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SI 50, No. 16: A’Shawn Robinson

Coming in at No. 16 on our list of the top 50 NFL prospects is Alabama defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson, one of the draft’s most polarizing players, who, if put in the right NFL scheme, has the potential to do just about everything.

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With the 2016 NFL draft just weeks away, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to finish the process of getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.

The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class, and why they’re slotted as such. As we start the top 16, we’ll be doing more comprehensive reports on one player at a time, and we’ll start with a multi-gap defensive lineman with the potential to do just about everything in the right NFL scheme.

16. A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
Height: 6' 4" Weight: 307

Bio: A’Shawn Robinson's history reads like something out of the old Chuck Norris memes. When he was still in his stroller, he looked like he was getting ready for kindergarten. When he showed up for his first youth-league football game, the officials wouldn't let him on the field until his mother showed up with his birth certificate. He was playing against seven- and eight-year-olds when he was four years old, and when his last high school coach arrived at Arlington Heights High in Texas, he thought Robinson was one of the coaches. Now, Robinson looks like he’s about 35, though he just turned 21 on March 21. Not only does the defensive tackle look older than his years, he acts that way, too—he became a vocal leader for the Crimson Tide on their way to the 2015 national championship.

“Loud and rough,” teammate Reggie Ragland said of Robinson’s style. “He speaks his mind. If he doesn’t like something, he’s going to let it be known. And that’s what we need... They listen. That’s a lot of guy over there.”

Robinson proved to be “a lot of guy” through his three years in Alabama’s defense, amassing 51 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and nine sacks. What the tape shows that the stats don’t is a player who, more and more, was tasked to take the heat so that his teammates could do great things.

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“Alabama, we played 4–3 [and] 3–4, so we do a little bit of both but we just don’t shoot upfield,” Robinson said at the combine of the scheme he's coming from. “Most of the time, were just gapping and pushing the pocket. But I feel like going to an [NFL] team I have the ability to actually penetrate the gap and show my athleticism how I can get to the quarterback much more efficiently than I did at Alabama. I feel that I can show that off when a team picks me up.”

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Whether or not his NFL teams turns him loose, as opposed to reining him in, will be the difference for Robinson.

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Strengths: Did a lot as a two-gap tackle to create opportunities for those around him to excel. Plays effectively everywhere from zero-tech straight over center to run-stopping end. Aggressive leverage player who frequently bends blockers back with strong legs and an impressive bull-rush. Occasionally will simply toss a blocker aside. Can put a blocker on the tracks and rock him all the way through the pocket when he wins the timing and leverage battles. Frequently demands double-teams and chips even with the estimable talent along Alabama’s defensive line. Slips off blocks quickly to wrap up the ballcarrier, and has excellent tackling form—Robinson builds a wall when he's got his feet under him. Consistently re-directs blockers when he tags one shoulder and wrestles them out of position. Strong enough to move one and two blockers laterally to the ballcarrier at times. Has a dominant initial punch when he uses it: has 34 1/4" arms and has that “one-inch punch” that takes blockers out of plays entirely. Has excellent flexibility to re-direct to the ball, and diagnoses well to get there. NFL-ready from a power perspective. Doesn't flow from sideline to sideline, but appears to have the potential to do so.

Weaknesses: Two-year starter who played 57% of Alabama’s defensive snaps over the last two seasons. Game isn’t fully developed yet. Tends to wait and pause too often off the snap, which leaves him vulnerable to quicker blockers who establish the point of attack advantage. Needs to mush-rush less and trust his natural aggressiveness more. Gets lost in the wash when he plays too high, and with his height, he needs to pay special attention to that. Occupies blockers very well, but may have to change his mentality to disengage more quickly at the NFL level. Needs to develop a signature pass-rush move and use his hands more effectively in general. Gets into the pocket with power over technique. Doesn’t yet have the ability to knife through double teams. Must keep his legs pumping throughout the play, as he can be taken off his line by more persistent blockers.

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Conclusion: There are a lot of dings in Robinson’s game at this point, which is why he’s one of the most polarizing players in this draft class. There are some who see him as a two-down run-stopping guy with very limited pass-rush ability, and others who think he’s got the potential in the right system to be a top-flight lineman at the nose and three-tech spots. As a two-gap hole-clogger who was often directed to dominate at the line so others could make plays, Robinson has the capacity to move to a one-gap attack defense and redefine his classifications over time.

Scouts and executives will tell you that when evaluating players, you can’t just focus on the players who project most easily to your scheme, you have to look at the traits and attributes that fit what your team wants to do over time. Most likely, Robinson’s NFL team will not want him soaking up blocks and mush-rushing as often as he had in the past, and most likely not in a two-gap system. Ideally, he'd be coached to improve his pass-rush moves as he knifes through double-teams, using his raw strength to stop the run at a very high level. When you watch his 2013 tape, when he was allowed to pursue more, that version of A’shawn Robinson shows up more often. And that version of A’Shawn Robinson is a top-16 pick, and could be even more valuable than that in the end.

Pro Comparison: Michael Brockers, Rams (first round, 2012, LSU)