The Pittsburgh Steelers only used two of their seven draft picks last weekend on the defensive side of the ball. The first selection was a predictable one, addressing the defensive line in the third round, but it was widely expected that they would draft a defensive back.
Instead, the only other defender they came out of the class with was Mark Robinson, an inside linebacker out of Ole Miss who has only been playing the position for one year, having converted from playing running back.
That’s going to be a difficult transition, but he is in good company, and there is an advantage in not knowing what you don’t know. The Steelers added a prominent inside linebacker this offseason who had also previously made that offense-to-defense transition in Myles Jack.
That was a very different situation, however. Jack started playing linebacker as a junior in high school. He was already starting as a true freshman at linebacker for UCLA, and he went on to be drafted in the second round a few years later.
Robinson was asked if he was familiar with Jack after he was selected, and he of course said that he was, though when it was originally framed as being familiar with another linebacker out of UCLA who converted from running back, he wasn’t aware of the reference—because it’s not a huge part of Jack’s story.
Still, it’s something that Jack can counsel Robinson on this summer. He did also make that transition, even if it came several years earlier in his football journey than Robinson is intending. And T.J. Watt also converted from tight end to outside linebacker in the middle of his college career, as well.
He was asked about how raw he saw himself as a player, he couldn’t answer. “I’m not sure how raw I am”, he said, via transcript. Still, he understood where he had issues. “Play recognition was the hardest part”, he conceded, pointing out that there was just one play call on offense.
“But on defense, the play changes every time one person moves”, he said. “What came easily was my effort. My work to my will. That’s what I bet on and that’s just my game, so I’m going to continue to play that way and add more to the toolbox, and we’re just going to keep getting better”.
But first, and foremost, he has to make the team, and he’s at a deep position. Behind Jack and Devin Bush in the starting lineup, they also have Robert Spillane and last year’s fourth-round pick, Buddy Johnson, as well as Marcus Allen, Ulysees Gilbert III, and Tegray Scales.
Unless he shows up as a special-teams demon during the preseason, Robinson is quite likely to start his career on the practice squad unless another team claims him off waivers. But that’s nothing uncommon for raw players who come into the league an unfinished product at their position.