Mel Kiper ‘Will Retire’ if Ravens Draft RB Drawing Saquon Barkley Comparisons

University of Texas RB Bijan Robinson

Getty University of Texas RB Bijan Robinson is one of the top prospects in this year's draft and projected first round pick.

The devaluation of the running back position has been a popular trend among draft analysts, media pundits, and NFL teams themselves in recent years as fewer of them are taken higher in the draft each year. In fact, in the last four years, there’s only been four running backs taken in the first round including none in 2022.

At the forefront of that movement has been ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper who annually urges teams to avoid taking one any earlier than the second round. When his friend and respected colleague, Todd McShay projected that his favorite team, the Baltimore Ravens, would select University of Texas star running back prospect Bijan Robinson at No. 22 overall in his latest mock draft, he was completely blown away, to say the least.

“Yeah, Bijan Robinson is a heck of a back, but did you watch J.K. Dobbins the last five games when he got healthy? They’ve got a stud running back,” Kiper said on Wednesday, February 15, 2023. “You can get a good running back in rounds five or six. … For the Ravens it makes absolutely no sense to me. If you’re right on this one, I will retire. If Bijan Robinson is a Raven, I’m gone.”

What made matters worse for Ravens fans clamoring for an upgrade to Lamar Jackson’s passing-catching arsenal was that McShay projected a run on wide receivers right after the Ravens with USC’s Jordan Addison going to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Boston College’s Zay Flowers to the New York Giants at No. 24 but claims there is solid reasoning for his perceived madness.

“GM Eric DeCosta could add another outside target to pair with Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay via free agency and/or on Day 2,” McShay wrote. “Robinson is my No. 9 prospect, pushed down the board by positional value, and the Ravens lean on the run like few other teams. We’ve now watched them look to free agents and practice-squaders at running back in back-to-back years, as J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards (both entering the final years of their deals) navigated various injuries. With Robinson available, Coach John Harbaugh could make a splash.”

There hasn’t been a running back drafted in the first round higher than the No. 21 overall since 2018 when the Giants took Penn State superstar Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall. He beat out No.1 overall pick Baker Mayfield for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, has been voted to a pair of Pro Bowls, and coincidentally is the player comparison McShay has for Robinson.

“Robinson reminds me of Saquon Barkley,” he wrote. “He forces missed tackles with ease (FBS-leading 91 in 2022), has burst through rushing lanes and can make plays in the pass game. If Lamar Jackson does indeed end up back in Baltimore, this would form a scary rushing unit for new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken.”

While Kiper would never actually walk away from his beloved profession over something as trivial as a team he admires and follows closely makes what he believes is an ill-advised selection, it’s completely understandable why he so vehemently disagrees with the projection. Teams are being able to find more serviceable and even starting-caliber running backs later in the draft on days two and three especially.


Mel Kiper Has Been Spot on With Recent Ravens Predictions

As accurate as the longtime draft analyst has been at correctly predicting or at least linking the team’s first-round pick in each of the past three years, one would think that he either has a direct line to general manager Eric DeCosta or a direct source inside the front office’s draft room.

He correctly predicted or linked that they’d take LSU inside linebacker Patrick Queen in 2020, Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman in 2021, and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum in 2022 at either one point or throughout the pre-draft process in the last three cycles.

All three players have either shown flashes or cemented themselves as booms and have little to no chance of being a bust. Queen has led the team in total tackles in each of his first three seasons including a career-high 117 last season. He also formed arguably the best off-ball linebacker tandem in the league with First-Team All-Pro selection Roquan Smith after he was acquired at the midseason trade deadline.

While Bateman has struggled with injuries in his first two seasons, he has shown that he can be a true No. 1 receiver when healthy and an explosive playmaker in the passing game as his team-leading 19 yards per reception among players that played at least six games in 2022 suggests.

As a rookie, Linderbaum already established himself as one of the best players at his position in the league after performing his best against some of the league’s best defensive linemen and inside linebackers. He was especially impressive and effective as a run blocker where he finished with the fourth highest grade among all centers according to Pro Football Focus.


Another Top Analyst Projects Day 3 Power-Back as Fit for Ravens

In his first mock draft of the 2023 pre-draft cycle, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said that he “would be pushing to take” Robinson if he were in the Ravens’ draft room but had them taking TCU’s Quentin Johnston at No. 22 overall.

In the most recent episode of the ‘Prospects to Pros’ podcast on ‘The Athletic Football Show,’ he said that Bateman’s former teammate at Minnesota, Mohamed Ibrahim, would be a great fit for the Ravens to target on Day 3 of the 2023 NFL draft in the fourth round at the earliest due to his injury history.

“Maybe other guys aren’t staying on the field ironically enough and this is a guy who every run, he’s giving you everything he’s got,” Zierlein said. “I think he’s a really good second back if you’ve got a back that maybe isn’t as big a hammerhead, maybe you take him as your hammerhead complementary back knowing that if your first guy goes down, this guy has no problem taking on 24 carries in a game.”

He compared the former Golden Gopher to 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year finalist, Dameon Pierce of the Houston Texans, citing the similarities in their hard-nosed running styles.

“He runs low to the ground, he breaks tackles and he’s a guy that on a team like Kansas City, for example, how [Isiah] Pacheco kind of took over the team in place of a former first-rounder…you could stick him on the Ravens,” Zierlein said.

In his final year in college, Ibrahim recorded career-highs in carries (320), rushing yards (1,665), touchdowns (20), and games played (12) according to Sports Reference.

The Ravens love Edwards and everything he brings to the table from a consistency, efficiency, and productivity standpoint when healthy. However, his cap hit of $5.6 million in 2023 per Spotrac.com in the final year of his current contract could make him a candidate for either an extension or being released as a salary cap casualty if they have to franchise tag Jackson.

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