It’s Groundhog Day.
May is perhaps my favorite month during the calendar year as a football writer.
Why? Because after months of speculation over the draft, landing spots, mock drafts and the rest, the time for speculation is over. We now know where various players landed and we can begin thinking about how they will fit into their new teams from a schematic perspective.
Do those words sound familiar? They should. After all, it was just over a year ago when I wrote this piece, diving into how the New York Giants could utilize their new wide receiver, Kadarius Toney, in the offense.
Now it is time to do the same, with a twist. In this piece we will dive into how the Giants might use Wan’Dale Robinson in the offense, and how Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka could use both Toney and Robinson together next season.
Robinson as a vertical threat from the slot
One of the major points of discussion over the past few NFL seasons has been the “two-high” world that we are living in. While we can debate the spark for this recent trend — for my money I always point to what is happening on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons — over the past few seasons we have seen more and more defenses try and rely on two-deep coverage looks.
This could be the first way that Daboll and Kafka look to get Robinson involved, as a way of attacking those structures.
If you think about the origins of the Tampa 2 defense, you can start to piece together the natural progression. When offenses started using more athletic tight ends, and even slot receivers, to attack between the safeties in standard Cover 2 coverages, defenses adjusted. They found more athletic linebackers — like Derrick Brooks for example — who could match those receivers on vertical routes, helping the safeties.
Now, with defenses playing with more sub packages, and trying to get faster and more athletic at all levels, it can be hard at times for offenses to stress that area of the field, between the safeties. Defenses can roll out safeties, and even cornerbacks, to match those vertical routes from slot receivers or tight ends.
So you need a receiver with the speed to simply get over the top of those defenders.
Take this play from Kentucky’s bowl game against Iowa. This is a third-and-long situation, with Robinson aligned in the slot on the right side of the formation:
The Hawkeyes are in Cover 2 Man Underneath, and Robinson is working against a cornerback. You can see how quickly he is able to get over the top of the man defender, stressing the area between the safeties. With vertical releases from both boundary receivers, the safeties widen, creating a huge space for Robinson to exploit.
Here is another example of Robinson attacking between the safeties on a post route, this time against ULM:
This is a design that fans see every week in the NFL, a post/dig combination using play-action and maximum protection up front. The defense is in Cover 4 here — Quarters coverage — and when the one safety drives downhill on the dig route, that gives Robinson the advantage on his post route against the opposite safety.
Of course, when you are showing defenses the ability to split the safeties with this post route, every so often you want to just stay vertical. That is exactly what Robinson does on this play against Vanderbilt:
Operating out of the left slot, Robinson releases vertically before showing the defense a break towards the middle of the field. With the defense in two-deep, the safety to that side breaks towards the inside, expecting the post route. That is when Robinson gets vertical with his pass pattern, and takes advantage of the safety opening towards the middle of the field for the big play in the passing game.
With defenses relying more on two-deep coverage looks, offenses are turning to slot receivers as more than just underneath possession options, but also as vertical threats. Revisit the contract Christian Kirk just signed, and what he brings to the table, and you can see this trend in dollars and cents. With Robinson, the Giants have added a player that can stress that area of the field when defenses rely on those coverages, a must-have for any NFL offense.
Robinson’s quickness and change-of-direction ability made him a true weapon at Kentucky on manufactured touches. During his college career, spanning time at Nebraska and Kentucky, Robinson gained 691 yards on 141 rushing attempts, in addition to his 195 receptions for 2,248 yards. Robinson also scoured four touchdowns on the ground, all of those coming at Nebraska. However, during his time at Kentucky, he was more effective as a runner, as he averaged nearly 16 yards per rushing attempt.
Finding ways to get him the football in space, with blockers in front of him, has to be at the top of the offensive “to-do” list this season.
Take this play against Missouri:
This end-around goes for 64 yards, and you can see the quickness and change-of-direction skills as Robinson slices around the edge and makes the safety miss in space. Only the backside cornerback, taking advantage of his angle on Robinson, prevents this from being a touchdown.
