Run to daylight: Running backs go before WRs in NFL draft
Jahmyr Gibbs was as surprised as anyone when the call came that the Detroit Lions were taking him 12th overall.
As a running back in a pass-happy league, Gibbs was resigned to the fact that he might have to wait until at least the 20s to get picked.
“I was still just talking to my friends, then the call hit me and I was shocked,” Gibbs said.
“Didn’t know I would get picked as high as I did because you know running backs don’t really get picked as high in this new-age era of NFL draft. Yeah, it was pretty shocking to me.”
For one night at least, running backs got some of the glory in the pass-happy NFL.
In an era when what used to be one of the premier positions in football has been de-emphasized, Texas’ Bijan Robinson and Alabama’s Gibbs broke the trend and went off the board quickly Thursday night in the NFL draft.
The Atlanta Falcons took Robinson eighth overall and the Lions took Gibbs four spots later.
The picks were a far cry from the last four drafts when only four running backs went in the first round and none were picked higher than 24th.
“Obviously, I understand the running back position has been looked at as a less-than position, but for me it’s a blessing,” said Robinson, the highest-drafted running back since Saquon Barkley went second to the Giants in 2018.
For decades, a player like Robinson would have automatically been considered to be one of the top picks after rushing for 1,580 yards with 18 touchdowns at Texas last season and clocking in at 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.
But no team had taken a running back higher than 24th overall in the last four drafts as teams have routinely been able to find top performers in the middle or later rounds and used first-rounders on players at premium positions that get big salaries in free agency.
According to the website OverTheCap, a running back picked eighth overall would be the 15th highest paid at the position compared to 36th for an edge rusher or 43rd for a wide receiver.
Part of what made Robinson and Gibbs so attractive in the draft was the fact that they both have the ability to excel in the passing game either from the backfield or lined up as a receiver.
That gives them more value in the modern game than the old-school battering ram backs who do most of their damage on handoffs.
"Being a guy that can play running back, play receiver, being versatile,” Robinson said, adding he worked as a slot receiver at Texas. “It’s an opportunity to do the same thing.”
Gibbs had 103 career catches for 1,212 yards and eight scores over three seasons at Georgia Tech and Alabama.
“At the end of the day, it’s about value,” Detroit running backs coach Scottie Montgomery said, adding Gibbs can help the team on every down in the running and passing game.
While the two running backs went early, it was a long wait for the pass catchers as no wide receivers or tight ends went until Seattle took Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba at 20th overall.
That started a four-pick run at receiver with the Chargers taking TCU's Quentin Johnson, Baltimore taking Boston College's Zay Flowers and Minnesota taking USC's Jordan Addison.
It was the longest wait for the first wide receiver or tight end to go off the board since D.J. Moore went 24th to Carolina in 2018 and the first time since 2010 that two running backs went before the first wide receiver. That year, C.J. Spiller went to Buffalo with the ninth pick and Ryan Mathews went to the Chargers at No. 12 before Demaryius Thomas was the first receiver taken at No. 22 by Denver.
The Lions traded down before taking Gibbs, giving up the sixth pick and a third-rounder to Arizona for No. 12, a second-rounder and a fifth-rounder.
That was one of six draft-day deals involving first-round picks with the Cardinals making the first when they traded down from No. 3 to 12. Houston moved up in that trade, sending the 33rd overall pick, and first and third-rounders next year for No. 3 and a fourth-round pick.
The Texans picked Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson at No. 3 and the Cardinals ended up with offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. with the sixth pick.
The Eagles also made a small move, trading a 2024 fourth-round pick to Chicago to move from No. 10 to No. 9 to take Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter. The Bears got tackle Darnell Wright.
The next deal involved Pittsburgh and New England with the Steelers sending No. 17 and No. 120 to the Patriots for the 14th pick. Pittsburgh took Georgia tackle Broderick Jones and New England got Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez.
Jacksonville then moved down twice late in the round, No. 24 to No. 25 in exchange for a fifth and seventh-round pick from the Giants. New York took Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks.
The Jaguars then traded No. 25 to Buffalo for No. 27 and a fourth-round pick. The Bills took Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid and Jacksonville got Oklahoma tackle Anton Harrison.
AP Sports Writers Larry Lage and Charles Odum contributed to this report
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Josh Dubow, The Associated Press