From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling a heart-over-height wide receiver who boasted a tremendously productive 2021 season. This receiver transferred from Nebraska to Kentucky for his junior year (2021), where he would go on to put up *over* 100 catches, 1,000 yards, and 5 TDs in an exceptionally strong breakout season as a starting WR. After his productive year, he declared for the NFL Draft, and now waits to see which NFL franchise will call his name this coming April. Let’s get into his profile to see where he could be selected.
#1 Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Kentucky, (Jr.) – 5080, 178 lbs.
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Wan’Dale Robinson||5080/178||9″||27 5/8″||67 5/8″|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Great speed and elite juice, great acceleration and stop-start ability. Agile. Great COD and short-area burst, nasty cuts in the open field; able to juke defenders out of their shoes. Good twitch
— Projects as a slot receiver. Did spend time outside at Kentucky but his size will likely relegate him solely to a slot role in the NFL. Able to stress the defense vertically
— Commonly run routes (some much more than others): go’s/fades, hitches, outs, slants, deep overs, “now” “smoke” routes/WR screens of different varieties
— Ran some corners, posts, curls (sometimes more of a hitch variation at a deeper route depth rather than a true curl), comebacks, digs, short to middle-depth crossers, flat (“arrow”) routes
— Uses route leverage and positioning to his advantage in stems and breaks. Good use of tempo, decent release packages. Great lean/bend around defenders trying to get hands on
— Utilized as a motion man and given manufactured touches on jet sweeps, aforementioned screen variations, etc. (RB experience and instinctive feel)
— Good catch radius for his size and arm length. Tracks the ball well, able to contort and position his body to make grabs. Fearless to make tough/vulnerable catches
— RAC/YAC elite, playmaking gadget machine: electric with the football in his hands, jukebox/joystick-type after the catch
— Great contact balance. Toughness to take a hit or two after the catch
— Able to find the soft spots in zones
— Newer to the wide receiver position full-time: declared as a junior and has time to improve with NFL coaching
— Willing blocker with solid form (see bad)
— Has some experience as a returner
— Small, lower tier below-average stature and build for the position. Below average play-strength vs. physicality, especially when matched up against a defender bigger in size
— Often schemed open/given touches
— Raw route runner (declared after junior year), very noticeable at times in his releases and breaks. Converted from RB (see good: could be viewed as a positive in that he still has room for development and refinement as a route runner – growth should be achievable based on small foundation), mostly vertical or shallow routes, can expand his route tree and consistency of other routes
— Rounds the occasional route, rigid (stuck in mud)/slow foot speed in certain breaks with poor footwork; lacks fluidity at times. Body manipulation can be developed
— Size-frame allows DBs to stick to him and/or re-route/knock him off his stem with the use of some physicality
— Most likely won’t provide much when it comes to contested, and 50-50 jump ball catches at the NFL level (despite some flashes shown at the collegiate level)
— Had some drops on tape. Body catcher at times
— Small size makes life as a blocker difficult for him when outmatched in frame
— 2021 Stats (13 games): 104 receptions, 1,334 receiving yards, 7 receiving touchdowns. 111 rushing yards on 7 carries
— 102.6 receiving yards per game in 2021
— 8.0 receptions per game in 2021
— 12.8 yards per catch in 2021
— Career Stats (31 games): 195 receptions, 2,248 receiving yards, 10 receiving touchdowns. 691 rushing yards on 141 carries
— Declared following his junior year (21 years old: birthday January 5th, 2001)
— 2021: 2nd-highest PFF grade for a WR since 2015 (91.3 – behind DeVonta Smith at 94.9 in 2020)
— 2021: Most missed tackles forced for SEC WRs according to PFF (22)
— 2021: 3rd-highest PFF graded WR in the slot (89.8 – behind Treylon Burks and Jaxon Smith-Njigba)
— 2021: PFF highest-graded SEC WR against man coverage (87.9)
— 2021: 39.3% target share according to Player Profiler
— Coaches and AP Second-Team All-SEC in 2021
— Paul Hornung Award Watch List in 2021
— Biletnikoff Award Watch List in 2021
— Nickname is “Dale”
— Describes himself as “electric” on the field
— Majored in communication
— 10,454 all-purpose yards and 130 total touchdowns in his high school career (44 games)
Wan’Dale Robinson is a captivating case study of a prospect. At just 5’8” 178 pounds, Robinson is severely undersized as far as NFL wide receiver standards go.
Robinson was the #1 recruit in the state of Kentucky back in 2019, and he ultimately decided to attend the University of Nebraska. After spending two years as a member of the Cornhuskers, Robinson decided to transfer closer to home, back to the home college he had been considering in 2019. That college is UK. Kentucky offered Robinson exactly what he needed for his NFL draft stock. In 2021, he would produce a top collegiate season, finishing his year with 104 receptions for 1,334 yards and 7 receiving touchdowns. He also added 111 yards on the ground.
