aggressively should Dallas try to get him?
Robinson checks all the boxes as a running back prospect. He’s been likened to Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley in terms of potential and all-around skills. Some have even called him the single-most talented player in the class, regardless of position.
If this was a different era of football, then Robinson might be the first player taken in this draft or at least a shoo-in for the top five. But in 2023, running back has reached an all-time low in perceived value and teams are less likely to invest significant draft picks or cap dollars into the position.
That’s why discussing the idea of Robinson somehow falling to the back end of the first round isn’t crazy. While maybe only a couple of players in this draft are on his tier for pure talent, others on the next tier play positions that teams covet much more. Plenty of quarterbacks, offensive linemen, receivers, cornerbacks, and other players could hear their names called on Thursday night before Robinson.
Let’s say Robinson does fall within a reasonable range of the Cowboys at the 26th pick. They’re not immune to this general feeling about running backs, but they’re also the team that took Elliott with the fourth-overall pick in 2016. With Elliott now gone and Tony Pollard playing on the franchise tag, they could make a decent case for need.
This is also still Jerry Jones’ team, and the man loves his running backs. He built an empire on Emmitt Smith and that bias was a big part of why Dallas took Elliott seven years ago, even with comments then that it was an archaic way to build a team.
Jones will always be a cross between a businessman and a football guy. He can’t ignore the star power and marketing potential of a guy like Robinson; it’s just not in his nature. Throw in the regional appeal of a kid born and raised in Arizona and going to college in Austin, TX and it’s a slam dunk for Jones from a business standpoint.
There are good football reasons to make the move, too. Some are concerned about how Tony Pollard will handle the loss of Zeke, perhaps losing steam with additional touches. While Dallas did pick up veteran Ronald Jones in free agency and has prospects like Rico Dowdle and Malik Davis, it’s hardly going to be the same one-two punch they’ve enjoyed with Elliott and Pollard in recent years.
Robinson would allow Pollard to maintain his effectiveness as a change-up back. In fact, Robinson’s receiving skills could allow for less telegraphing on offense when the Cowboys make a substitution.
While some are understandably discouraged by Zeke’s release and the idea of spending another high pick at running back, the 26th pick is a big difference from fourth overall. It all depends on who else is on the board and the power of hindsight, but you’re not going to have nearly the same wealth of other talented options this time around. There probably is no Jalen Ramsey alternative in this scenario.
Some might be okay with Dallas taking Robinson at #26 but would be unhappy if they traded up for him, sacrificing other draft capital. There’s a good argument there, but one could counter that a dominant run game might help with weaknesses in other parts of the roster. The 2016 Cowboys, with a rookie Dak Prescott and a suspect defense, went 13-3 thanks largely to Elliott’s immediate impact.
If Dallas could move up for the price of their third-round pick (up around #20-21) and get Robinson, who were they going to take on Friday night that would contribute so much, so quickly? And if turned out to be another Nahshon Wright or Jalen Tolbert, that guy isn’t helping you win a championship in 2023.
This whole debate would be a lovely problem to have, wouldn’t it? And even if Robinson doesn’t get close to Dallas’ range, what if it’s Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs? While he’s generally not seen as being on the same elite tier of talent, Gibbs is still considered a top-20 talent by many and a relative steal in the late first round.
Some have completely abandoned the notion of ever spending a first-round pick, or even a Day 2 pick, on the running back position. But that ideology doesn’t factor in the business side of things which will be part of Jerry Jones’ decision-making. Robinson may not play a premium position, but he’s a premium talent at a spot that’s near and dear to Jones’ heart.
We can’t say until we’re in the thick of things on draft night what Dallas should do; it depends on many variables not yet realized. But if Bijan Robinson falls to around the 20th pick, things could definitely get interesting where the Cowboys are concerned.