In the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings selected edge rusher Janarius Robinson out of Florida State. He was a four-star recruit out of high school in 2016 but had a very mundane career in Tallahassee, racking up 48 tackles and three sacks last year. However, his play at the Senior Bowl, his combine performance, and his prototypical defensive end frame caught the attention of NFL teams.
Robinson walked away from his combine with a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.33, ranking him 92nd out of 1362 defensive end prospects from 1987 to 2021 — or in the top 93rd percentile.
Smith was Washington’s second-round pick in 2015 and has been a consistent starter ever since, averaging around seven sacks per season. He signed a 4-year, $52 million contract with the Green Bay Packers two years ago and is an impact player on defense. Jordan was taken in the first round by the New Orleans Saints and has become one of the edge rushers in the NFL. He currently has the second-most sacks in Saints franchise history.
Jordan and Smith have extremely similar physical traits to Robinson but showed greater success in college, and therefore were taken higher in the draft. However, with the correct coaching and situation, Robinson could achieve the ceiling he has the tools to reach.
But how do his singular traits translate? Former NFL general manager and vice president Mike Tannebaum recently developed an index titled Athletic Success Indicator (ASI), which attempts to quantify a player’s likelihood of success in the NFL based on testing numbers at his pro day or combine. ASI weighs various features differently based on that player’s position. For example, for an edge rusher, quickness score, hand size, height-adjusted speed score, height, and wingspan are the most important features.
According to the ASI, Robinson ranked third out of all edge rushers in the 2021 NFL Draft with an ASI of 63.9. For context, this number ranked just above former Buffalo Bills DE Shaq Lawson, who was selected 19th overall.
While Robinson was a highly recruited prospect, he did not reach his potential in Tallahassee, a recent theme with players on the team. In Minnesota, however, Robinson gets to develop under the tutelage of Andre Patterson, who is considered to be one of the best defensive line coaches in the NFL.
The clearest of this is Vikings star edge rusher Danielle Hunter, who had just 1.5 sacks his final year at LSU. Although he lacked production, Patterson molded his quintessential wingspan and quickness into the youngest player to reach 50 career sacks.
Minnesota seemingly does this every year. Last season it was D.J. Wonnum out of South Carolina. “[Andre Patterson] usually has some pet cats that may not be well known,” Rick Spielman said last year, “but [he has a] history with taking guys that are not well known that have the physical traits we’re looking for.”
This pattern has caught the attention of executives around the NFL. Before the draft, former Penn State edge Jayson Oweh drew comparisons to Hunter for the same reasons as Robinson and Wonnum, and the Baltimore Ravens pounced on Oweh with the 31st pick.
Robinson projects as a rotational edge rusher at the next level. He is a powerful run defender who showed many flashes rushing the passer using his length, flexibility, and effort.
The Vikings have a need at the defensive end spot opposite Hunter, and with enough development, Robinson may be the one to fill it. “I feel like I’m capable,” he said, “and I have the ability to contribute and compete for that starting role.”
Robinson’s physical attributes have defined him since his emergence as one of the best pass rushers in high school. He is headed to a team with a wide-open competition at edge rusher, which should garner him a rotational role at worst. Gaining game-to-game consistency and developing a pass rush plan plus a backup plan will help Robinson take the next step in his development.
For now, Janarius Robinson should make an immediate impact as a strong, lengthy run defender who will help the Vikings a good amount in sub-packages and early downs.