Robinson excels as a football player when he has the ball in his hands. In this position, he can mix his talents as both a receiver and running back to rack up yardage. At the next level, his franchise would be smart to devise any and every way to get him touches. Purely speaking about his foundation as a receiver, he’s at a solid but not great place at this point in time. His route running is still raw, his size-frame limits him, and it’s fair to question if he will be able to carve out a full-time role as a top-three receiver on a roster. But, while everyone is enamored with the do-it-all gadget playmakers and thus will often overlook their shortcomings as a technician, Robinson does provide more in that regard than the typical. So, let’s hop on over to some clips.
First clip here is from Kentucky’s 2021 game vs. Missouri. I have some All-22 to show you. Lined up in a tight (a.k.a. reduced or “nasty”) split at the top of the screen, Robinson gets skinny to lean/bend through contact in his release. As he stems vertically up the middle of the field, he holds the deep safety that shuffled to the top of the of the screen with his head, then he suddenly swivels off a hard plant–sending his path into the open space overtop on a deep post/over route. He tracks the pass over his shoulder and hauls it in for a completed catch on the Yankee concept.
Next, I have two more vertical routes to show from Robinson. In both, he’s doing his damage from the #2 mid-slot in a trips set. Both routes are fade routes. Like the first clip, his bend/lean to escape contact is noteworthy in both of these reps. He’s able to do so after a cut that launches him into accelerating, and he doesn’t sacrifice speed because of his agility and body control.
#1 in the clip set is from the Mizzou game. It was on 3rd down with time winding down in the 4th quarter.
#2 in the clip set is from Robinson’s 2021 game against Tennessee.
Attacking a defense vertically from the slot is an intelligent way to provide your receivers extra room to work with, and your quarterback as well. This is something the Steelers must focus on implementing more in the future, rather than continuing to chuck go balls down the sidelines where room can become more constricted due to the sideline serving as an extra defensive helper. There’s a time and a place for attacking all areas of the field. The issue with the Steelers is that their plan of attack is far too predictable. That may change with a new QB under center, but they need to become much more intentionally purposeful with their passing game, even if it’s just a support (their weekly goal with new QB Mitch Trubisky should be to not shoot themselves in the foot on offense) for the run game and a potentially elitely stout defense in the short-term future.
Moving on, clip #3–also from the Mizzou game, is a good out route from Robinson. He’s lined up in the slot field side. With a free release off the line, he stems his route at the defender lined up in front of him. The defender sits and waits for Robinson to arrive while he stares at him, angled toward the sideline. With the defender now inching toward the hashes as Robinson draws nearer, Robinson shifts his path ever-so-slightly more outside (he did so from the near-start of his release because of how he interpreted the defender’s leverage) so that he doesn’t have to break from the defender’s far shoulder (in relation to where Robinson wants to break: the sideline) and fully across his body, which would give the DB more time to break on Robinson’s break as a result. Robinson then gives a solid plant and wraps toward the sideline, getting his head around once he’s in a position to do so. His QB puts a throw on him, and he makes a great snag with his hands away from his frame, then he kills both of his legs/feet inbounds before his momentum carries him out.
Next, in this clip from Kentucky vs. LSU in 2021, Wan’Dale gives the first defender eyeing him into his route a moderate bit of a stair step (wouldn’t call it the best example ever) after pushing vertically while angled toward the goalposts. It’s a bit surprising that the middle-of-the-field safety wasn’t able to get a better jump on this with Robinson’s inside stem and QB Will Levis’ line of sight alluding to the eventual ball placement of the target, but Robinson makes a heck of a leaping snatch to complete the middle-depth crossing route TD nevertheless.
These two clips illustrate Robinson’s expertise as a jack-of-all-trades, gadget playmaker. Robinson has experience at both the wide receiver and running back positions, which is why Kentucky knew that whenever they got the ball into his hands, there was a chance that good things–meaning big plays–would result. The Steelers’ current offense does place an emphasis on motion and receiver designed touches, so having as many wide receivers as possible capable of handling said touches is a bonus for an offense’s unpredictability. It provides a real threat to the defense that they can be attacked from all vantage points, forcing them to hone in on their discipline. Robinson is one of the best playmakers with the ball in his hands in this draft class.
#5. The first clip in the set comes from the Mizzou game. Robinson is sent into motion from the top of the screen into the slot. He’s then sent into motion again, and this time he’s handed a jet sweep. He curves his way upfield and finds open room to roam with built up momentum from the jet motion. He gives the last defender in his path a very nice dead-leg, drag cut to angle himself across the field and away from all would-be tacklers. Eventually he’s caught from behind, but not before picking up a nice big chunk gain on the carry. RAC/YAC exhibit A.
#6. The second clip in the set is from Kentucky-Florida 2021. Robinson is at the top of the screen and receives an immediate pass for the tunnel screen (a staple in Kentucky’s 2021 offense – they ran a ton of screens and variations). The O-linemen and also the back get out to block for him. Robinson displays exhibit B for his RAC/YAC knack, as his vision and elusiveness send him weaving through, by, and around defenders on his way for a score.
This set of clips is from Kentucky’s 2021 game at South Carolina. Robinson’s RAC/YAC capacity is again exhibited, but here his contact balance is the most striking element that stands out.
