Fanspeak Mock Draft 4.12: Dallas takes a RB in Rd. 1 – but it’s not Bijan Robinson
Bijan Robinson-to-Dallas is all but a foregone conclusion, both nationally and locally.
The talk goes something like this: “You shouldn’t take a running back in the first round. Zeke just showed us why.”
That’s soon followed by … “… unless Bijan Robinson is still there. I mean, how can you not? He’s, like, the top-rated player in this draft, right? I mean, it’s better to take him at 26 than to take him at No. 4 like they did with Zeke, right?”
And then, just because logic does, indeed, say it would be foolish to pass up on the potentially best player in this draft, suddenly the Robinson-to-Dallas projections become a certainty.
Just one problem with that logic: That logic is ridiculous.
Saying it “makes sense” to take the best player in the draft, regardless of position, isn’t exactly going out on a limb. Sure, the emphasis on the passing game has greatly reduced the importance of the running game. Tom Brady never played with a future Hall of Famer at running back, and the Kansas City Chiefs just won the Super Bowl while starting a seventh-round rookie RB.
But Bijan Robinson is a far better prospect than Isiah Pacheco. He’s the top player in the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board. Furthermore, the further he falls in the draft, the better value he is.
And what is it about Robinson that makes him so special?
It’s because he can score touchdowns and pick up yardage at an elite level. If he can stay healthy – always a concern for that position – then you can expect Robinson to crack 1,200 yards and pick up 10-plus TDs his rookie season. He’ll automatically be in the running for Rookie of the Year honors.
And that’s the funny thing when it comes to predicting where Robinson will fall. If no one is disputing how good he’ll be as a rookie, then isn’t it logical to assume other teams feel the same way – especially those who could use a running back?
That’s why this mock draft has Robinson going to New England at pick No. 14 overall. Robinson fills a need and helps take pressure off Mac Jones – or whoever is QBing the Patriots.
All this circles back to Dallas.
While going through this mock draft, players like Clemson defensive lineman Bryan Bresee, Penn State cornerback Joey Porter, TCU receiver Quentin Johnston and Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence were still on the board. The Cowboys could make a strong case to draft any of them.
But none are clean picks – at least for Dallas.
Dallas already has three 3-techs; Bresee would be their fourth. Porter would be the team’s fourth or fifth cornerback, maybe sixth if the team resigns the currently injured Anthony Brown. At best, Johnston would be the team’s third receiver.
In fact, of those four, Torrence is the only guaranteed to start from Day 1. Using that logic, even Mazi Smith, the 1-tech from Michigan, makes more sense than Bresee, as Smith is a run-stuffing 1-tech, something Dallas needs.
Just one problem: Jerry Jones isn’t one who’s satisfied with solid singles and doubles. He loves to swing for the fences.
It’s served him well in recent years, as Dallas has a solid track record of drafting in the first round over the past decade-plus, with only a few notable exceptions.
Torrence and Smith, frankly, aren’t home runs. Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs is.
Robinson may be the clear-cut No. 1 running back in this draft, but there’s a growing sense that Gibbs isn’t that far behind talent-wise. Plus, it’s hard not to see a scenario – other than injuries or suspensions – that would prevent Gibbs from racking up 1,200 to 1,500 combined total yards and 8 to 10 TDs next season, potentially with fewer carries than Robinson if Gibbs shares duties with Tony Pollard in Dallas.
You also can’t ignore the price. Tyler Smith signed a four-year, $13.8 million contract last season with pick No. 24. You can expect a running back drafted at No. 26 to command something around $14 million total. By contract, Elliott got a four-year, $24.9 million contract his rookie year – and that was seven years ago.
The point is, taking a RB high in the draft becomes less painful the lower he’s taken. Gibbs will earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.5 million per year through his rookie contract, while Pollard will earn a little over $10 million this season. Therefore, Gibbs is also a fantastic value at this spot, even if he’s not on the same level as Robinson.
Finally, there’s a school of thought that says, when it comes to tie-breakers in the first round, you should always go with the player who’s going to score you the most points.
But who knows. Dallas ignored that thinking in 2014 and went with Zack Martin over Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel.
1. Carolina Panthers: QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
Why would the team move all the way up to the No. 1 spot if it was then going to take a conservative approach with the pick?
2. Houston Texans: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Stroud is the safest of the quarterbacks in this draft.
