Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk is one of the best wide receivers in the 2018 NFL Draft. He was selected in the second round by the Arizona Cardinals and stands out among the rest of the receivers in the class. It’s because he’s been training like a pro since he was 17 years old.
He comes from a line of great receivers coached under Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. During his tenure in College Station from 2012 to 2017, Sumlin has had receivers like Ryan Swope, Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, and now, Christian Kirk, drafted into the NFL.
But Kirk is different from those who came before him, which is also thanks in part to David Robinson, who trains college and NFL wide receivers from all over. He’s not one of the most popular names in the draft, but could be one of the biggest to come out of it. Everyone around him will tell you it’s no surprise.
His work ethic got him where he is now
Kirk’s work ethic came in handy upon arriving in College Station. He played a lot of running back in high school, and needed to work on becoming a true receiver. It’s something that then-Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin raved about in a phone call with SB Nation.
“As a really young player, he put in the extra time and the extra work with his body to not only get stronger, but everything with nutrition, flexibility, you name it,” Sumlin said. “What usually takes a lot of college players time, he embraced his physical maintenance early in his career, and approached it really like a pro does.”
Kirk was already a great athlete. He was a five-star receiver coming out of high school in Scottsdale, Arizona, but had to be refined to become the receiver he is today.
That’s where Robinson came in, and helped turn him into a pure wideout
Kirk met Robinson, a wide receiver training specialist, thanks to DeMarkus Lodge, who he had already been training. Lodge was committed to Texas A&M with Kirk, and told Kirk about Robinson. Lodge would later decommit and go to Ole Miss, but the relationship between Kirk and Robinson was started.
Kirk would go to Dallas during the offseason to train with Robinson. “Not too many kinds of kids are doing that,” Robinson said. “That’s the type of work ethic this kid has.” Their first order of business, was to turn Kirk into a pure wideout.
“Just doing a lot of hip work with him, getting him to get more loose in his hips, because he came in real tight transitioning out of sudden cuts,” Robinson told SB Nation. “One thing we worked on a lot of was his catching, his ball skills, getting him to be smooth and natural with the football instead of fighting the football.”
He also mentioned that Kirk’s arm motions in running his routes was also a point of emphasis. “He used to have a tendency to freeze and lock his arms at the top of his routes instead of pumping them, keeping them active, and keeping his feet under control.”
All of these things took time, but it paid off, just as his numbers at Texas A&M would suggest.
The Aggies knew they had something special in Kirk
Off the bat, the Aggies knew that Kirk was going to be a star. He had six catches for 106 yards and a touchdown, along with a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown, all in his first game.
In terms of yardage, his freshman season was his best, with 1,009. But his touchdown production went up every season, with his junior year being his best with 10 touchdowns. He also had seven total returns for touchdowns on special teams, with six of those coming on punts. For his efforts, he received first-team All-SEC nods in both 2016 and 2017.
Kirk is still working to become great, just in the NFL
He’s come a long way in his progression as a receiver, but that work ethic of his and hunger is keeping him going. “He’s always asking how he can get better, he’s always asking what he needs to work on, he’s always asking those questions,” Sumlin said. “He’s going to be honest with himself and that’s the sign of a mature player.”
He added, “He’s done that since day one in college, and he’s really prepared himself mentally and physically and emotionally like a pro since he was 17 years old.”
Robinson has been preparing Kirk for the NFL, whether it was for the combine or Texas A&M’s pro day. They watch film on players like Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Mark Clayton, who is a similar size to that of Kirk. While he’s taking visits with pro teams, he and Robinson have been training 3-4 times a week during this offseason.
A point of emphasis they’re working on before he takes the next step, is his separation and finishing his routes.
“Receivers in general, you have to harp on them about finishing everything,” Robinson said. “Finishing routes, and not being lackadaisical or cool out of cuts. Those are the main things that I was harping on about him was showing that burst and explosion at the top of his routes, because those NFL scouts want to see that separation and acceleration.”
He’s another great wide receiver in Sumlin’s lineage
During his tenure at Texas A&M, Sumlin had Ryan Swope, Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, and now Kirk to come out of his program and drafted into the NFL. Part of that is coaching, with the other part having an established standard.
“We’ve been able to have those guys to set examples as they come into the program with younger receivers,” he said. But with Kirk, his ability to retain information has been key. “He doesn’t ask a lot of things twice. When I explain something to him, he gets it. He’s a one-time guy,” Robinson said.
“Any team that picks him up is going to have a very smart football player,” he added.
That, combined with his work ethic and natural abilities as an athlete, could make for a special talent for the Cardinals.