First clip, Robinson is in the slot boundary side and sits in front of the two nearest defenders on a hitch route. This play doesn’t look like it’ll be much of anything other than a normal, short-yardage pickup, but Robinson works his magic to keep his legs and feet churning forward, demonstrating unbelievable contact balance to absorb multiple tackle attempts and spin bouncing off like a pinball, out of the pile of SC defenders that converged on him like a shiver of sharks. He keeps his balance long enough to secure first-down yardage; truly an incredible play.
Second clip, similar story. Robinson is in the slot at the bottom of the screen and receives another tunnel screen pass immediately after the snap. The throw isn’t placed well to position Robinson to catch, turn, then run, but Robinson hops to latch onto it, landing in front of the closing defenders that eyed Robinson from the snap (linebacker and safety). They arrive before Kentucky’s linemen and tight end can release to pick them up, surging into position to take Robinson down. However, Robinson sees the threat and anticipates it, ducking just enough to escape having his head taken clean off. Somehow, he also maintains his balance enough to stumble into a long fall forward past the first down marker. Yet another rep where Robinson made something out of nothing. Remarkable times two.
Moving on, this clip contains a compelling route to examine (good and bad). It’s from the Mizzou game. Robinson is at the top of the screen working with a free release. He slimly curves his stem to the outside once he gets going (you can tell based on his starting point on the hashes and how he travels outside of them). Once he gets close to reaching the 50-yard line, he suddenly drops his weight, angling his chest forward to get it more over his toes. He also “beats the drum” (without overdoing it which can throw off coordination/tip the WR’s hand about his break) as he sinks with his hands/arms pumping down powerfully to aid him in putting on the breaks for the curl route. He does take a good clip of steps at the top of the route, but then he sort of works his way back to the pass and traps it with his body for a completed catch. Then he again presents his instant after-the-catch ability (in short spaces here) to pick up a few extra yards.
Finally, we have another set of dual clips that provide examples of the “bad” with Robinson. Both come from the 2021 game vs. Missouri, which I have All-22 for, seen throughout the article.
#1 in the clip set, Robinson is at the top of the screen. He is being guarded in press and the defender is lined up with inside leverage. So, for Robinson to successfully create a bit of room to receive the screen pass coming his way, he must force the defender to move off his spot either backwards or sideways. We can see from the result of the clip that he is unable to do so. He attempts a jab outside to then cut back to where he needs to be to receive a pass, but the release and break is very slow, almost as if he gets caught in quicksand, slowing him from bursting toward the QB as a result. Consequently, he gets strapped on this rep for an INC pass. Not the best situation for him to be receiving a tunnel screen set-up pass.
#2 in the clip set, Robinson is in the slot at the top of the screen, field side. He and the outer receiver run a switch release which sends Robinson’s stem up the sideline. The switch generates free separation and serves to potentially obscure the vision of the defenders from their assignments. Robinson breaks into a comeback route (or what I believe should be a comeback route – don’t think it’s supposed to be an out route) just pass the sticks, but he rounds it. He does not keep his feet moving to work back to the football (he stagnates), so the defender in his area is able to read and react to the route break. I don’t think the defender unequivocally played a role in this rep (somewhat difficult to see from the view: maybe he dislodged it at the end? maybe just a drop?), but Robinson tries to catch the pass thrown his way underhand, in order to scoop it into his chest on his knees and is unable to do so. Incomplete pass on what would have been a neat route and gain had it been run to perfection.
Robinson is still raw as a technician and can work to further enhance and clean up his game in that regard. He will need to at the NFL level, due to his size.
For Robinson, there’s even more highlight plays in games that I’ve seen, but didn’t give a full re-watch to do this write-up. The ones I did so for are listed down below at the end of this report. Seen below, we are also focusing on 2021 tape for these profiles.
Wan’Dale Robinson’s skillset and collegiate tape is a fun watch. However, considerable roadblocks await his path to high-level NFL contribution. Knowing what he’s capable of on a football field, I do recognize and understand the intrigue with his skillset, but personally, I would be cautious with investing high draft capital on him over some of the other receivers in this class. I’ve seen conjecture that he could even go as early as late day two. I personally would not pass up on receivers being projected in a similar range; such as Christian Watson, Skyy Moore, George Pickens, John Metchie, and I think others can potentially be debated as well (just to name a few in no particular order), to select Robinson.
I came away feeling adequately satisfied after my full-film deep dive based on my expectations going in, and as I mentioned in the intro, I do think he offers more potential as a receiver than many prospects in the past that have been pegged as the next “lightning in a bottle,” gadget-playmaking gem. A comparison that came to my mind while studying WR as a prospect is former collegiate standout Tavon Austin. In my opinion, it would not be a surprise to see Robinson go in the fourth round, even though I have a late third-round grade.
Projection: Early Day Three
Depot Draft Grade: 7.6 Potential Starter/Good Backup (3rd Round)
Games Watched: vs. Missouri (2021), @ South Carolina (2021), vs. Florida (2021), vs. LSU (2021), @ Georgia (2021), @ Mississippi State (2021), vs. Tennessee (2021)