The Atlanta Falcons took a calculated zag in the 2023 NFL Draft, and a lot of people co-signed with the decision to take Bijan Robinson. His measurables, skill set, pedigree, and school indicated Art Smith was getting a can’t-miss star, perfect for his creative running schemes.
The thought process was sound because the third-year coach finally turned Cordarelle Patterson into a redeemable football player, the team averaged 4.9 yards per rush in 2022 (fourth best), and did it with a combination of Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder under center. This season, defenses are better prepared for Atlanta’s schtick, and it’s resulted in an offense that’s seventh in the NFL in attempts, but tied with Detroit, Dallas, and Minnesota for the 18th-best per tote rate at 4 yards a pop.
While Robinson wasn’t able to carry the Longhorns back to relevance during his time in Austin, and that appears to be the case in the NFL as well, I’m not here to bash running backs. What I will say is great backs are a luxury, an amenity that makes a Bentley a Bentley.
However, you wouldn’t put spinners on a 1995 Geo Metro, or lipstick on a pig, so Robinson was always screwed. Like Saquon Barkley and Cristian McCafferey (on the Panthers) before him, some NFL coaches are adamant that they want to live and (most likely) die by the ground game. And my god they are going to kill Bijan.
Atlanta has faced the second-most eight-man boxes this season, gaining just 3.6 yards against those fronts (per ESPN), so it’s not a shock that they’re bottom three in scoring. Three of the Falcons’ top four receivers through six games aren’t receivers, and it’s year three of the Kyle Pitts hostage negotiations with no end, or direction, in sight.
Atlanta’s skill players make Tom Brady want to come out of retirement, and they should because Drake London also has the potential to be really good. Honestly, name a better three-player combo of skill guys (outside of Miami and San Francisco) than Robinson, Pitts, and London. If Kyle Shanahan or Mike McDaniel commanded that group, they’d trade the quarterback immediately, and then find some schmuck in the sixth round to facilitate touches like he was Ken Dorsey circa The U.
Yes, I understand that Smith oversaw Derrick Henry’s best years in Tennessee, and that’s what he’s trying to do with Robinson. The difference is Ryan Tannehill, though not a good quarterback himself, could outplay Ridder tomorrow — and we know that to be true about Mariota.
The best Atlanta’s offense looked this season was as digital avatars in Andy’s Room, and at this rate, Dirty Bird supporters probably prefer the glitchy, animated characters to the real-life players running a system last en vogue when claymation was the apex of special effects.
Drafting Robinson to be the bellcow of this unfinished unit is like buying a Playstation 5 game without a PS5. It’s like buying a jet ski but not a trailer. It’s like making reservations at Noma before purchasing plane tickets to, or lodging in, Copenhagen.
I have a whole slew of analogies for what it’s like to block eight defenders with five linemen, but I’m going to save that gimmick for future skewering. So, while I can’t say exactly how many people thought the Falcons would at least be entertaining to watch, my pessimistic ass didn’t think they’d be this droll. #FreeRobinson, #FreePitts, #FreeLondon, #FreeTheWholeDamnTeam.