Mark Robinson was playing running back for the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks in 2019, their third-leading rusher at the D-I school that year, putting up 364 yards on the ground with four touchdowns on 74 carries. He didn’t have much hope of making it to the NFL at that point before he entered the transfer portal and came out the other end at Ole Miss.
But not even being in a more prominent school would have salvaged his NFL dreams, surely. After sitting out the requisite season in 2020 due to the transfer, Robinson begrudgingly made a position switch from running back to linebacker at the request of his coaches for his senior season in 2021, a decision he certainly embraces in hindsight.
He called it the “Best decision I ever made” when he recently spoke to reporters at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, according to Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, in an article on the first of the Steelers’ two seventh-round draft picks published yesterday. “Life changing”.
If it was the difference between being drafted by an NFL team and not, then it certainly is life-changing. His rookie contract with the Steelers includes a signing bonus of $112,356, which is his money to keep no matter what happens this season. If he does make the 53-man roster, he will earn a base salary of $705,000, as well.
While inside linebacker depth was not perhaps the most screaming need on the roster, Robinson had one standout quality that general manager Kevin Colbert and the scouting department coveted, perhaps especially after witnessing Vince Williams retire just before training camp last year: he’ll smack a guy in a way he’ll feel.
“That’s the one thing that stuck out about Mark”, Colbert said of the force with which Robinson hits, during a post-draft interview with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan on SiriusXM Radio. “He’s gonna have to learn how to play in coverage, but his downhill abilities were very impressive, and the impact he hits folks with really caught our attention”.
Williams was the only really physical inside linebacker the Steelers had on the roster last year, and his absence was certainly felt in the running game, though there were numerous factors involved in that. As his calling card, though, that is clearly the quality that Pittsburgh gravitated toward in deciding to use a draft pick on him.
Just because he has his foot in the door, though, doesn’t mean he’ll get all the way in. the inside linebacker position currently consists of six players who were on the 53-man roster last year or who were the direct replacement of somebody who was: Myles Jack (replacing Joe Schobert), Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, Ulysees Gilbert III, and Buddy Johnson.
That’s a crowded room, and there’s certainly no guarantee that he makes the team. Spillane, Allen, and Gilbert are all special-teams standouts, and Johnson was a fourth-round pick last year who had just begun to play when a foot injury ended his season.