Bears Assistant GM Opens Door for Drafting Offensive Playmaker

Bijan Robinson Bears Cunningham

Getty Bijan Robinson of the Texas Longhorns.

If the Chicago Bears decide not to take Texas star Bijan Robinson with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft, it won’t be because their scouting department believes running backs aren’t worth a top-10 pick in the modern NFL.

Bears assistant general manager Ian Cunningham spoke with reporters Tuesday about Thursday’s opening round of the 2023 NFL draft and indirectly answered an important question about the possibility of the Bears drafting Robinson in the first round. He was asked whether he believes running backs are still worthy of a top-10 selection despite the modern game’s tendency to devalue the position group.

“That’s a really good question,” Cunningham said before pausing and stating clearly: “Yes, I think it’s worth it.”

The Bears currently hold the ninth overall selection after trading down from the top spot with the Carolina Panthers for a blockbuster haul earlier in the offseason. If they decide not to trade down further and stay put at No. 9, Robinson could be the best offensive playmaker on the board for them alongside Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Cunningham also said there are “six to eight” players the Bears would feel comfortable drafting with the No. 9 pick, a group that could include both Robinson and JSN.

Bijan Robinson at No. 9 Would Be Bold for Chicago

Everyone seems to have the Bears penciled in for one of a few different options with the No. 9 pick: Take Jalen Carter if he falls, draft the best offensive tackle on their board or trade down further into the first round to acquire another premium second-rounder.

If the Bears feel that Robinson is a generational talent at the running back spot, though, it won’t be too difficult for fans to get excited about him joining the backfield.

Right now, the Bears have two running backs coming off of career years — Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman — in place to lead their backfield in 2023. If both of them are able to pick up where they left off in 2022, Chicago should be able to maintain its high-level rushing output even without David Montgomery around as the lead back.

Robinson, however, would add a whole new level of dynamic to their run-heavy offense.

Part of the reason why the Bears were the No. 1 rushing offense in the league in 2022 was that quarterback Justin Fields delivered the second-best rushing season for a quarterback in NFL history (1,143). That was sometimes a decision by choice, as his rushing abilities had been evident even before then, but it was also the result of a poorly constructed offense that lacked receiving weapons and consistent pass protection.

Ideally, Fields won’t be rushing as often in 2023 with more significant receiving weapons in his arsenal, and Robinson could help that goal on two fronts. He is an accomplished back who churned out nearly 1,600 yards and an eye-popping 18 touchdowns for the Longhorns in 2022 and is also experienced as a pass-catcher, having caught 60 passes for an average of 13.4 yards per reception and scored eight touchdowns through the air over his three-season collegiate career.

For the Bears fans who kept their fingers crossed about Saquon Barkley heading to Chicago this offseason, Robinson would be a dream come true. The six-foot, 215-pound rushing sensation has drawn comparisons from Barkley to LaDanian Tomlinson and would offer the Bears a long-term solution in the backfield as they turn their focus to other areas of their young roster in the drafts ahead.

Is Robinson going to be the best bet for the Bears at No. 9, though?

Bears Seem More Likely to Take OT or Trade Down

The unpredictability of the 2023 draft’s first round has been a big talking point this week leading up to the main event. There is no clear-cut No. 1 overall pick and the top 10 could shake out dozens of different ways, especially if more trades happen. So truthfully, Robinson to the Bears at No. 9 overall could happen — but it still feels like an extreme longshot given their roster’s more concerning areas of need.

The Bears desperately need help on both their offensive and defensive lines with an offensive tackle and a three-technique defensive tackle considered the biggest missing pieces of the puzzle. The good news is the Bears have quality options to explore at both spots — and at edge rusher — if they stay put at No. 9 that would make far more sense from a roster-construction standpoint than using their top-10 pick on Robinson.

Jalen Carter is the big name to watch for Chicago. He might not slide all the way down to No. 9 overall, but there has been a lot of chatter about them wanting to target him if he is, in fact, still on the board when they make their selection. He would fulfill the 3-tech role for Matt Ebeflus’ 4-3 defensive scheme, a role he has deemed the “engine” of his defense, and would become a foundational piece for the future of their D-line.

If Carter isn’t the play, then the Bears could also have their choice of offensive tackles. Even if one of the teams above them in the top eight takes one off the board, there are a few high-level Day 1 starters in the group between Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., Georgia’s Broderick Jones and Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski. They could also trade further down into the first round and target one of the offensive tackles more likely to fall, such as Tennessee’s Darnell Wright or Ohio State’s Dawand Jones.

Robinson might be a flashy weapon with a generational ceiling, but the Bears would have to hit in quite a few other places for that pick to not feel like a waste of resources.

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