When it’s increasingly argued, year after year, how unwise it is to spend a first-round NFL draft pick on a running back, we as fantasy football managers sometimes develop irrational fear of spending such a lofty pick on a rookie back in our own drafts.

But when a generational running back talent like Bijan Robinson comes along, we need to just take the plunge.

You might’ve noticed we’ve ranked Robinson as a clear first-round fantasy football selection. It’s a generous valuation, but it’s not one dished out blindly considering his impressive skill set, prospective role and status as the No. 8 overall selection from this year’s draft, the earliest a running back has been picked in five years and only the eighth time in the past 15 drafts that a running back was selected among the NFL draft’s top 10 players.

Robinson brings one of the most complete packages any rookie running back has had at the time of his NFL debut. In three seasons for the Texas Longhorns, he totaled 4,215 yards from scrimmage and 41 touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per rush. Pro Football Focus credited him with a single-season-record 104 missed tackles forced in 2022. Robinson has it all: size, speed, agility, elite chops in the receiving game and he’s tremendous at making quick cuts on runs. The Atlanta Falcons selected him with the clear intent of making him their starting, every-down running back from day one, regardless of the presence of Tyler Allgeier. You don’t make a draft pick investment like this and then limit the player’s opportunity.

Even more encouraging, history supports Robinson’s first-round fantasy candidacy and fully backs his likelihood to make that level of an impact.

In the past 10 seasons, seven running backs were selected in the first round of the NFL draft and the first 35 selections (and first 15 running backs) on average in ESPN fantasy drafts during their rookie seasons. These criteria were carefully selected to mirror Robinson’s path entering 2023 — that of highly touted prospects who were drafted by a team that immediately gave them the opportunity to lead its backfield.

Five of these seven running backs delivered a fantasy point total that ranked higher at the position than their ADP ranking. The group was selected ninth on average among running backs (9.4, to be exact) and finished 10th on average (9.7) in fantasy points scored. Three of them, Saquon Barkley (385.8) in 2018, Ezekiel Elliott (325.4) in 2016 and Najee Harris (300.7) in 2021, exceeded the 300-point threshold, one that has been reached by only 14 rookie running backs in history and is generally regarded the benchmark for “elite” positional status. Additionally, four of these six rookies totaled more than 300 touches as rookies, with the group averaging 296.7, further backing up their leading-man status.

Here is the full group:

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2023 fantasy football drafts – History supports Bijan Robinson as a first-round pick