If you're like me, you read Jalen Robinette and muttered to yourself "Wait a minute...I know that name!"
Robinette's name was the one that grabbed your eye when you were flitting through stats a couple years ago, looking for a potential sleeper at wide receiver. His 25 yards/reception at Air Force caught your eye pretty quickly; his 10 7/8" hands jumped off the page.
But that was at the 2017 NFL Combine. His body of work was put to test at the 2017 Senior Bowl.
So why are we talking about Robinette in 2019?
Robinette was caught in the middle of an unfortunate tug-of-war in the service academies, back when he was Draft-eligible. The year previous -- you may remember Navy QB/WR Keenan Reynolds of the 2016 Draft -- service academies had changed their policies on pro athletes, allowing their cadets to graduate and immediately enter pro leagues by deferring their service to a later date.
While Robinette hadn't gone to the Air Force Academy under the assumption he'd be able to immediately enter the league, that was the framework he used to propel him through the 2017 Shrine Game and into the Senior Bowl. A Day 3 target with strong traits and measurables, Robinette expected to get drafted.
On Day 1 of the 2017 NFL Draft, the service academies about-faced. They reverted the policy back to the old rule: Robinette would not be eligible to play for a team in 2017 -- he had two years of service to complete first.
There was still a chance Robinette could have been drafted in 2017, had a team sign him to a contract that would retain his rights until 2019. But nothing came to fruition, as Nicki Jhabvala reported for the Athletic when she spoke to Robinette earlier this week. Robinette has spent the last two years working as a logistics officer for the Air Force, and now that the end of his service approaches, he's working to claw his way into an NFL camp and earn a developmental spot -- two years older, but two years more experienced.
The first thrust of that effort? Working out with Dwayne Haskins at the Ohio State pro day -- a huge boon for Robinette, as all 32 teams were present and watching.
While Robinette didn't do anything particularly eye-popping (one-hander around 3:10 is nice), what matters is getting his name and presence returned into the NFL view. Those teams that gave him some attention in 2017 (Bills, Patriots) have the same general manager and coaching staff now in 2019 -- perhaps they'll be the ones to check in on Robinette's 2019 product and give him the camp tryout.
Robinette's Falcon film was a ton of fun to watch. As messy as you'd expect for a two-star recruit who didn't enjoy much development under the Air Force coaching staff, the catch in traffic ability was clearly evident. Robinette's length and hand strength allowed him to regularly win above the rim on isolation opportunities afforded him by the rushing attack in Colorado Springs.
On the showcase game circuit, Robinette went up against stiffer competition in more traditional passing attacks, and accordingly the gaps in his production showed. Robinette struggled to deal with physicality at the line of scrimmage; generate separation through his route breaks; generate a downfield stack with his athletic ability. The competition got better, but it also had the coaching Robinette didn't get -- and hasn't gotten over the last two years.
But Robinette's promise still flashed at times -- ya can't teach size, folks -- and that promise hasn't gone away, either.
The catch isn't clean. The route needs some polish. But the hip drop, the length to defend the catch point: those are the building blocks you look for.
Remember: Jalen Robinette won't be eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft -- he's looking for a camp invite and a chance to make a 53-man roster. He'll get one -- of that there's little doubt. By multiple accounts, the years off have given Robinette time to fill out his frame, and he's bigger and faster now, as well. For teams with a developmental WR spot open, Robinette could be a sneaky good add.
But on-field, Robinette has so much to prove. Where is his technique? Does he have special-teams ability? Is he even a wide receiver, or should he be moving to tight end? Unknown quantities are enticing, but it's important to remember that for every success story you can remember, there's 99 you don't.
Robinette was exciting in 2017; he's exciting again in 2019. If he does become that one success story you remember, it will be a story worthy of retelling for years to come.