One of the joys of the draft process is finding the under-the-radar prospects, the small-school players with big-time ability who have yet to hit the national stage.
The New York Giants are set at the top of their running back depth chart with Saquon Barkley. However, they could always stand to improve the rest of their depth chart and if they can find a player later in the draft who is an upgrade, they could at least consider the move. Illinois State running back James Robinson is one of the best players at the FCS level, and while he hasn’t received much national attention yet, that should change over the coming weeks.
Robinson is an experienced and versatile running back who could give the Giants the confidence to give Barkley rest or add wrinkles to their offense with two-back sets.
Prospect: James Robinson, RB, Illinois State
Games Watched: vs. North Dakota State (2018), vs. Northern Arizona (2019), vs. North Dakota State (2019)
Red Flags: None
Games Played: 46
Carries (YPC): 797 (5.57)
Receptions (yards/ypc): 58 (428/7.4)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 46 (44/2)
Best: Contact balance, vision, quickness, burst
Worst: Long Speed
Projection: A starting running back in any offensive scheme
James Robinson is a compact, powerfully built running back from small-school Illinois State. He has experience running from behind center and the shotgun, between the tackles and off-tackle. Robinson is quick to identify holes and running lanes and decisive when picking them. He shows good patience behind the line of scrimmage as he waits for blocks to be established before attacking holes aggressively. Robinson features excellent contact balance at the line of scrimmage and in space, easily running through arm tackles and disregarding swipes at his legs. He shows some burst at the second level to create separation from would-be tacklers and pick up chunk yardage.
Robinson is a tough, physical, aggressive runner who does not shy away from contact and is willing to grind out tough yards. He has an impressive stiff-arm to ward off defenders in space and is willing to lower his shoulders and push (or drag) defenders to pick up extra yardage.
Robinson is also a capable receiver, showing good hands to secure the ball before turning upfield. He was generally used as a check-down option in ISU’s offense, and his ability as a route runner down the field is unknown. He is also an experienced pass protector who looks for work and is capable of stonewalling blitzing defensive backs.
Robinson has excellent short area quickness, a good burst through the hole and some burst at the second level, but he is lacking in long speed. He also needs to refine his technique in pass protection and play with better and more consistent leverage. Robinson needs to improve his ball security, and can be vulnerable to having the ball dislodged by defenders. He has fumbled twelve times in four years, losing eight.
Overall Grade: 6.1 - Has the traits to be a versatile back-up without down or distance, and the ability to play a starter’s reps if necessary. [Grading Scale]
James Robinson has starter upside and can be an every-down player in any running scheme. He has the toughness to run between the tackles and the athleticism to be a threat on outside zone runs. His ability as a receiving back, or a running back who is moved around the formation, is unknown. However, his pass protection and hands as a check-down option are sufficient that he is not limited by down or distance.