Bijan Robinson Could Continue a Rich History of Vikings Superstar Running Backs
Throughout the past decade-plus, the Minnesota Vikings have a tradition of carrying some of the best running back talent in the entire NFL on their roster. Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene as one of the best running backs in NFL history, and almost immediately afterwards, Dalvin Cook jumped in and has had four straight seasons of 1000+ yards.
However, Cook now is on the downward turn of his career, and the Vikings may look to replace him this offseason. It just so happens that the 2023 NFL Draft class contains one of the best running back prospects in multiple years in Texas RB Bijan Robinson. Could the Vikings look at taking this latest top RB in the draft?
The 6’0, 215-pound RB prospect dominated Big 12 defenses throughout the 2022 season with the Longhorns, rushing 258 times for 1580 yards and 18 TDs over the course of 12 games. He also added 19 receptions for 314 yards through the air and a pair of receiving TDs. He’s a big-bodied back, but the game-breaking speed out of the backfield and effortless change of direction are the traits that really make him a lock to go in the first round come April.
But in regard to the question of whether or not the Vikings will take him, my answer would be this: don’t count it out. The reasoning behind this is two-fold. First, let’s discuss some of the other positions of need for Minnesota, and the talent that could be available when the Vikings are on the clock. Then, we’ll take a look at what Robinson could do for Minnesota’s offense.
In respect to the Vikings positions of need, the main ones that come to mind are cornerback, interior defensive line, off-ball linebacker, and wide receiver. If I were in charge of the Vikings, my focus would be trying to find a cornerback either in free agency or via trade. Someone like Jalen Ramsey has been the big rumor, but someone like Emmanuel Mosley would be very intriguing in free agency.
For off-ball linebacker, personally, my pick for the Vikings first-round selection would be Trenton Simpson out of Clemson. However, there’s an equally high chance that he’ll be off the board by the time the Vikings make their pick. This could cause them to trade down to get another pick while snagging a different player early in the second round, or perhaps, this is another position that they address in free agency.
For wide receiver, there are plenty of talented players at the position, but an argument can be made that the Vikings could (and perhaps should) have their eyes on a guy that they can get in Day Two rather than the first round. There aren’t any immediate superstars at this position, but plenty of guys have upside that likely can be had as late as the third round. And finally, there won’t be an interior defensive line worth taking at the end of the first round.
Most importantly, though, as for why we shouldn’t poo-poo the idea that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could go after Robinson in the first round is what he could do for this Vikings offense. Granted, Minnesota was top 10 in both points and yards (finishing 7th in both), so how much can this offense really improve?
Well, the Vikings running game was virtually nonexistent for large portions of the season. The Vikings finished among the bottom 10 in the NFL in rushes, rushing yards, and yards per carry this season. They relied almost entirely on Kirk Cousins’ arm to move the ball downfield before Minnesota pounded the ball into the end zone with their RBs.
A true three-down back is something that the Vikings have had throughout much of the 21st century, but they did not have that player in 2022. Now, perhaps that’s part of O’Connell’s scheme, but I don’t think he foresaw this team being one of the worst running teams in the entire league.
Another sneaky quality about Robinson is that he can catch passes out of the backfield. This is something that many folks expected to see more of out of Dalvin Cook this season, but it just never came to fruition. Despite playing a career-high 17 games, he recorded under 300 receiving yards for the second consecutive year. Robinson averaged 16.5 yards per reception in 2022 for Texas, further proving some explosive athleticism out of the backfield.
On top of that, the Vikings RB room could look completely different next season. Alexander Mattison is hitting free agency, and Cook may be a cap casualty when everything is said and done. This would leave the Vikings with just Ty Chandler and Kene Nwangwu in their backfield, a duo that combined for 17 touches in 2022. No one truly knows how that duo would hold up in the Vikings backfield over the course of a full season.
Finally, I would argue this is the perfect time for the Vikings to find an explosive running back. It would take pressure off a soon-to-be 35-year-old Cousins in 2023. Minnesota’s offensive line is also the best overall group that the Vikings have had in years. There’s a reason we’re not talking about that area as a need.
When the Vikings inevitably part ways with Cousins, likely as early as 2024, it also makes the transition for a new, hopefully younger QB that much easier to have someone like Robinson as a workhorse in the backfield.
Every draft expert will tell you that it is bad value to draft running backs in the first round. That being said, the exception to that rule may be finding a player that will immediately be a top-10 player at the position and putting him on a rookie scale contract. Especially if the Vikings were to snag him in the mid-20s.
Robinson is a player that will transform the potential of an offense wherever he goes. If players at positions of need fly off the board early on, this is a route that the Vikings simply can’t overlook. Is Robinson the best-case scenario for Minnesota in the draft? No, he is not. Should Vikings fans be excited if he does suit up in a purple uniform to start his career? Absolutely they should.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.