Shortly after the Pittsburgh Steelers selected LB Mark Robinson out of Ole Miss in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft, many wondered if he would have a legitimate chance of making the roster, let along making an impact for the team. Robinson went from Presbyterian to Ole Miss, moving from running back to linebacker to get on to the football field and increase his chances of making it to the league. While Robinson played well in his lone season on defense for the Rebels as a rugged downhill run defender, there were notable flaws in his game in terms of moving in space and matching coverage, leaving some to wonder if he would be able to adjust to the speed of the NFL game.
However, Robinson has made a name for himself through the first three weeks of training camp as well as after a strong showing in his first preseason game, getting the key strip-sack fumble that gave the offense the ball in Seahawks’ territory, as Kenny Pickett went on to score the game-winning TD with seconds left on the clock.
During the pre-draft process and after Robinson was selected, several people, including the staff here at Steelers Depot, suggested that Robinson is built and plays in a similar mold to another former Steelers ILB: Vince Williams. This comparison stayed with me throughout the summer, and after hearing about Robinson’s flashes at training camp by Alex Kozora and seeing him play Saturday night against the Seahawks, I do believe the comparison has some merit.
To lay the groundwork for this comparison between Robinson and Williams, here are their pre-draft testing measurables as well as their final season stats from college courtesy of SportsReference.
Mark Robinson Final Season Stats at Ole Miss (2021):
13 games played, 91 total tackles (42 solo), 5.5 TFLs, three sacks
Vince Williams Final Season Stats at Florida State (2012):
14 games played, 59 total tackles (38 solo), 6.5 TFLs, one sack, and two pass breakups
Mark Robinson Pre-Draft Measurables (Pro Day):
5’11 1/2”, 230 lbs., 4.65 40, 4.38 short shuttle, 7.27 three-cone, 33.5” vert, 9’11” broad, 34 bench reps
Vince Williams Pre-Draft Measurables (Pro Day):
6’0″, 233 lbs., 4.76 40, 4.67 short shuttle, 7.53 three-cone, 32.5” vert, 9’3” broad, 22 bench reps
Robinson was selected 225th overall in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft, while Williams was selected 206th overall in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. As you can see above, Robinson and Williams share nearly identical frames, being short, stocky linebackers that play with a low center or gravity. Robinson was more productive in his final season in college than Williams, but Williams had more of a track record being a two-year start at Florida State. Both linebackers wouldn’t be considered high-end athletes at the position, yet Robinson bested Williams in every category of athletic testing, posting respectable speed times as well as strong explosive testing results.
When you watch the two play, their play styles eerily mirror each other. Williams was that quintessential downhill thumper in the run game, lacking the sideline-to-sideline speed in pursuit, but always playing with his hair on fire. Whether it be filling gaps, blowing up blocks, or coming on the blitz, Williams always looked to wreak havoc in the backfield.
Robinson was touted coming out of Ole Miss as a similar physical run-stuffer, willing and able to throw himself into blockers and make plays on the football near the LOS.
Much like the play Robinson made above against Seattle, Williams has shown to be an effective pass rusher as well. During his eight-year career, Williams racked up 20.5 sacks at the ILB spot, including a fantastic 2017 season when he sacked the QB eight times.
Another similarity between Robinson and Williams is their overall lack of fluidity in pass coverage. While both linebackers will give their best effort in this area, neither of them are well-versed in moving East-West compared to coming straight downhill against the run.
Vince Williams went on to play in 121 regular season games in the NFL, starting 69 of them. He finished his career with 479 total stops (333 solo), 50 TFLs, 20.5 sacks, six fumble recoveries, five pass breakups, and two INTs. It may be wishful thinking to expect a similar career impact from Robinson who is still battling for a roster spot himself this preseason, but no one would have thought that Williams would have had the career impact he did coming out of Florida State back in 2013.
Williams became a student of the game and made himself a core special-teamer to start his career, a similar path Robinson will have to follow should he want to have a long, fruitful career like Williams did as a late Day 3 draft pick. Robinson will have to show he is as dedicated to the process as Williams did in the early stages of his career to convince the coaches to keep him on the regular season roster. Ultimately, Mark Robinson has a steep hill to climb, but he appears to be on the right path much like his predecessor accomplished almost a decade ago.
What are your thoughts on Mark Robinson? Do you see similarities between he and Vince Williams? Do you think Robinson can carve out a similar role in Pittsburgh that Williams had during his playing days with the Steelers? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!