FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Once the Falcons took Bijan Robinson with the No. 8 overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft pick, it was a decision almost immediately met with skepticism. Taking a running back in the top 10 has been a move many teams have stayed away from making in the modern football era. The reason being that the questions linger: How many running backs actually make it to their second contract? If they do get to that point, how many are actively and consistently productive on said contract? These are the questions the Falcons had to face straight on as draft grades started pouring in.
Sure, there were some sites and draft analysts who understood the pick, liked it even. But there were others - including a rather loud contingency of the fan base - who didn't understand the pick and didn't like it. There always is, but some of the opposition was vehement in its distaste for the pick.
For every grade of A or B in post-draft recaps for the Falcons, there was a C and a D. Chad Reuter of NFL.com gave the Falcons draft an A-minus, but Danny Kelly at The Ringer? He gave the Falcons a C-plus. Nate Davis (USA Today), Nick Simon (Draft Kings) and Joe Tansey (Bleacher Report) were all around that C grade, too. Almost all of the C-grades mainly focused on one thing: That the Falcons drafted a running back at No. 8 overall when someone like... say... Jalen Carter was on the board.
Let's be honest, though: If you've been paying attention to the Falcons team-building strategy of the last three years since Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith and their football staff got to Atlanta, this decision shouldn't surprise you at all. The Falcons have tended to go against the grain in their decision-making. To a certain extent, they've been relatively unconventional in their approach to building the team they envision in Atlanta.
Need some examples? Here are a few: For starters, one of their first acts of business when arriving in Atlanta was drafting Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. With the pick Pitts became the highest drafted tight end in the league's history. When it came to the quarterback position, a lot of mainstream philosophy around the quarterback is that a young quarterback starts a rebuild. That's not really what the Falcons did, though, despite Desmond Ridder being named the starter in 2023. The Falcons stuck with Matt Ryan for a year, and then parted ways with him only to go get Marcus Mariota in free agency and Ridder in the third round of last year's draft. Ridder is getting his shot to start, but regardless of how he ultimately pans out, the quarterback position won't follow the usual pattern of taking a first-round quarterback in the draft and handing him the reigns of the offense.
There are other decisions that illustrate this idea, too, like the Falcons signing Chris Lindstrom - a guard - to a massive contract extension this year. It's making a splash in free agency with Jessie Bates III - a safety - and handing him a large chunk of changed, too. It's taking Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round despite having relatively good depth at the position at that time and turning him into one of the most successful rookies of the entire class. Heck, some viewed the Drake London pick as a head-scratcher simply because he wasn't the highest receiver on draft boards in the pre-draft process, but the Falcons went after the large target because he's who they needed.
Conventional wisdom of valuing certain positions over others, or certain body types over others, hasn't been something the Falcons have followed often.
"There's a million ways to do it and the thing that we focus on the most is it ain't about 'what' it's about 'who,'" Kyle Smith, the Falcons vice president of player personnel, said on Wednesday. "When it comes to Bijan the player, the skillset, the versatility, the impact as a player and as a person, it was an easy pick, man, it really was."
Like Fontenot and Arthur Smith before him, Kyle Smith said the Falcons felt that Robinson was an impact player beyond the traditional scope of a running back.
"In every position that you put him in, (he) can be an impact, not just impact from production but impact on … what goes into (another team's) mindset going into that week, and how are we going to defend these different formations, these different personnel packages that we can best use for all of these players that we have," Kyle Smith said.
When asked if it's difficult to ignore the critique of drafting a running back so high, Kyle Smith was quick to say no, it's not hard at all.
"I can give you 15 examples to prove one right. That's why it's a conventional wisdom... But I can talk you out of anything," he said. "I can talk you out of the first pick in the draft. I can talk you out of picking a guy in the seventh round, and I could also talk you into it. There are a lot of different philosophies on how to build a team."
Kyle Smith said he was raised on the principle of building inside, out and down the middle. Others prioritize skill talent on the outside. It is a passing league after all. There are successes and failures reported either way. That's why the Falcons haven't been followers of conventional wisdom of which many believe to be gospel.
Like Kyle Smith said, they value the 'who' more than the 'what.' So, yes, they valued Robinson more than they valued just the fact that he's listed as a running back on a depth chart. As Arthur Smith has said before: Robinson is more than a running back in the Falcons' eyes.
"The 'who' is what we believed in," Kyle Smith said, "and we feel really good about it."
Now, this isn't to say history will view this pick in any certain light. We have no idea how the Falcons choosing to draft Robinson with the No. 8 overall pick will be viewed in two years', three years' or six years' time. It has the potential to be a success just as much as it has the potential to be a miss.
However, even in the unknowns, the pick itself shouldn't be a shock. The Falcons have been known to do things that many conventional thinkers would deem risky. Time will be the judge to decide whether it's a risk that works it.
Take a closer look at the newest member of the 7 club, Bijan Robinson! Robinson was a first round draft pick for the Atlanta Falcons in the 2023 NFL Draft and will wear the number 7 jersey.