3, Arizona Cardinals: Edge Will Anderson, Alabama
History says Anderson may be a risky pick because of his Combine-listed size of 6-foot-3, 253 pounds when paired with 4.6-second 40-yard dash time. Those numbers alone don’t necessarily scream red flag – especially for a 3-4 team looking for an outside linebacker. But they also don’t scream “elite” – and this past season paints a picture as to why that’s important. Of the 18 players who finished in the top 10 in sacks last season, only three were both 6-foot-3 or shorter and 255-pounds or lighter: New England outside linebacker Josh Uche (11.5 sacks, tied for eighth), Dallas defensive end Micah Parsons (13.5, fifth) and Philadelphia linebacker Haason Reddick (16.0, tied for second). Uche injured his hamstring at the Senior Bowl and didn’t run at his Combine, but Reddick (4.5 40 at the 2017 Combine) and Parsons (4.39 40 at the 2021 Penn State Pro Day) both had much faster 40 times than Anderson. The Alabama pass rusher’s size profile is similar to Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, who went fifth overall last year to the New York Giants. Thibodeaux was listed at 6-foot-4, 254-pounds and ran a 4.58 40 and a 1.59 10-yard split, both just ticks ahead of Anderson’s numbers. Thibodeaux had a solid rookie season, too, as his 4.0 sacks tied him for fourth-most among rookies. That said, Cowboys second-rounder Sam Williams, listed at 6-foot-4, 261-pounds, also had 4 sacks in 467 fewer snaps on defense than Thibodeaux. Williams ran a 4.46 40 at last year’s Combine. The point is, there’s nothing about Anderson’s measurables that screams future Pro Bowler. You can’t just be super productive in college – even for a major program – and expect to excel at the next level if you’re undersized. History says you also need at least one elite trait.
4, Indianapolis Colts: QB Bryce Young, Alabama
See above. That said, there are some draft analysts who will pound the table for Young, saying his calm demeanor and ability to scan the entire field are his elite traits. And Indianapolis has a solid offensive line and one of the top running backs in the league, which will take some of the pressure off of Young. Now the team needs to find a tight end and a receiver.
5. Seattle Seahawks: G Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
We explained last week why Skoronski is the better pick here than Georgia’s Jalen Carter. Nothing’s changed.
6. Detroit Lions: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
Want irony? Detroit drafted former Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah with the third-overall pick in the 2020 draft when it couldn’t find a trade partner to move down. Three years later, Detroit will likely draft Okudah’s successor after trading him for a fifth-round pick — and the CB they draft this year likely won’t be as highly ranked of a player as Okudah was in his draft.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
You know exactly what you’re getting with Jimmy Garoppolo: he’s not an elite passer like Aaron Rodgers or Joe Burrow, and he’s far from the running QB like Lamar Jackson or even Jalen Hurts. Instead, Garoppolo is just a grinder whose teams always seem to be contending for conference and league titles. On the other hand, there’s Kentucky’s Will Levis, who’s still available in this mock draft. Why would the team essentially waste a pick on drafting Garoppolo’s backup? Cornerback is a big need, and Gonzalez would be an immediate upgrade.
8. Atlanta Falcons: DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
Fans are trying to figure out which team inside the top-10 may have promised Carter it would draft him. Atlanta seems like as good of a candidate as any other.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Paris Johnson, Ohio State
(trade with Chicago)
The trade whispers have the Steelers striking a deal with Chicago so that Pittsburg makes sure it gets the offensive tackle it wants. That could be for Skoronski, listed as a tackle in the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board, or Johnson, assuming he’s still available.
10. Philadelphia Eagles: S Brian Branch, Alabama
This was a tough pick, as it was really tempting to take Bijan Robinson, Tyree Wilson or even a tackle to eventually take over for Lane Johnson. But drafting Branch is like drafting two players: He’s going to see a lot of time at slot corner and at safety. Don’t be surprised if Branch winds up leading the team in tackles and defensive snaps.
11. Tennessee Titans: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
This pick likely comes down to Broderick Jones or JSN – whichever position isn’t addressed with this pick will likely be addressed with Tennessee’s second-round pick.
12. Houston Texans: Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
Wilson won’t slide too far. There’s also a good chance that Philadelphia doesn’t let him get past pick 10.
13. New York Jets: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
Forget the QB situation for a minute, and one fact still remains true: The Jets need to add pieces to its offensive line, particularly at tackle.
14. New England Patriots: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
Maybe – just maybe – the Patriots offense would look better with Mac Jones under center if the soon-to-be third-year QB had a solid running game behind him.
15. Green Bay Packers: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
While the Packers taking a tight end in the first makes sense, it’s also hard to get over the lack of success stories in recent years for tight ends who were drafted on Day 1.
16. Washington Commanders: QB Will Levis, Kentucky
While this pick makes sense, it also has disaster written all over it. Consider this realistic scenario: Washington starts Levis over 2022 fifth-rounder Sam Howell, then inserts Howell as the starter at some point when Levis inevitably struggles. What if Howell looks better than Levis? (which isn’t totally unexpected of a second-year player versus a rookie). Or what about another realistic scenario: What if Levis doesn’t beat out Howell out of training camp? All of this puts a ton of pressure on Levis, which isn’t ideal.
