At the start of the spring before his senior year in high school, no one knew his name.
Aaron Robinson, a third-round cornerback selection by the New York Giants in the 2021 NFL Draft, had not yet turned any heads. Robinson spent the first two years of his high school career playing wide receiver at West Boca before transferring ahead of his junior season. In his first preseason game at Deerfield Beach High School, Robinson broke his collarbone and missed his entire junior season.
But when Robinson returned as a senior, he made up for lost time. Robinson recorded 41 tackles and four interceptions in 2015, earning First Team All-Class 8A honors. He graduated as a three-star cornerback recruit out of high school and ultimately attracted schools like Kentucky, Rutgers and Wisconsin. Robinson chose Alabama but transferred to UCF after one season in order to be closer to home.
Obstacles continued to present themselves to Robinson, who sustained a serious concussion in his debut with UCF, limiting him to just seven games as a redshirt sophomore. It wasn’t until the next season that Robinson would solidify himself as one of the top defensive backs in the nation, finishing his final season with 41 tackles and a team-leading seven pass break-ups to earn second-team All-American Athletic Conference honors for the second straight year.
Robinson carries this history with him as he prepares to prove himself in New York. His use of the social media handle, @humblearob, provides insight into his modest nature. Robinson’s Instagram bio leading up to the draft was “Turning nothing into something” - a motto that simultaneously serves as a tribute to his past and a promise to his future.
“I’m ready to get up there and get to work with some great dudes, get around some great coaching, pretty much just set the standard with the brotherhood and go to work,” Robinson said to the media following his selection last week.
The Giants see Robinson as a physical corner who can play in the slot, and perhaps on the boundary as well. Robinson showed his ability to play both positions this past season, making him that much more valuable.
But Robinson is joining a talented cornerback group that includes presumptive starters James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson, with Darnay Holmes, Sam Beal and Isaac Yiadom providing added depth.
Coach Joe Judge said that he is looking forward to the in-house rivalry amongst the cornerback group.
“A-Rob is a good player,” Judge said. “We are excited to add him to the program. Going to come in and compete. There’s going to be a lot of competition with defensive backs, corners and safeties.”
The Giants really wanted Robinson to be part of that group as they traded up five spots in the draft, from No. 76 to No. 71, to pick him.
“That gives him some confidence,” said the Football Gameplan’s Emory Hunt. “When you combine instincts, length and ball skills, you kind of want to grab those guys. This dude is never afraid of the football coming his way. When you see someone like that, you have to get him. It’s like art. When you find a good piece of art, you buy it.”
Up until the draft though, Robinson was not a player that coaches largely went out of their way to have.
“He’s a quiet kid,” Robinson’s high school coach Jevon Glenn told the Sun-Sentinel. “A lot of the time, people are attracted to the players that make a lot of noise. That’s when [the people] who didn’t take the time to do their evaluations, they probably would’ve missed on a kid like him because he’s always had a professional mindset in the way he went about everything.”
That quiet nature has led to Robinson being underestimated throughout the draft process. Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy wrote the following on Twitter after Robinson was drafted.
No GM had better first two days of the draft than @Giants Dave Gettleman. His first three picks should make an immediate impact and he picked up first and third-round picks in what will be a loaded 2022 class. UCF DB Aaron Robinson is one of most underrated players in this draft.— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) May 1, 2021
It was difficult for Robinson to stand out in college as he was part of a UCF secondary that was the only one in the country in which every player was named to the 2021 Senior Bowl Watch List. Robinson played alongside teammates Richie Grant, Tay Gowan and Antwan Collier. Robinson’s draft stock went up though after a strong Senior Bowl performance and pro day that included a 4.38 40 time, surpassing top prospects Patrick Surtain II and Asante Samuel Jr.
For Hunt, it’s the football instincts that Robinson began developing at age five, that make him stand out beyond any stat sheet.
“Football is a reactionary game,” Hunt said. “For someone to have good spatial awareness and just good instincts, it shows that you played a lot of ball growing up. And by that I mean, non-structured football, flag football, street football, pickup. That helps you build nuance. When you see someone who has that level of instinct, you know he played a lot of ball growing up. And that’s good because you can teach someone technique and scheme but you can’t teach instincts.”
Because Robinson is joining a crowded secondary, he will yet again have something to prove as he makes his start in New York. Hunt said that he expects Robinson to make an immediate impact on the Giants’ special teams unit.
“Normally whoever the Giants picked in the third round, we would talk about starting,” Hunt said. “But because their secondary is so good, they had the luxury of picking someone who they can take their time with. They don’t really need him to play in the defense per se, but he is going to be a special teams ace and slowly get playing time. He gets the luxury of really developing as a rookie.”
Lucky for Robinson, turning nothing into something is his speciality.
“There is definitely a competitive edge about myself,” Robinson said to reporters after his selection. “A guy who’s willing to take it from every angle, vets, coaching and excel at it in my own game. Really just want to bring guys along, including myself, to create something special.”