FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Bijan Robinson has a new number with a big Atlanta history, a newly signed contract and huge expectations no rookie Falcons running back has faced in recent years.
The Falcons announced Friday on the opening day of the team’s three-day rookie minicamp that Robinson signed a $21.96 million, four-year contract with a fifth-year option. Robinson debuted his new No. 7 jersey — the number worn by former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick — at the camp.
Robinson worked out an agreement with placekicker Younghoe Koo, who switched from No. 7 to No. 6.
Though no Falcons number has been retired, Robinson said coaches received approval from Vick for the rookie to wear No. 7.
Robinson acknowledged he thought twice about taking the number Vick wore for six years in Atlanta after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft. Vick was named to three Pro Bowl teams and became the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards before he served 21 months in federal prison after being found guilty for his role in a dog fighting ring.
“The coaches asked Vick if I could wear it and he was super excited about it,” Robinson said. “I think it’s pretty cool to continue on such a great number. When I was thinking about the number I was like ah, I don’t know if I should do it. There’s been some good players that wore it. But it means a lot to the program and I’m going to ride with it and do it the right way.”
Robinson said Koo was “super cool” with relinquishing the No. 7.
The Falcons’ choice of Robinson at No. 8 overall in last month’s NFL draft was widely regarded as confirmation of the team’s run-first philosophy under third-year coach Arthur Smith.
Robinson is quick to note he expects to be more than a runner in the Falcons’ offense. He had 60 catches for 805 yards and eight touchdowns in his college career at Texas while running for 3,410 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Robinson was the first running back to be taken among the first 10 picks in the draft since Saquon Barkley was the second pick in 2018 by the New York Giants. That sets up inevitable comparisons between Robinson and Barkley.
The fit of Robinson in a run-first attack places Robinson in position to flourish as a rookie. Fanduel Sportsbook lists Robinson as the favorite to be named AP NFL rookie of the year, ahead of quarterbacks Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson.
Robinson says he doesn’t find those projections to be a burden.
“Obviously I’m going to have expectations,” he said. “For me it’s just another opportunity to be the best player I can be. … I’m really more excited to show what I can do as a good teammate and then let everything else go from there.”
Smith says there is room in the offense for Robinson and second-year running back Tyler Allgeier, who ran for 1,035 yards as a rookie and finished the 2022 season as the No. 1 running back.
Smith says Robinson’s explosive big-play ability makes him a “home-run hitter” in the offense. Smith said Allgeier is “a sledgehammer that’s bludgeoning through their line of scrimmage as the game goes on and wears you down.”
Robinson’s skills may more closely compare with Cordarrelle Patterson, a former wide receiver with Minnesota and Chicago before moving to running back when he joined the Falcons in 2021. Patterson continued to line up wide in many formations with the Falcons and will be entering the final year of his contract in 2023.
Robinson’s history playing in the slot at Texas sets him up for a versatile role in Atlanta.
“With Bijan, how he fits, there are a lot of guys that are versatile,” Smith said Friday. “… We feel like we can give some people some unique matchups and continue to push the limits and we’re excited about all the rookies in it.”
NOTES: Falcons senior personnel executive Phil Emery retired following 23 seasons in the NFL, including 15 with the Falcons. He was the Bears’ general manager from 2012-14. … Notable among the second-year players participating in the camp is OG Justin Shaffer, a sixth-round draft pick in 2022 who spent last season on the practice squad.
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