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'Passion and conviction': Terry Fontenot details how Falcons landed Bijan Robinson

In an exclusive interview, Falcons GM explains why he didn't accept offers to trade down and took Robinson at No. 8 overall

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Terry Fontenot woke up on Thursday morning planning to make Bijan Robinson a Falcon. The Texas running back was the guy they wanted. Plain and simple.

There were seven NFL Draft picks standing between the Falcons GM and the player he and head coach Arthur Smith coveted, with a heightened level of uncertainty that created at least a little doubt about whether the Texas running back would be available at No. 8 overall.


And sure, enough, things got weird atop the first round. We saw one trade after another shake up the draft order, adding unexpected variables to proceedings. The Texans took C.J. Stroud at No. 2 and then traded up to No. 3 thanks to a deal with Arizona. The Seattle Seahawks took a cornerback. Then the Cardinals traded back up to No. 6 and took an offensive tackle.

Only the Raiders stood between the Falcons and Robinson. Fontenot and Smith were confident Las Vegas would take Tyree Wilson, and sure enough they did.

That created a dream scenario. The Falcons had a chance to get their guy, and they didn't mess around.

The Falcons drafted Robinson right there at No. 8 overall, adding one of the best players regardless of position in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Fontenot couldn't have been more excited about that fact when he and I sat down at 12:30 a.m. Friday morning, with the first round done and his nightcap press conference recently complete.

The Falcons GM leaned back into a chair, unknotted his tie and exhaled.

He looked both exhausted and over the moon at the same time, finally able to relax after having himself a day. Fontenot recapped it for, focusing on the period on the time the Falcons were on the clock.

"When Vegas turned that pick in and we knew he was there for us," Fontenot said, "we were really excited."

That doesn't mean Fontenot was ready to turn in the pick. Not when his phone kept ringing.

"You still have to go through the process," Fontenot said. "You have to take the calls and listen to the offers and have that communication and determine what you want to do."

At that point, it's about risk assessment. It's always better to get the player you want plus additional assets. You don't want to trade down only to lose the opportunity to pick him because someone else did, especially when he was available to you at an earlier point.

Teams called about coming up to No. 8. The Falcons talked about a possible trade down. They weighed offers established with pre-draft conversations and tweaked in the moment to entice the Falcons to move.

There were other first-round prospects the Falcons admired, but Robinson was Plan A. The possibility of going to Plan B wasn't enticing enough to entertain.

"We loved [Robinson] and we said, 'if we go back this many spots and pick up another pick and risk losing him, is that worth it or not?' Fontenot said. "That's what you have to weigh out and we didn't think it was."

Fontenot explained why. Pre-draft trade compensation wasn't enough to move off of No. 8, and nothing came in late that Fontenot couldn't pass up.

The trade bar was high. Why? There was a consensus in the draft room that Robinson was the guy, and Fontenot's advisors were adamant about it.

"We're always looking for passion and conviction," Fontenot said. "When you have that from the coaches, from the front office, from everyone involved, about a player and you know the impact he's going to make, you want to stick there and pick him."

Fontenot declined all offers and officially made the selection as scheduled. Then he called Robinson an expressed an important point: "You fit here."

That's true in several ways. A running back brimming with positivity will fit right into the team's organizational culture. He'll fit in well with the locker room. His skill set will fit with a young group of skill players who will grow up together. He'll fit in well with Arthur Smith's creative play designs.

The Falcons are looking for more than talent when acquiring players. Robinson's one talented dude, but he's more than that. He just fits what the Falcons are about.

Fontenot knew that to be true after interacting with him several times during the pre-draft process, most notably during a trip to Austin, Texas with Falcons brass. They got a chance to work Robinson out, to take him to dinner and really get to know him. They talked to others who know him well, receiving rave reviews about the person and the player.

That heightened the level of conviction Robinson was the pick, someone they didn't want to lose over the additional assets presented in pre-draft trade talks.

Fontenot didn't wake up Thursday morning anxious about how the first round would go. He didn't lose sleep the night before, tossing and turning over things he couldn't control.

The Falcons had done their homework. They had researched the top of the draft and knew the direction they wanted to go in the first round. All they had to do was be patient, read the draft well and then execute.

They wanted Robinson. Ultimately they got him.

"This was the desired end," Fontenot said. "This is really exciting, man. It's really exciting."

Join us as we go into the War Room for the Atlanta Falcons' picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

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