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Draft Pick Breakdown: The short-term and long-term outlook for Alton Robinson

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North Carolina State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

With their lone selection in the fifth-round, the Seahawks looked back towards their pass rush hungry defensive line, taking Syracuse EDGE Alton Robinson. While it was a bit surprising to see Seattle double down along the defensive line without one of the picks being a defensive tackle, it’s hard to fault the front office for throwing as many darts at the pass rush as possible.

Despite the Seahawks’ addition of a pair of veteran pass rushers in free agency, Robinson could still make his impact felt as a rookie—and over the next several seasons.

Short-term role

A common refrain during the 2019 season was that Seattle needed Jacob Martin on the roster, that his situational pass-rushing role wasn’t adequately replaced. Now, it has been. Robinson’s production worryingly dropped in his final season for the Orange, but his production over three years speaks to a player who can win in a multitude of ways rushing the passer. In the short-term, the Seahawks don’t need him to be an every-down EDGE—but if he can play 10-20 percent of defensive snaps and help to get after the quarterback as a rookie, it’ll be a valuable addition.

Long-term role

This isn’t meant as an indictment of Robinson. If this is his role, it will have been a successful fifth-round pick. Robinson’s long-term role best projects as a backup EDGE, and a regular part of the pass rush rotation.

This spring’s signings of Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin will provide Seattle with the secondary rushers they lacked in 2019. However, both players are short-term solutions as situational pass rushers. Robinson is potentially a long-term solution. In a pass-happy league, defensive line rotations need to be far deeper than four or five players, and Robinson can help to provide that depth over the course of his rookie contract.

Floor

Naturally, with a fifth-round pick, there is the presence of a low floor. Robinson’s arm length is deficient for the position, in the 16th percentile (more on that below), and as a result, he could struggle to get into the chest of opposing tackles with any consistency. Combined with a lack of elite athletic traits, he could be caught in a kind of athletic no man’s land: not big enough to make up for a lack of athleticism, and not athletic enough to make up for a lack of size. The Seahawks have had day three defensive linemen come and go before—Obum Gwacham being the most obvious comparison—and Robinson’s floor would see him suffer a similar fate.

Ceiling

In college, Robinson did display a consistent ability to corner against opposing tackles, and his explosiveness (88th percentile vertical and 84th percentile broad jump) suggest he could continue to display a strong get off and speed rush in the NFL. Swipe and rip moves are prevalent in his wins, which should further help him to mitigate a lack of length.

Robinson trained with Cliff Avril—the master of the strip-sack—ahead of the draft and there is one exciting similarity in their games: Avril forced 14 fumbles with 34.5 sacks in Seattle, while Robinson forced five fumbles on 19 sacks at Syracuse.

If Robinson can put his strengths together and get back to his great form of 2018—with nine sacks and 56 pressures—he can be a valuable piece of a pass rush.

Athletic fit

Throughout John Schneider and Pete Carroll’s previous 10 drafts in charge of the Seahawks, several size and athletic thresholds have become more strict than others. One of those for EDGEs, previously, has been arm length. Only once (or twice, depending on if Ty Powell was classified as an EDGE or linebacker) has Seattle dropped below 33” arms to select a pass rusher, and that was for Cassius Marsh and his 32 3/4” arms. Robinson, with 32 3/8” arms, is the shortest arm length they’ve ever drafted at the position, and his length is well below average. However, if they bucked convention to address a need, it’s difficult to argue with the process. Beyond size and length, Robinson was right around the cutoff point in agility, but quite explosive.

The Seahawks had to aggressively address their woeful pass rush in the 2020 NFL Draft and they did so in two different ways. First, by trading up for Darrell Taylor in the second round, then, by going against their trend in selecting Robinson in the fifth round. We won’t know the payoff for several months, but the attempt to boost the defense’s sack numbers has been made.