If BYU football coaches weren’t already scouring the transfer portal for another big-time running back, they almost certainly are now.

For the third straight year.

“BYU has helped me move one step closer to realizing that (NFL) dream and I now believe it is within reach.” — BYU running back Aidan Robbins

The Cougars replaced the great Tyler Allgeier with Cal transfer Chris Brooks after the 2021 season, then replaced Brooks — now on injured reserve with the Miami Dolphins — with Aidan Robbins after the 2022 season, with mixed results.

Tuesday, Robbins announced via X and on the subscription-only CougConnect.com website that he plans to put his name into the 2024 NFL draft. Robbins’ decision comes as a bit of a surprise to some coaches and program insiders. Many believed his late-season surge after a rib injury limited his availability and effectiveness in the middle of the season that he would return, buoyed by an increased confidence in himself and BYU’s offensive system.

So now the coaching staff almost has to bring in another big back to complement rising sophomore LJ Martin, who filled in admirably when opening-game starter Robbins got hurt.

Battling injuries himself, Martin appeared in 10 games and led the Cougars in rushing with 518 net yards on 109 attempts. He also ran for four touchdowns.

Robbins, who had one season of eligibility remaining, appeared in eight games and finished with 485 yards and a touchdown on 101 attempts. He will be missed, but maybe not quite as much as Martin would have been missed if the El Paso, Texas, native decided to move on.

Martin isn’t as big and sturdy as the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Robbins, but he’s viewed as a better receiver out of the backfield. Robbins is better in blocking and pass protection, at least at this stage of his career.

Whatever the case, Robbins’ departure is a significant loss for the Cougars, who are bringing in a new offensive line coach (TJ Woods of Georgia Southern) to replace Darrell Funk and a yet-to-be-named offensive coach to replace tight ends coach Steve Clark.

“BYU has helped me move one step closer to realizing that (NFL) dream and I now believe it is within reach,” Robbins wrote on X.

Whether or not he will be drafted remains to be seen. His performance while battling the injury in the 2023 season did nothing to draw the attention of pro scouts, but he does have that 2022 season at UNLV to fall back on.

Brooks wasn’t drafted, either, but has seemingly found a home in the league via the free agency route.

At UNLV, where one of his coaches was the aforementioned Woods, Robbins led the Rebels with 209 carries for 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 125 yards and a TD in Vegas.

After he rushed for 182 yards on 22 carries against Oklahoma in that 31-24 home loss on Nov. 18, Robbins expressed confidence in offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and Roderick’s system, unsolicited praise that many in the room felt like was an indication that he was leaning toward staying at BYU for another year.

“A-Rod, he is part of the reason I came here. No matter what people say about him, I always believe that he does what he does at a high level. He knows what he is doing,” Robbins said at the time. “I appreciate him for trusting me to go out and perform. ... He let me have the ball in my hands. I appreciate him for trusting me to do that.”

Now Roderick’s trust will shift to someone else, and he and running backs coach Harvey Unga will go through the process of breaking in a new back for the third straight year.

BYU running back Aidan Robbins declares for 2024 NFL draft
Assessing BYU’s needs from the transfer portal to avoid a repeat of unsatisfying 2023 season

The Cougars’ running backs room will also lose Colorado transfer Deion Smith, who is out of eligibility, and Las Vegas native Miles Davis, who entered the transfer portal late last week.

Davis, who might be questioning his decision in light of the Robbins news, ran 16 times for 78 yards in 2023. Smith got 23 carries for 64 yards and a TD.

As mentioned in a Deseret News article detailing BYU’s transfer portal needs, published before Robbins’ announcement, BYU will also have Utah State transfer Enoch Nawahine and redshirt freshman Nukuluve Helu back in the RBs room.

In 2022, Hinckley Ropati showed flashes late in the season and was being looked at as a second or third option behind Robbins in 2023 before he sustained a season-ending knee injury in fall camp. He was missed.

Robbins will be, too.

BYU running back Aidan Robbins carries the ball during a game against Sam Houston at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.
BYU running back Aidan Robbins carries the ball during game against Sam Houston at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. Robbins announced Tuesday that he is entering the NFL draft. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News