Generally, draftniks don’t need much convincing when it comes to wide receivers who tear up the Southeastern Conference. However, Wan’Dale Robinson is the exception to the rule — at least in the minds of NFL draft prognosticators.
As a junior at the University of Kentucky this past season, Robinson lit the best conference in America on fire from the moment he took the field in Week 1. After transferring from Nebraska, Robinson led the Wildcats to a perfect 6-0 start with wins over Missouri, South Carolina, and Florida.
At 5’8″, 178 lbs., Robinson is a dynamic player who has spent just one season as a full-time wide receiver. During his first two years in Lincoln, Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost deployed Robinson primarily at running back. And with the history books of similarly built receivers against him, Robinson carries some question marks about his ability in the NFL.
Instead of fixating on his size — Robinson most closely resembles current Buffalo Bills wide receiver Jamison Crowder — let’s take a look back at what Robinson accomplished as an SEC wide receiver.
- 104 receptions (led the SEC, third in NCAA)
- 1,334 receiving yards (second in the SEC, 11th in NCAA)
- seven touchdowns
- seven carries
- 111 rushing yards
It should go without saying, but if Robinson was 6’1″, 178 lbs., he would be in the same discussion as all the other high-end receiver prospects that are expected to go in the first round. Robinson became just the fifth player since 2000 to catch 100-plus passes in the SEC. The other players on that list, you might ask?
All of the players above — aside from Matthews — were selected in the first round of their respective drafts. Fortunately for Matthews, he didn’t have to wait too long to hear his name called. He was picked in the second round in 2014.
As it stands, Robinson is widely regarded as a fourth- or fifth-round prospect, depending on who you talk to. Pro Football Focus currently has Robinson as the 114th player overall on their big board.
Circling back on Robinson’s comp to Crowder: What’s interesting about this for the Minnesota Vikings is that Crowder had a ton of success early on his career with the Washington Commanders. In 2017, with Kirk Cousins as his quarterback and Kevin O’Connell as an offensive assistant, Crowder was fed 103 targets, totaled 823 yards, and scored three touchdowns as Washington’s top receiver.
The peculiar connections between Robinson to the Vikings don’t stop there. In 2021, Kentucky’s offense was coordinated by former Los Angeles Rams offensive assistant Liam Coen, who shared a meeting room every day with O’Connell as his assistant quarterbacks coach with the Rams in 2020. Coen also spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons as an offensive assistant with Los Angeles. After taking his first big-time offensive coordinator job with Kentucky this past season, Coen leaned heavily on the same scheme that he spent the previous three seasons building with Sean McVay and the Rams.
In fact, Coen has since replaced O’Connell as the Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2022.
And with buzzwords like “competitive rebuild” floating around Eagan, Minn. these days, Robinson most definitely checks that box. Theoretically, Robinson would already have a leg up on every other wide receiver in this year’s draft, simply due to his familiarity with the scheme that O’Connell will be implementing with the Vikings. And by joining a receiver room that already includes All-Pro Justin Jefferson and former Pro Bowler Adam Thielen, Robinson’s presence in the slot would create serious mismatches as the ancillary pass-catcher.
And with O’Connell coming from an offense that relied heavily on incorporating their receivers horizontally in the jet game, Robinson would provide a unique skill set that can not be found currently on Minnesota’s roster.
Possessing 4.44 speed, Robinson doesn’t need to have an extensive amount of volume to make an impact — especially when having the hypothetical luxury of playing alongside Jefferson and Thielen. For context, former dynamic and undersized Vikings receiver Percy Harvin ran a 4.41 at the 2009 combine. And after turning on Robinson’s tape from 2021, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two.
In the Citrus Bowl against Big 10 West winner Iowa, Robinson saved his best performance of the season for the New Year’s Day stage. He recorded 10 catches for 170 yards and came up huge in the final two minutes of the Wildcats’ victory.
Despite his jaw-dropping film and historic production in college football’s premier conference, draft evaluators can’t seem to get past Robinson’s undersized frame, which makes the former Wildcat one of the most interesting prospects in this year’s draft. Will the decision-makers who occupy NFL front offices view him differently than the national talking heads? Or will teams shy away from the player that has one of the least-flattering wingspans ever recorded at the combine for a receiver (27 5/8″)?
Considering that general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah isn’t armed with a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft due to Rick Spielman’s preseason trade for backup tight end Chris Herndon, Robinson’s current Day 3 projection puts the Vikings in a bind. Should they have interest in selecting Robinson, when would be the right time to target him in the draft?
Is 77th-overall in the third round too early?
Should the Vikings cross their fingers and hope he makes it to 156th-overall in the fifth?
In last year’s draft, the Rams paid little attention to the outside noise on Tutu Atwell when they selected the 5’9″, 155 lbs. receiver with the 57th-overall pick in the second round. And this was a player that Pro Football Focus had ranked as their 157th-overall player on their final 2021 NFL Draft Big Board. So although the football world consumes months and months of nitpicking and forecasting of these young prospects from the media throughout the draft process, it’s important to remember that the NFL has a propensity for zigging when the media zags.
Will Robinson emerge as a playmaker in the NFL? It remains to be seen. But with his ability to create explosive plays for his offense, it’d be easy to understand if an organization fell in love with his skillset.
And with Robinson having already demonstrated that he can be unleashed all over the field in the Rams’ scheme with Liam Coen, it might be extra enticing for O’Connell and the Vikings in Day 2 of the draft.
But don’t get your hopes up, Skoldiers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that players who produce on the same level as Robinson did this past season don’t typically make it to the third day of the draft. So if the Vikings decide that they can’t afford to risk losing out on Robinson for their offense, he’ll likely have to be their selection in the third round — if he’s still available.