Thursday, February 25, 2016

2016 NFL Draft Profile #28 - A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama

Alabama defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson (86) runs a drill during team practice for the NCAA Cotton Bowl college football game against  against the Michigan State Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Alabama defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson (86) runs a drill during team practice for the NCAA Cotton Bowl college football game against against the Michigan State Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
I have never been a scout or an NFL general manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, Click Here.

A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama - 6'4, 312 - Junior - #86
As we continue to dig through the first-round prospects, we arrive at the Fort Worth kid who is still just 20 years old for a few more weeks but has grown into a man ready to get into the NFL.  Robinson was verbally committed to Texas back in the day but switched over to Alabama on Signing Day, and the rest is history. In Alabama, he joined Jarran Reed and the rest of that blue-chip collection to set the pace in all of college football for their amazing stinginess against any team that wants to run the ball between the tackles. 
The questions about top-of-the-class run stuffers have existed over the last several years when it comes to draft discussions. Some years, the best run stuffers have fallen several rounds because they are not on the field much in nickel defenses where a defensive coordinator wants to get his 4 best pass rushers on the field. If a run stuffer like Robinson -- a guy who like his mate Reed is not often making plays off penetration behind the line of scrimmage -- is only playing 30-35 plays in a game, how highly should you invest in him? Well, perhaps that "new" way of thinking is already "outdated".  Think about it: Right now, if you are trying to win in the NFC, you should remind yourself that the last 4 NFC teams to play in the Super Bowl: the 49ers, the Seahawks, the Seahawks again, and the Panthers were all power running teams that would not have you in nickel like the Saints or Packers 5 years ago.  Perhaps, a run stuffer or two in the middle is the best way to beat those teams and power running is the new market inefficiency.  On a week to week basis, you might not value guys like this as highly as a 65-snap guy, but in January when you are dealing with the ground and pound of those NFC powers, it might be real nice to have a wall in the middle of your defense.
What I liked:  Robinson is a very large man with some fine athletic traits that catch your eye and place him in the "freakish" category.  He is very difficult to move off the line of scrimmage and because Alabama puts such a premium on run stuffing as a top priority, they have a few such players between the tackles and their main job is to stand their ground.  His leverage actually suggests he could get even better with some technique development.  He is a human roadblock, but also can move pretty well.  He gets by primarily on power and can toss an occasional lineman out of the way.  His arm extension allows him to set the edge and cancel any plans by the RB to go his direction, which stops plays in their tracks.  He can be disruptive and there are some games where he displays potential that is off the charts, including a stretch in November that placed him into the premium bin for this April.  He moved up and down that line for Alabama playing the 1, 3, and 5-techniques for stretches.
What I did not like:  He certainly doesn't look like a pass rusher unless he picks up a lot of technique at the next level.  Over the last 2 seasons, he totaled 3.5 sacks with 2.5 coming in the November game against Mississippi State.  At this point he simply attempts to push the pocket back into the QB, which occasionally does work, but not very often. There are very few plays behind the line of scrimmage to speak of and his contact balance suggests he plays too high.  Also, in some of his games - including the Clemson game for the national title - he appeared to be running low on fuel and had even less movement than normal.  As part of a rotation, this makes sense, but if he is your full-time option, you wonder if he has 3 hours of high motor play in him on Sundays where he is facing a lot of double teams.
Summary and Potential Fit For the Cowboys:  There is a lot to like here, and it is fair to consider potential as one of his greatest gifts as he is very young (even if he looks much older).  He is a rare physical specimen and when you watch him leap over the line of LSU to block an extra point like a defensive back, you can see the cash register ring as teams salivate at someone who can do that. 
But, is that repeatable and functional freakish ability or merely an awesome moment in time that lives forever on YouTube?  That is where you have to get your defensive minds in a room and debate floor and ceiling of a player.  If you think you can unleash his ceiling within 3 years, you have no problem taking him very high in this draft.  But, if you think that most of the time, he is a 1st and 2nd down speed bump run stuffer, that is the type of player that most teams would have a hard time placing high in Round 1. 
On the other hand, as we look at the Cowboys, with the 34th pick overall and the 3rd pick in the 2nd round, there is no question some quality inside defensive beef will be around when they are on the clock to start Round 2.  Defensive tackle - especially the 1-techniques who are primarily run stuffers - appear to be deep and plentiful at this spot and could really help the linebackers stay clean to make more plays.  I have my doubts that Robinson will be there, but he could certainly help matters if he is.

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