NFL

Fantasy Football: Bijan Robinson Is Coming for the Crown

Austin Swaim
Austin SwaimASwaim3
Fantasy Football: Bijan Robinson Is Coming for the Crown

If you drafted Bijan Robinson in 2023, the Atlanta Falcons had something in common with you. They didn't quite get what they hoped from an investment in a top-10 pick.

For a myriad of reasons, Robinson didn't pan out in fantasy football from his overall position of the third running back off the board in terms of average draft position (ADP), according to FantasyPros, in 2023.

He entered the year with plenty of hype as the seventh overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft -- the first top-20 selection of a tailback since Saquon Barkley went second overall in 2018. Yet, his overall season was a flop. He finished as the RB9 despite a full, 17-game season with 219.3 fantasy points. On a points-per-game basis, Bijan dropped to the RB17 at an unimpressive 12.8 fantasy points per game.

What has changed to consider investing another first-round pick in Robinson in the upcoming season? Can he really leap from that middling production to the top of the position's fantasy leaderboard?

Bijan Robinson Fantasy Football Outlook

Diagnosing a Wayward Rookie Campaign

NFL Draft picks bust all the time on their own ability -- even at the running back position. Hello, Clyde Edwards-Helaire. After such an underwhelming campaign, it is logical to look at Robinson's end-of-season numbers and question his ability. That just wasn't the problem, though.

When you look at the situation in his control, Bijan wasn't the problem. Among running backs that saw at least 10.0 carries per game, Robinson's 0.38 rushing yards over expectation per carry (RYOE/c) were 10th-best in the NFL among running backs, according to NFL's NextGenStats. He also totaled 4.8 receiving yards over expectation -- also 10th among running backs getting at least 3.0 targets per game.

By those measures, Robinson was a top-10 running back yet performed well below that in the overall grand scheme of the position. How? His offense and his opportunity.

The Falcons, despite Robinson's individual play, were the eighth-worst rushing offense in the NFL, per numberFire's schedule-adjusted rankings. Their passing attack also turned in -0.08 expected points added per drop back (EPA/db), according to NextGenStats. That all resulted in the seventh-fewest points in the NFL. It's significantly harder to be an elite fantasy option in a bad offense.

One of the reasons Atlanta struggled so mightily, though, was former head coach Arthur Smith's head-scratching usage of Bijan. Robinson was 28th in the league in carries per game (12.6) but was 5th in targets per game (5.1).

Considering he was a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft, you'd presume that Robinson would be the team's every-down back. He needs that type of impact to justify such a high selection. Yet, Smith decided it was best to use him in a defacto change-of-pace, pass-catching role with Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson, who combined for 14.3 totes per game.

Smith's snippy defenses of not using Robinson -- or Drake London and Kyle Pitts -- could arguably be what cost him his job despite quarterback play we'd all understand wasn't built to win. However, new coach Raheem Morris' continued, public insistence on using Robinson in a role similar to how the San Francisco 49ers use Christian McCaffrey should be on the radar of everyone drafting in fantasy football this season when opportunity was truly what held Bijan -- and his Falcons -- back.

The ATL's New QB1 (and QB2)

It's worth mentioning that Atlanta was well aware that giving their highly-regarded skill players the ball more would not solve the offensive issues alone.

Atlanta sent Desmond Ridder packing and added two different upgrades at the position that most would consider elite. In tandem, they've solved their quarterback riddle now and in the near future.

First came signing Kirk Cousins to a 4-year, $180-million deal. In the top 15 of numberFire's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back of qualifiers in each of the last four years, Cousins' veteran presence is welcome for his own play, but he's also got a history of keeping running backs fantasy-relevant. Dalvin Cook was a top-13 back in half-PPR formats each of the first three of those years with Cousins. Then, the Minnesota Vikings' backfield devolved to an ugly committee in 2023 before the signal-caller's Achilles injury.