17. Chicago Bears: OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee
(trade with Pittsburgh)
Chicago keeps picking up draft assets and still lands a quality right tackle.
18. Detroit Lions: DL Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh
Detroit won’t have the worst defense in the league much longer.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah
Look on the bright side: If the Kyle Trask era goes poorly enough, then Caleb Williams or Drake Maye will have a really good tight end to throw to.
20. Seattle Seahawks: DL Mazi Smith, Michigan
Seattle has needs at center, the secondary and at pass rusher – and taking Smith, who was Bruce Feldman’s No. 1 “freak” – may be a bit of a reach here. But Seattle can fill all three needs if it plays its hands right, as the team also has picks in the second round at Nos. 37 and 52. It’s an exceptionally deep draft for cornerbacks, so there’s no need to pounce on the highest-remaining one with this pick. But there’s only two nose tackles (Smith, ranked No. 29, and Baylor’s Siaki Ika, ranked No. 59) with Round 1 or 2 rankings. The same goes for the center position, as there’s a big dropoff after the top two. Therefore, it comes down to which trio you like better: Smith-center-corner, or center-Ika-corner?
21. Los Angeles Chargers: WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
It’s hard to see the Chargers passing up on this kind of speed – Justin Herbert finished second in the league last year in total passing yards. This could move him up to No. 1.
22. Baltimore Ravens: WR Zay Flowers, Boston College
Does the signing of OBJ mean the Ravens won’t take a receiver on Day 1? Nope. The team reportedly loves Flowers.
23. Minnesota Vikings: WR Josh Downs, North Carolina
24. Jacksonville Jaguars: Edge Nolan Smith, Georgia
All of the things that make Will Anderson a bit of a “boom or bust” player is what makes Smith a better statistical bet to be a better player, as the undersized Georgia pass rusher will be one of the fastest players in the league at his position.
25. New York Giants: WR Jordan Addison, USC
There’s nothing that particularly stands out about Addison; hence, the fall to late in the first round. He’s a bit undersized at 5-foot-11, 173-pounds, and his 4.49 40 was great-but-not-elite. Addison also finished his college career with two TDs in his final seven games. And scouts wonder if he has enough strength to get to his spots against handy and/or bigger cornerbacks at the next level. But make no mistake: Addison is an elite athlete. He can run a variety of routes inside or outside, he has incredible acceleration and his ability to return punts are the reasons he won’t fall out of the first round.
26. Dallas Cowboys: RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
O’Cyrus Torrence is an option here, too – if Dallas doesn’t take a left guard here, then expect them to take one no later than Day 2. Otherwise, Joey Porter would be the fourth cornerback, Murphy would be a rotational pass rusher and Johnston would, at best, be the third option at receiver, although there will be pressure to take the Temple, Texas product if he’s still on the board. Taking Gibbs is simply about taking the top playmaker at this spot, the player most likely to put up big numbers his first season.
27. Buffalo Bills: G O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
Ever play a video game in which your character has an amazing weapon (Josh Allen) but needs some armor upgrades (the offensive line)? Then you already know: It doesn’t matter how great your weapons are if you’re always dodging bullets. Torrence might not be an exciting pick, but he’s a necessary one for Buffalo.
28. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Chidobe Awuzie, a free agent pickup in 2021, is a free agent after the season and missed half the season last year with an ACL tear. Not only is Porter great value at this spot, it’s a sneaky big position of need for the Bengals.
29. New Orleans Saints: QB Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
It’s looking more and more like Hooker might go on Day 1.
30. Philadelphia Eagles: Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson
The great part about this pick is that Philadelphia has enough depth to slowly bring Murphy along – as they did last year with defensive tackle Jordan Davis. And right about the time that players like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham finally call it quits, the hope is that Davis and potentially Murphy are ready to step in and play at the same level.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
So what if Johnston allegedly has “bad hands.” That just means he’ll catch 70 passes for 1,200 yards instead of 100 for 1,500 next season when paired with QB Patrick Mahomes.
Los Angeles Rams, second round: DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson
Miami Dolphins, second round: RB David Achane, Texas A&M
Denver Broncos, third round: WR Rashee Rice, SMU
Cleveland Browns, third round: DL Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern
San Francisco 49ers, third round: LB Nick Herbig, Wisconsin
Jake Rigdon (@jrigdon73) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak.com. His big board is updated at least once per week during the season and leading up to the draft. Message him on Twitter to receive $3 off your new Ultimate GM subscription.