“They’re just getting such a positive guy that obviously loves football but wants to help the city just grow even more than it already is. My heart is out there for everybody and I’m gonna bring my faith and my positivity, my happiness and smile to every kid, every teenager, every adult, everybody out there. I hope they accept me for me and to have a great time.” — Bijan Robinson to ESPN on his selection by the Atlanta Falcons as the eighth overall pick of the NFL Draft
Salpointe Class of 2020 running back Bijan Robinson, one of the greatest football players to play in this state, was selected as the eighth pick in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.
Robinson, 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, is the highest selected player from Tucson in the NFL Draft, surpassing Tucson High grad Mike Dawson, a defensive tackle who also played at Arizona was the No. 22 pick overall in 1972.
He is the third pick from Tucson in the first round. Fellow Salpointe grad John Fina, an offensive tackle who played with the Wildcats, was taken as the 27th pick overall by the Buffalo Bills in 1992.
The moment @Bijan5Robinson became part of the #DirtyBirds#NFLDraft 4/27-29 on NFLN, ABC & ESPN pic.twitter.com/SWprgUqxqO
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) April 28, 2023
A few minutes after his pick was announced to the crowd at Kansas City, ESPN’s Suzy Kolber asked Robinson about the impact his grandfather Cleo had on him to be drafted this high.
Cleo and Gerri Robinson raised Bijan, who calls Cleo, “Dad.” Cleo, a Marana High School track and field and football legend, was a longtime referee in the Pac-10.
“First of all, I just wanna say give honor to God for blessing me to be here with everybody and given me the gift to be out here, but my grandpa, he’s just ecstatic right now,” Robinson said. “Just doing it with him and being a part with him, it’s so incredible, so amazing,
“I can’t wait to celebrate it with him and see what he says.”
Bijan Robinson drafted by the Atlanta Falcons!
I traveled to Atlanta a few years back to watch Bijan compete in the Rivals Five Star Challenge. pic.twitter.com/lIryDvQdyY
— Ralph Amsden (@ralphamsden) April 28, 2023
Bijan mentioned to Kolber that he will be active in the Atlanta community.
“I mean, they’re just getting such a positive guy that obviously loves football but wants to help the city just grow even more than it already is,” he said. “My heart is out there for everybody and I’m gonna bring my faith and my positivity, my happiness and smile to every kid, every teenager, every adult, everybody out there. I hope they accept me for me and to have a great time.”
Robinson, the top running back taken in the NFL draft this year, earned the Ed Doherty Award as the state’s top high school football player in 2018 and 2019.
He produced three 2,000-yard rushing seasons for the Lancers and finished with a state-record 7,036 yards. He is also the state’s career touchdown leader with 114.
As a true freshman at Texas in 2020, he led the Longhorns with 703 rushing yards in the COVID-19-shortened season. He broke the school record, averaging 8.2 yards on 86 carries.
Robinson started 10 games in 2021, garnering first-team All-Big 12 honors by again leading Texas with 1,127 yards and 11 scores on the ground and ranking eighth in the FBS with 142.2 all-purpose yards per game.
His final season in Austin included winning the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
Robinson was also a first-team Associated Press All-American and All-Big 12 selection after ranking sixth in the FBS with 1,580 rushing yards (258 carries, 6.1 yards per carry) and tying for fifth with 18 rushing touchdowns in 12 starts.
Speaking with reporters on a call after his selection, Robinson said Atlanta discussed playing him as a slot receiver, which he’s comfortable with having previously done so during summer 7-on-7 sessions back to his days before attending Salpointe.
He is a receiving threat out of the backfield, collecting 314 yards receiving with two touchdowns on only 19 catches last season with Texas.
“You all expect everything,” Robinson said. “I can do it all on the field for the whole city, and for myself, try to get in the community and do so many great things for Atlanta. I can’t wait to get there, we’re going to have a good time, and it’s such a blessing to be with you all.”
Robinson will get handoffs and passes from second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder.
Former BYU running back Tyler Allgeier led the Falcons with 1,035 rushing yards last season. The Falcons’ offense finished third in the league in rushing, led by Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson (695 rushing yards last season).
“Nobody ran the football in the National Football League more than Atlanta (in 2022),” ESPN analyst Booger McFarland said during the NFL Draft broadcast. “So yeah, Allgeier had a good season but when you can get a back like Bijan Robinson, who I think is a combination between Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey — because (Texas coach) Steve Sarkisian said he was the best receiver on the team — I think that’s too much to pass up.”
Dante Fargnoli, the Falcons’ area scout responsible for gathering information on Robinson, is quoted in the team’s Web site saying he’s impressed by Robinson’s “elusiveness.”
“It’s hard to get a good hit on the guy because he’s so hard to tackle,” Fargnoli said. “He has spin moves, elusive juke moves. No one really gets a clean shot.”
Fargnoli added the Falcons will utilize him plenty as a receiver out of the backfield because of how dangerous he is in space with his athleticism and strength to run past and through tacklers.
“It goes to show you how he’s utilized as a weapon, not just a running back,” Fargnoli said. “Whether it’s Cordarrelle, now Bijan, we’re not going to just use these guys in the box. It’ll be outside-the-box thinking.”
SOUTHERN ARIZONA FIRST-ROUND PICKS
No. 8 – 2023: RB Bijan Robinson, Salpointe (Atlanta Falcons)
No. 22 – 1976: DT Mike Dawson, Tucson High (St. Louis Cardinals)
No. 27 – 1992: OT John Fina, Salpointe (Buffalo Bills)
No. 7 – 2020: SS Nick Gonzales, Cienega (Pittsburgh Pirates)
No. 7 – 1982: SS Sam Khalifa, Sahuaro (Pittsburgh Pirates)
No. 9 – 1965: INF Eddie Leon, Tucson (Minnesota Twins/did not sign)
No. 15 – 2003: CF Brian Anderson, Canyon del Oro (Chicago White Sox)
June Secondary Draft
No. 3 – 1966: INF Eddie Leon, Tucson (Chicago Cubs/did not sign)
No. 10 – 1984: INF Ramon Rosthenhausler, Sunnyside (Detroit Tigers)
No. 16 – 1976: RHP Don Hanna, Rincon/University (Montreal Expos)
No. 26 – 1983: INF Ramon Rosthenhausler, Sunnyside (Texas Rangers/did not sign)
January Regular Draft
No. 16 – 1984: RHP Gil Heredia, Nogales (Pittsburgh Pirates/did not sign)
January Secondary Draft
No. 11 – 1984: INF Ramon Rosthenhausler, Sunnyside (Seattle Mariners/did not sign)
No. 3 — 1989: SF Sean Elliott, Cholla (San Antonio Spurs)
No. 11 — 1982: PG Lafayette Lever, Pueblo (Denver Nuggets)
NATIONAL PRO FASTPITCH SOFTBALL
No. 2 – 2010: UTIL Molly Johnson, Sabino (Tennessee Diamonds)
No. 4 – 2014: RHP Estela Piñon, Sunnyside (Chicago Bandits)
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.