The Atlanta Falcons, who selected running back Bijan Robinson in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, are expected to use the playmaker at different positions during his rookie campaign. File Photo by Kyle Rivas/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Bijan Robinson joined the Atlanta Falcons with accolades proving his status as the best running back in college football. The rookie says he has since gotten comfortable with a new workload and multiple-position usage.
Robinson, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, spoke about his progress during a joint practice with the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday in Miami Gardens, Fla.
"God wouldn't put me in anything I can't handle," Robinson said at the Baptist Health Training Complex. "So I think I'm handling it very well. Thanks to my coach and running backs coach."
Robinson obviously takes frequent handoffs and tosses out of the backfield, but also sometimes lines up as a wide receiver. The former Texas star has shown crisp route-running skills, soft hands and maintained his ability to separate from and shed defenders throughout off-season workouts, training camp and joint practices.
He said he isn't being asked to do much more than he did while with the Longhorns, outside of learning new positions.
"They want me to be as comfortable as possible," Robinson said. "They don't want to take anything away or add some drastic. Obviously, I've got to learn a lot of different positions now. Which is awesome, because I get to maximize my ability."
Robinson's ability allowed him to sometimes work out of the slot for the Longhorns. He could see an increase in that role as a professional, based on the Falcons roster and offensive philosophy.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound ball carrier, who drew comparisons to Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey in the pre-draft process, was listed as the third-string running back on the Falcons' first unofficial depth chart.
Anyone who has put eyes on his smooth running style, ankle-breaking agility and strength between the tackles can see it would be impractical to believe he will see the field as sparingly as that designation would indicate.
Robinson will likely be used in rotation with running backs Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier, but could improve his stock as he becomes even more comfortable in the offense. He said he has increased understanding of the Falcons blocking scheme and analysis of defensive coverage before snaps.
Those lessons are allowing him to use his vision more and run faster into holes made by blockers.
The Falcons, who owned the third-best rushing offense in the NFL last season, will boast what is expected to be one of the league's elite offensive lines, with an emphasis on creating running lanes.
Tackle Kaleb McGary rated as the second-best run-blocking tackle in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Fellow Falcons offensive Jake Matthews also raked inside the Top 15 in that category, among tackles who played at least 1,000 snaps in 2022-23.
McGary and Matthews received Top 12 overall ratings for the position.
Falcons veteran Chris Lindstrom was the top-rated guard in the NFL. He also received the highest run-blocking grade among all offensive linemen. The Falcons also will return Drew Dalman, who was among the Top 10 run-blocking centers to play at least 1,000 snaps in 2022.
"I think it's been really comfortable for me getting to be behind those guys and to understand, you know, where the ball needs to hit," Robinson said. "And then you know, when I get to the second level, that's when it's dangerous because I can use my talents in the best way possible."
Robinson said he recognized an increased necessity to improve his immediacy into running lanes while watching practice footage this off-season.
"I want to get them [defenders] on their toes and try to get them as uncomfortable as possible," Robinson said. "That's what our coach kept saying, 'Just press, press the holes, press the gaps.' So that's what I tried to work on.
"And then I can just stay patient on some of my routes. You know, just kind of reading the defenders and reading what they're going to do with the safeties and even the cornerback if he was up against me. I'm just trying to see if I can get them off the line and things."
Quarterback Desmond Ridder said Robinson's versatility can be a huge advantage for the Falcons offense, which totaled the ninth-fewest yards in the NFL last season.
The Falcons offense ranked 29th in 2021 and 18th in 2020. They were a Top 10 offense in eight of nine seasons from 2012 through 2019, while led by quarterback Matt Ryan and several running backs, including Devonta Freeman, Michael Turner and Steven Jackson.
"It's a huge advantage and it definitely depends on who you have," Ridder said of Robinson's pass catching ability. "Oftentimes, you look at man coverage, with your wide outs with defensive backs, your tight ends with safeties or corners or whatever it may be.
"And then it leaves you on your running backs. So your matchup is between a running back and linebacker. ... But yeah, those are the matchups that we look for."
Coach Arthur Smith said starters will play at some point during the Falcons' three-game preseason schedule, but did not commit to their participation in the opener Friday night against the Dolphins. Robinson said he is "ready to go," if he does get the chance to make his Falcons preseason debut in Miami Gardens.
"Whatever it is, I'm excited to play the first game and get the first game jitters out the way," Robinson said.
The former Longhorns star is a betting favorite to claim Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. But Robinson, who noted that he improved his recovery routine after watching Falcons veterans this off-season, says he is "tuning out" outside expectations and is focused on molding a long, healthy NFL tenure.
"I tune it all out," Robinson said. "People tell me all the time, 'Dude, there's so many expectations on you. There's so many things on your shoulders and everything.' But, like I always say, I know that God has a plan for me. And I know that if that's what he wants from me. It's gonna happen. If he doesn't, it's not gonna happen.
"I'm working as hard as I can. I always try to tune it out. If you get into that stuff and you start looking at it, you don't work as hard. You won't do as many things as you want because somebody's always telling you what you want to hear so I let it loose."
The Dolphins will host the Falcons at 7 p.m. EDT Friday at Hard Rock Stadium. The Falcons will face the Cincinnati Bengals in another preseason game Aug. 18 in Atlanta. They will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in their preseason finale Aug. 24 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Robinson and the Falcons will host the Carolina Panthers in their regular-season opener Sept. 10.