This was also the second play of the game for Kentucky’s offense. Meaning that not only did their coaching staff want to get the ball in Robinson’s hands, but it was part of their scripted set of plays going into the contest.
Daboll and Kafka should do the same next season. Give him some touches early, to give opposing defenses yet one more thing to think about each time he goes in motion, or aligns in the slot, or moves around the formation.
Of course, another way to get him involved in the offense, with blockers in front of him, is in the screen game. This is another means the staff used at Kentucky to give Robinson manufactured touches. On this play against Florida, you can see why:
Short-area quickness and change-of-direction skills. Cater to that as much as possible next season, and Robinson can be a big factor for the Giants’ offense.
Using Robinson and Toney in tandem
When the Giants drafted Robinson a few weeks ago, the immediate thinking around the NFL was that it spelled the end of Toney’s time with the organization. After all, in the days leading up to the NFL draft, it was reported that the Giants were looking to trade Toney. That talk has cooled, however, with both Kafka and Daboll seeming more upbeat about Toney in recent days:
New OC Mike Kafka on WR Kadarius Toney: “Doing all the right things … on and off the field.”— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) May 19, 2022
Adds he’s been attentive in meetings. Good to work with.
Could both Robinson and Toney be a part of the offense next season? And if so, how might that look?
After all, both Robinson and Toney were used primarily as slot receivers in college. Last season with the Giants, Toney saw 153 of his 309 snaps operating out of the slot. For Robinson last year with Kentucky, he saw 223 of his 738 snaps aligned in the slot.
However, both have operated along the boundary. Last year in New York, Toney did play outside on 120 snaps, and with Kentucky last season Robinson saw 223 snaps on the boundary. Both players have experience against press-aligned defenders on the outside, and if the Giants want, it could be a situation where the boundary receiver — whether Toney or Robinson — aligns off the ball with the slot receiver on the line. The slot receiver still has the benefit of the “two-way go” off the line, while the outside receiver, aligned off the ball, has a bit of a cushion to work with against a press defender.
With that as a foundation, how might I use the two in tandem? That comes down to two words: Pout and Peel.
These are two of my favorite route concepts, and they offer the benefit of stressing two-high coverages, while also giving the offense a route that can work if the defense is in single-high. Peel is short for “post/wheel,” with the outside receiver running a post and the inside receiver running the wheel route.
On this play from last season, Kentucky runs this concept against New Mexico State, with Robinson running the wheel route out of the slot:
The defense is in single-high coverage on this snap, and as the cornerback to the outside carries the post route from the boundary receiver, the curl/flat defender is slot to carry the wheel route from Robinson. The result? A 29-yard gain — and potentially a touchdown with a better-thrown ball.
Here is that same look, with nearly the same result:
This time the cornerback peels — no pun intended — off the post route quickly, but not quickly enough to prevent a big completion from Will Levis to Robinson on the wheel route.
You can imagine the stress this concept could put on opposing defenses, with Toney and Robinson working the two routes. Whether it is Robinson on the inside or Toney, you will have a quick receiver with good change-of-direction skills on the wheel, coupled with a fast receiver off the line running the post route. If the defense is instead in two-high, the post route can split the safeties or, if the cornerback sticks on the post long enough, there will be a quick window to hit the wheel route.
The other concept, Pout, is a combination of a post route and an out route. The idea is the same, a post route on the outside pulls the cornerback away from the boundary, and the out route from the slot receiver fills that void.
Here is that concept in action, with Robinson running the out route:
On this play, Iowa is in Cover 6, or Quarter-Quarter-Half. You can see how the cornerback sticks on the post route, creating the void on the outside for Robinson to fill with his out route. A huge play for the offense is the result.
If the Giants are going to put Toney and Robinson on the field together, I love these two designs for them.
Whether Robinson was drafted to be a Toney replacement, or a Toney running mate, remains to be seen. But Giants fans should be excited either way, given what Robinson brings to the table.