Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson is that rare defensive lineman who is actually bigger than he looks.
I don't know how many 310-pound guys I've ever seen who look closer to 280 than Robinson, but it can't be more than a handful (Alonzo Spellman comes to mind). He definitely doesn't move like many 6'4, 310-pounders I've ever seen, either. He is kinda tall, but he consistently comes off with great leverage, which helps him dominate at the point of attack against the run.
Normally you think of 3-4 defensive linemen as guys who come off the ball slow and kind of wait on the blockers, but Robinson would usually knock his would be blockers back into the backfield no matter whether it was a base block (down the middle) or some kind of stretch (lateral) block in either direction. Often times against would-be wide runs, Robinson would set the edge from head-up on the offensive tackle, and if you know anything about defensive line play, you know just how hard that is to do from that alignment.
Robinson also displayed ridiculous speed for a guy his size when he ran to the ball. He's fast enough to get down the line laterally and make plays against runs away from him from behind.
I SEENT IT, DAWG!!
Hell, if you were using create-a-player on Madden for a defensive linemen he would probably end up looking a lot like Robinson. And this definitely isn't one of those Tarzan/Jane situations.
So why aren't more people talking about him going in the top five of the draft?
I'm glad you asked.
First of all, I think one of the major issues is that you have to figure out where you want Robinson to play for you. He showed some versatility playing all over the defensive line in the five games of his I watched, all to some varying degrees of success in fact. It actually kind of reminded me of how the Philadelphia Eagles utilized Fletcher Cox this past season moving him around to some favorable matchups. Unfortunately for Robinson, his pass-rush technique needs quite a bit of work, so at least for now he probably wouldn't be able to come close to replicating Cox's kind of productivity as a pass rusher. We all know it's the pass rushers that teams typically crave at the top of the first round most years.
I was definitely impressed with Robinson against the run pretty much everywhere he lined up, but in those five games I didn't get to see him lined up on an edge very much. He held up well when lined up head-up over a center, guard or tackle. The few times he was lined up either on an edge or in the B gap on run downs he looked good, his pass rush was still in serious need of work, however. I would have loved to have seen him line up in the gaps a little bit more to see if maybe with more reps his pass rush might look a little better, because I do think the potential for him to be a dominant pass rusher is there.
Those head-up alignments are usually meant to get other guys free to make a play, but if Robinson had been in the gaps or on the edges more, I think I would have a more concrete belief on how much of a playmaker he could be in those alignments. Ain't nobody trying to take a dude high in the first round as a run stopper only. Even the few nose tackles who do go high usually have either flashed some pass-rush ability in college or had outstanding combine workouts. If Robinson was more polished as a pass rusher, I do believe he would be projected to go higher.
What Robinson needs to work is his lack of a diverse set of pass-rush moves. Usually even when he was allowed to line up on the edge or in the gaps, he still ended up rushing down the middle of the blocker. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, especially since he was pretty damned good at getting a push with his power moves when he really came off the ball. Ndamukong Suh is the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL right now and he's mostly a power rusher too, so it can be done.
The problem for Robinson is that he didn't show himself to be nearly as effective with his power rushes as Suh was in college. For Robinson to become a better pass rusher, he is going to have to get some finesse moves in his life. Otherwise, he might not ever get in again on third-and-long after a while.
The good news is that he can learn some finesse moves and maximize his abilities further if his NFL defensive line coach works with him and teaches him those moves. I say that because Robinson was so athletic on tape for a guy his size, and it's that uncommon athleticism that is getting him considered for the first round at all.
From jumping over an offensive lineman to block an extra point at the end of a blowout LSU game, to the few times he was lined up on an edge and actually took advantage by running around the offensive lineman, what I saw is a guy who has the potential to be molded like clay into the kind of pass rusher that gives offensive linemen nightmares. A guy that big and that agile can run over you or around you to the point that you have to pick your poison. With a few finesse moves, that's exactly what I envision Robinson becoming, eventually.
It's kind of funny, maybe a better word is ironic, that former Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa is a guy I think of as a safe player because he already has good technique and a reasonable amount of size and athletic ability. But I could honestly see Bosa going later than Robinson because Robinson isn't as good technique-wise. At the end of the day, the top of the draft is usually more about potential than it is about taking safe guys. You only hope to end up in that position every once in a while, so you want to get the biggest bang for your buck possible, even if it means the guy might be a bust, because you can settle for just good later on.
I haven't actually watched enough film yet to know for sure who should be in the top 10, but I will say based on his film, Robinson probably deserves to go in the top half of the first round or higher.
Even though he looks like somebody's uncle, Robinson still has a ton of untapped potential. In the right system with the right coaching he just may end up being a Fletcher Cox-of-2015 type player one day in the not too distant future. For me, the risk that he wouldn't is one I'd be willing to take.
One last thing. I've talked about Robinson's strengths and weaknesses here and most of them were consistent across almost all the plays in every game.
When I first went to watch Robinson's tape, I went with the Tennessee game because I used to play there and wanted to kinda check out how our offense looked against one of the best defenses in the nation last year. Shit got weird.
At the beginning of the game Robinson just didn't look into it at all. He wasn't using his hands well. He wasn't getting extension with his arms. He wasn't running to the ball. He damn near appeared to be sleep walking through the game.
Eventually, he woke up and started making plays for the rest of the game, obviously, but I can't sit up here and act like I didn't see what I saw the first 11 minutes or so of that game. You may recall that it ended up a lot closer than most predicted. Tennessee had the opportunity to win if it could drive down and score at the end of the game.
That, of course, isn't what eventually happened (sad face), but it makes me wonder if Robinson and some of his teammates maybe didn't take that game seriously enough at first. If so, that would definitely give me some concerns about taking him high as well.
I hate to be so harsh about it considering, aside from that one quarter, I didn't really see any lack of effort or focus from Robinson. Problem is, I've seen too many guys who ended up being busts not because of their ability, but because of their work ethic. If a guy won't bust his ass all the time he's probably not going to ever reach his full potential. The fact that it's going to take some hard damn work for Robinson to get better technique wise also makes it harder to watch those plays against Tennessee.
I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Perhaps there is some good explanation of why he came out flat that day. All I'm saying is that if I were actually in a position to pick or not pick this kid, one of the top things I would dig into is his work ethic. If I couldn't find anybody who would say anything other than that he was a hard worker, I'd just assume those plays were an anomaly. However, if I did hear any rumblings about bad work ethic, it would probably knock him down my board significantly, like out of the first round completely.
I just can't take a lazy dude who will need major technique work to perform well.
Can't do it.
Won't do it.
To be fair, the fact that Robinson was so good at turning and running to the ball consistently makes it harder for me to believe he is lazy. The problem right now is that I just can't be sure. If you can get past that concern, A'Shawn Robinson is one hell of a prospect.
I use the videos at Draft Breakdown for my draft profiles. They have the TV copy of a bunch of top prospects already cut up and ready to go. Their site is also compatible with the new NoHuddle app, which turns your cell phone into a "cowboy clicker" which is pretty damn neat. For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Alabama defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson play against Wisconsin, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and Clemson. Those represented the first, fifth, eighth, ninth and 15th games on Alabama's schedule last season, respectively.