Syracuse has produced some of the best NFL edge rushers in recent memory. After getting drafted No. 11 overall in 2002, Dwight Freeney compiled 125.5 sacks (18th all-time), made seven Pro Bowls and was named to the NFLs All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
How about Chandler Jones? With 77 sacks across his first seven seasons, the man is sacking NFL quarterbacks at an elite level. He’s averaging over 13 sacks per season over the last four years.
In Alton Robinson, the Orange currently have an exciting edge rushing prospect that can continue Syracuse’s recent legacy at the position.
But that wasn’t always the plan.
How exactly did a dynamic high school recruit from San Antonio that was originally committed to Texas A&M make his way to upstate New York? Kevin Sumlin - head coach of the Aggies at the time - pulled his scholarship after Robinson was facing a 20-year prison sentence for a robbery charge.
Charged with second-degree robbery, Robinson was accused of stealing his girlfriend’s purse and cellphone. According to the arrest report, there was a struggle between the 17-year-old Robinson and his girlfriend over her purse. Police said Robinson pushed his girlfriend down and she chased Robinson who dropped the purse but kept the phone.
Robinson allegedly committed a similar crime in May of 2015, stealing the same girlfriends purse, pushing her into a bush and was chased by her.
All of the charges were dismissed in July of 2017 due to an uncooperative witness.
These events altered the course for Robinson who no longer had a future in the SEC and spent 2016 at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M where he racked up 14 sacks as a freshman before landing with Syracuse in 2017.
According to a release from the school, Syracuse performed its own review of the circumstances surrounding Robinson and were satisfied with what it revealed.
“We have conducted a thorough and comprehensive review of Alton’s background and have received nothing but positive feedback from all who know him, including educators, academic leaders and coaches,” Syracuse Director of Athletics John Wildhack said. “Alton has shown deep regret and remorse for his actions and has grown as a result of the support he’s had from his family, friends and coaches.”
Robinson had a solid first season with Syracuse in 2017, racking up 30 tackles and five sacks before breaking out in 2018 with 39 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles.
After such an impressive junior season, many believed Robinson would forgo his senior season and take his talents to the NFL, but Robinson had other things in mind.
“I wouldn’t want to just give them two seasons,” Robinson said after practice in preparation for Syracuse’s Bowl Game last year against West Virginia.
Finishing No. 15 in the AP Poll, Syracuse boasted a 10-3 record in 2018 which was just the Orange’s fourth season above .500 since 2001. In the previous three seasons, Syracuse was 4-8 in each season.
With lofty expectations and aiming to prove 2018 is the new standard for the Orange, Robinson and the defense are critical to Syracuse’s success. Creating 31 turnovers in 2018, Syracuse led all Power Five teams last season.
When it comes to Robinson in the NFL, he features a lot of the goods that the league covets in edge rushing prospects.
WHY HE WINS
Passing the eyeball test, Robinson features a long and muscular frame with ideal thickness in his lower half. He has explosive burst with the kind of juice that puts stress on offensive tackles to reach their set points and keep pace around the arc.
From a pass rushing perspective, Robinson illustrates good variety with his repertoire of moves. His bread-and-butter is a dip and rip that showcases his first step quickness, flexibility and closing burst, but he also does well to convert speed-to-power and deploy a variety of hand moves to soften rush angles.
Robinson is generally a fundamentally sound run defender that has the functional strength to set the edge and squeeze gaps. He is quite natural when it comes to IDing blocks, jamming tight ends, stepping down when his gap is vacated and taking on pullers.
WHERE HE CAN IMPROVE
I believe he leaves some meat on the bone at times when rushing the passer which stems from inconsistent vision reading the set of his blocker and understanding the best way to attack the pocket. Whether it's failing to recognize a quick set and working too far up the field or times when his blocker takes a sloppy set and opens the door to attack the b-gap, there are some missed opportunities.
I like his ability as a run defender but there is another level of consistency to achieve. He has some bad reps where he gets worked out of his gap and he fails to effectively exchange power to maintain his fit.
With Robinson’s legal issues behind him, he’s found a home in Syracuse and is playing great football for an upstart team with a great defense. A catalyst for that success, Robinson is positioning himself to be a coveted prospect in April.