Falcons' Bijan Robinson eyes Christian McCaffrey role

Bijan Robinson wants to be used in the same multipurpose way Christian McCaffrey is in San Francisco. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA -- Bijan Robinson, like everyone else in the Atlanta Falcons' offense, is adjusting to new faces and new systems.

It's not just quarterback Kirk Cousins, the team's high-profile, big-money free agent signing. It's also head coach Raheem Morris and his staff, many of whom came over from the Los Angeles Rams when former coach Arthur Smith was fired after the 2023 season.

Robinson, who was selected No. 8 overall in 2023, has not practiced a ton with the team this spring. He missed most of voluntary OTAs with a left ankle injury that stemmed from being banged up during the season. But he returned earlier this week and will surely play a big part in Atlanta's mandatory minicamp next week.

When asked about how he is expected to be used in the Falcons' new-look offense in 2024, Robinson said it could look a little bit like how the San Francisco 49ers use Christian McCaffrey.

"I'm going to be more of a runner -- that [also] does everything else," Robinson said at OTAs. "... It's like I did college, [a runner] and then still having that access to go to receiver, still having access to do creative things out of the backfield, more so like how they use Christian down there in San Francisco."

Robinson, 22, rushed 214 times for 976 yards with four touchdowns as a rookie. He also had 58 receptions for 487 yards and another four touchdowns in the passing game.

There were questions about how the previous staff used Robinson in 2023, especially on a team that struggled with its quarterback play.

Robinson and second-year running back Tyler Allgeier essentially split carries last season under Smith. Allgeier, who was coming off a 1,000-yard rushing campaign as a rookie, had 186 attempts for 683 yards. On first down, Robinson carried the ball 121 times, compared to Allgeier's 105 times.

Robinson was ranked 15th in the league in rushing yards in 2023. Only two players in the top 15 of that statistic carried the ball fewer times: Miami Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert (209 carries) and Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner (208). Robinson averaged 4.6 yards per attempt. Only five players with more than 200 rushing attempts averaged more yards per carry.

Meanwhile, McCaffrey carried the ball 272 times, tied for second in the league with Rachaad White of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Robinson's total was 19th in the NFL.

So, the comparison to McCaffrey seems to intimate that Robinson will be getting significantly more carries in 2024. But that's not a lock, according to new offensive coordinator Zac Robinson, who also will utilize Allgeier.

"Whatever it takes to score points," Zac Robinson said. "If it takes Bijan carrying it 30 times, if it takes Kirk throwing it 42 times, whatever it's going to take to win that game that week. ... But we'll always run the football, that'll be at the forefront of everything -- the marriage of the run game, the play pass, the screens, the keepers off of it. And then being able to be a good dropback team, because you're going to have to drop back and throw the football on third down, you're going to have to drop back and throw the football when you're down in games in the second half."

Cousins has already given the stamp of approval to Bijan Robinson, whose locker is right next to his.

"I've gotten to know kind of how he's wired, and when you draft somebody, especially high, you want to make sure you didn't just draft a great player, which he is, but that you draft a great person, and he's that, too," Cousins said. "And so that was a huge win when I realized that, having my locker right next to him."