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Film Session: What does Alabama RB Brian Robinson Jr. bring to Washington’s backfield?

How will 3rd-round running back Brian Robinson Jr. improve Washington’s running back unit?

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Joshua Bickel-USA TODAY Sports

In the third round, the Washington Commanders drafted Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr at pick 98. Robinson Jr. was a Redshirt Senior in 2021 and is coming into the league at 23 years old. However, he was an ascending player whose numbers improved each season due to increased opportunities and a less crowded backfield. In 2019 and 2020, Robinson Jr. split time with former first-round pick Najee Harris, who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Robinson Jr participated in both the NFL Combine and his pro day. His relative athletic score (RAS) suggested an overall good athlete, with a good short-area burst but poor explosiveness and agility following his test results.

Injury-wise, Robinson Jr suffered minor injuries in 2020. He suffered cracked ribs against the Florida Gators this past season and missed the matchup against Southern Miss the following week. However, he came back against Ole Miss and battled through the lingering rib injury. Later in the season, Robinson Jr. suffered a hamstring injury during the Crimson Tide’s Iron Bowl matchup with the Auburn Tigers. He attempted to play through it and finished with 16 carries before his final exit from the game. It lingered into the SEC Championship matchup between Alabama and Georgia, but Robinson Jr. decided to play through it.

Let’s dive into what Brian Robinson Jr. can do for Washington and what he’ll need to work on at the NFL level.

Passing Game Pros

Brian Robinson Jr.’s level of understanding of pass protection is very advanced coming into the NFL. In particular, on this rep, you are seeing a seamless stunt pickup between him and the center. With both defenders threatening the A-gap, it’s up to Robinson to quickly fill the gap and pick up one of the blitzes if both come. He guessed one side, but when both defenders blitzed the center on a stunt, Robinson displayed an elite level of awareness to meet the looper in the hole with force and effectively eliminate him as a threat.

Passing Game Cons

For Robinson Jr., there’s not much exposure on the college level to his ability to become a true dual-threat running back. He has caught passes for the Crimson Tide; however, the way he was utilized raised questions about his true ability. Alabama liked to send Robinson Jr. into the flats as a check-down option, or they will split him out wide, along the numbers, and ask him to do hitches. Again, as a check-down option. So the question becomes about his ability to run routes well out of the backfield and his hands. Does he possess the ability to catch the ball on the move in different situations? This is not a true “con” yet, but I am sure that this area of his game will be something that Washington will look into this summer and as they move forward to training camp.

Run Game Pros

Brian Robinson Jr.’s biggest strength as a runner is his vision at the line of scrimmage through quick processing ability and his burst in hitting the hole he chose. At the point of contact, Robinson displays good balance, always using his free arm to absorb contact or even create distance between himself and the tackle attempt, which is a good display of functional strength. In addition, he has a natural ability to make himself a difficult tackle by the first defender approaching him, whether through a jump cut at the line of scrimmage or rolling his shoulders with the angle of the defender attempting to hit him.

Run Game Cons

Robinson Jr. does not possess many signs of elusiveness in open space. His vision becomes more narrow as he is pressing to get the yards in front of him. In the exposures Robinson Jr. had to create in space, he did not show any instinctive ability to make defenders miss through his athletic ability.

Conclusion

Washington utilizes a variety of run concepts stemming from power and zone. However, I believe Robinson Jr.’s playstyle will be most effective as a zone runner, specifically on inside-zone runs, where his vision, quick processing, and burst will help him take advantage of this particular run scheme. In addition, Robinson Jr.’s ball security is pretty good, and he consistently shows awareness of protecting the football in traffic.

Some people believe that Robinson Jr. will ultimately take over Gibson’s job as a full-time starter, and he might. Robinson Jr. has the potential to be a three-down back if it turns out that he has good route running skills and can catch and adjust to quarterback throws from multiple throw points. Coming into the league, though, he is one of the better pass pro backs; he is a very smart, physical, and fearless blocker, taking on defenders from all three levels.

Antonio Gibson is clearly a talented player and has shown flashes of being a playmaker for the offense. If Gibson loses a high percentage of carries, I don’t think he will lose a high rate of touches. OC Scott Turner may provide Gibson with a new role in the offense, one as a more versatile player who can move around versus primarily staying in the backfield.

Former NFL tight end Logan Paulsen and I broke down Robinson Jr. in more detail below, including how Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson differ from a skill perspective.