Given he's 35 years old and coming off such an injury, the Falcons weren't done there. They shocked the world by taking Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Penix's selection was met with criticism, but fantasy managers and Falcons fans alike will be glad they have him should their veteran go down to injury again. The former Washington Huskies gunslinger led FBS with 4,903 passing yards in 2023 to lift UDub -- a small Pac-12 school -- to National Championship runner-up.

While Penix's pro prospects are a bit ambiguous to some, it's a pretty low bar for him to be able to eclipse Taylor Heinicke's 0.03 EPA/db from last season as he usurps Heinicke for the backup job.

At the end of the day, most fantasy-relevant pieces are in elite offenses. It's nothing but an extreme positive for Robinson -- showing pass-catching upside even if the offense turns to the air with regularity behind Cousins -- to have received such an upgrade at quarterback. Atlanta's projected increase in offensive efficiency is one of the largest reasons that Bijan could contend for top overall running back in fantasy football.

Ability to Dominate

When we're circling back to running backs that can consistently rise to the top of the fantasy football leaderboards, there's a talent element to it. Christian McCaffrey has now done it with two different teams, three different offensive systems, and three different quarterbacks. Like Bijan, CMC was a top-10 pick back in 2017.

It's worth mentioning again why Robinson was so highly regarded and how he has the talent to dominate this next level in the right situation. In his final year with the Texas Longhorns, Robinson averaged 6.1 rushing yards per carry (YPC) and 16.1 yards per reception. Anytime the ball was in Bijan's hands, UT was getting halfway to the sticks or better on average.

McCaffrey, in his final season with the Stanford Cardinal, posted 6.3 YPC and 8.3 yards per reception, respectively. Both were top-10 vote-getters for the Heisman Trophy.

Bijan's athletic gifts also pass the requisite expectations for a top-10 pick. Per PlayerProfiler, he posted a 70th percentile result or better in 40-yard-dash time, speed score, college domination score, and overall athletic profile compared to all-time running backs in the NFL Draft since combine data became available in 1982.

We've forever heard whispers of running backs getting the "CMC Workload" in July. Infamously, Antonio Gibson shot up draft boards in 2021 based on that sort of hearsay. Yet, it doesn't really matter if a back doesn't show the efficiency, durability, and versatility to actually make it count and produce like CMC.

On paper, Robinson's athleticism is up to snuff, he played all 17 games a year ago despite an in-game illness shortening one outing, and he's shown efficient rushing and passing work both in the NFL and college. That's about as close to a McCaffrey projection as you can get in an offense that should be able to sustain a solid fantasy running back.

Bijan Robinson Fantasy Football Projection

As you'd expect, numberFire's ahead-of-the-curve fantasy football projections aren't sleeping on all these offseason changes for Bijan Robinson.

He's currently expected to be the model's RB3 in fantasy. With all projections expecting a full 17-game season for all players, it currently projects Robinson for 289.3 carries, 1,247.1 rushing yards, 70.0 receptions on 91.2 targets, 543 receiving yards, and 12.3 total touchdowns. That all wraps into 247.3 projected half-PPR fantasy points.

My personal verdict is that it's not insane -- and could be ideal -- to take Robinson in the top five of your fantasy football draft. The 22-year-old is slightly younger than the average age of historical RB1s, but we haven't had a repeat RB1 since Ladainian Tomlinson in 2006 and 2007, and McCaffrey isn't free of injury history. Breece Hall and Robinson are projected for two massive workloads in greatly improved offenses that had elite college production.

Hall absolutely has a case to be second off the board at the position, yet with two fragile, older quarterbacks in front of both, the safety net of Penix Jr. on the Falcons rather than the New York Jets' backup situation has me leaning toward Bijan straight up if given a choice. That's the consensus right now in ADP; Robinson is coming off the board at pick 5.3 on average in FanDuel's best-ball drafts, and Hall (7.5) is slightly behind him.


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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.