Hub Arkush: While not a top need, Texas RB Bijan Robinson could be intriguing at No. 9

Scouts widely rank Robinson as one of 2023 draft’s top prospects

Texas running back Bijan Robinson celebrates a touchdown against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Dallas.

For 80 to 85 years after the NFL was founded in 1920, running back was the most popular – and arguably the most important – position in the league.

Of course, quarterbacks have always been pivotal and critically important, but prior to the turn of the century name me one quarterback you would have rather had on your team than Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith or O.J. Simpson, just to name a handful of the greatest players in NFL history.

The fact is the NFL began its transition to a pass-first league right around 2000. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and even tight ends began to take over the headlines, and while running backs will always be important, they are no longer anywhere near worth mortgaging the farm for.

This year’s running back class at the Pro Bowl included Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry and Las Vegas’ Josh Jacobs from the AFC, while the Giants’ Saquon Barkley, Dallas’ Tony Pollard and Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders were the NFC crew.

It is worth noting – that while clearly not completely their fault – none of the AFC Pro Bowlers were in the playoffs, and while all three from the NFC were a part of playoff teams, the Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl was clearly guided by QB Jalen Hurts, not Sanders.

How hard is it to find a top running back in today’s NFL? Among this year’s Pro Bowlers only Barkley (second pick) and Jacobs (24th) were first-round draft choices, while Chubb (35th), Henry (45th) and Sanders (53rd) went in the second round. Pollard was a fourth-round choice at 128th.

They weren’t cheap, but they weren’t hard to find either.

Free agency has offered even less this year with Sanders getting the biggest deal at $25 million, which works out to only $6.25 million a season and of which only $13.2 million is guaranteed. The third largest deal went to the Jamaal Williams who got just $12 million ($4 million a year) from the Saints to leave the Lions.

How does this relate to the Bears, if at all?

David Montgomery, who the Bears drafted in the third round of 2019, signed the second biggest contract this offseason with the Lions for three years and $18 million (only $11 million guaranteed.)

In spite of Montgomery also being believed to be an important leader and strong pass blocker, the Bears felt it was too much to spend to keep him.

Instead, the Bears went back to their new favorite shopping buddy, the Carolina Panthers, and landed D’Onta Foreman coming off 914-yard season for just one year and $2 million.

It feels like a smart deal and a real bargain, but where does it leave them for the long haul at running back?

Khalil Herbert had a solid second pro season after being drafted in the sixth round in 2021. He was among the NFL’s best with his 5.7 yard average, but he is smallish, and, to date, a nonfactor in the passing game and as a blocker.

The Bears appear to be done at the position in free agency, but what about the draft? With 10 picks, including two in the second, fourth and fifth rounds, they are likely to add at least one more prospect, if not a couple.

It could be interesting Day 2 stuff for the Bears, but there is another possibility they have to be prepared for.

Texas standout Bijan Robinson is the unanimous choice as the best running back in the upcoming draft. Many scouts have special written all over him.

My buddy Eric Edholm, a true draft expert for NFL Media, ranks Robinson the second-best prospect at any position in the coming draft and one of his cohorts, Daniel Jeremiah, has Robinson third.

As I’ve tried to spell out for you, most teams are not investing heavily at the position in the draft these days. And, with at least three – most likely four – quarterbacks and at least two – and possibly three – edge rushers also listed among the top nine prospects, it’s nowhere near unlikely Robinson won’t still be on the board when the Bears are on the clock. He may even be worth throwing in a third rounder to move up a couple spots to grab.

Is it a need for the Bears? No. But it could be a chance to grab the best prospect in the draft and add a difference maker to the offense once again without overpaying at all.

It could be unlikely, but it’s certainly worth thinking about.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush was the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and