Underestimate Wan’Dale Robinson, the second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft by the New York Giants, at your own risk. It’s been done before, with the 5-foot-8, 178-pound wide receiver ending up with the last laugh.
Vince Marrow, associate head coach and recruiting coordinator among other titles at Kentucky, did it.
“When people look at Wan’Dale Robinson, I even did it when I was recruiting him, I was like man there is no way this kid can play in the SEC,” Marrow said during a phone conversation.
Robinson caught 104 passes for 1,334 yards for Kentucky in 2021.
“Don’t get caught up in that kid’s stature. I’m telling you, I was one one of those guys. I was like, this kid there’s no way. Let me tell you something – I would never bet against Wan’Dale Robinson.
“Wan’Dale Robinson is a football player. The Giants are going to see that real soon.”
Chris Vaughn, founder and CEO of Aspirations Fitness Institution in Kentucky, where Robinson has trained since his sophomore year of high school, did.
“The first day he came in he had a rough day. There were probably 30 Division I level kids running around in here, high level kids that were a little older than him, little stronger, had been used to competing with each other at a different level,” Vaughn said.
“He came in, really good athlete, but really raw. He had a long day. I’m thinking this kid drove 45 miles here, 45 miles back and I’ll probably never see this kid again.
“Sure enough that night he texted to ask what time tomorrow. I sent him the time and he was here early. Right there I knew this kid right here he’s motivated to push himself to get better and get to that next level.”
Many are underestimating Robinson again. The Giants surprised by selecting Robinson No. 43 overall, earlier than draft analysts had projected he would go after one stellar season with the Wildcats. The common opinion is that Robinson was overdrafted.
Our Nick Falato said that Robinson would be an “outlier” because of his measurables if he were to succeed at the NFL level.
Marrow and Vaughn are having none of it.
Marrow bluntly referred to the ‘drafted too early’ chatter as “a bunch of bull.”
“When I heard people say he was drafted too high, have you seen the league we play in? Have you seen the football league we play in? Did you see what this kid did week in and week out against Georgia, against LSU, against South Carolina? I mean if he was 6-1 and doing that your fans would have been like ‘oh, yeah, he shoulda been a first-round pick,” Marrow said.
“What is the No. 1 conference in college football? The SEC. Every NFL scout will tell you that, every NFL GM. It’s the closest league to the NFL, and he dominated that league … He’s already naturally a good football player. He has speed, he has vision, he understands route running, he understands the way you make a guy miss. Last time I checked there were a lot of dudes from the SEC going in the first or second round.
“I don’t think y’all know what you got. I think y’all gonna be very surprised what y’all get.”
Marrow insisted that he did not believe Moore was going to get out of Round 2.
“Was I surprised? Hell, no,” Marrow said. “I actually thought the Chiefs. I talked to somebody very involved with the Chiefs. At one time I thought they would take him with the 30th pick. Definitely they were going to take him in the second round.”
Kansas City picked No. 54 and selected wide receiver Skyy Moore.
“Wan’Dale’s got the things you can’t measure. Everyone gets so enamored with the testing numbers and the size and the speed and weight and all this kind of stuff,” Vaughn said.
“You watch that guy when the game is on the line he makes all the big plays. He just has a knack for making the big plays. Too many times guys get drafted on measurables and not enough on intangibles. He checks all the boxes on every intangible there is.
“He’s gonna be dependable, he knows how to study, he plays hurt … he’s got an infectious personality … he’s just one of those guys that brings the energy.”
Robinson’s big-play, big-moment mentality was never on display more than it was during the 2021 Citrus Bowl vs. Iowa, a last-minute Kentucky victory in which Robinson had 10 catches for 170 yards, many of those receptions on the game-winning drive.
Here was what Robinson said about the belief in some corners that the Giants reached to select him:
“I always felt like I was talented enough to be picked this early. I just felt like somebody just had to believe in me and not believe in the hype thing and just believe in the football player.”
Robinson was 5 years old. He couldn’t play real football until age 6, so his dad, Dale Robinson, “told a little white lie” because he didn’t want him playing flag football. His father got Wan’Dale a birth certificate under the name DaQuan Edwards that said he was 6 years old, and he has been playing football ever since.
“He learned that toughness mentality because he was 5 and all those kids were way older than him,” Dale Robinson said. “They were smacking him around, but he would always get back up.
“That’s just always been his mentality. He always feels like he’s the best. He knows not to fear no man. He knows when you put those pads on you are the best.”
Dale Robinson’s influence on his son goes far beyond that.
Dale Robinson spent much of Wan’Dale’s youth imprisoned on drug offenses.
“Just from me being gone, my situation. We always talked about breaking the curse. Even when I was in prison I would talk to him like, we’re going to break this curse and it’s going to start with you. You and your brother are not going to go the same route that I went,” Dale Robinson told Big Blue View.
“I did things wrong, the wrong way, I had all the talent in the world, had people around me, but I made a wrong decision. You will not make those same wrong decisions.”
- You can read more about this aspect of Wan’Dale Robinson’s upbringing in this 2019 post from The Athletic.
Wan’Dale is now headed to the NFL. His older brother, Dalevon, graduated college with a Criminal Justice degree.
The Robinsons now run the Wanda Joyce Robinson Foundation, which is named after Dale Robinson’s late mother, which helps children of incarcerated parents.
“He’s a great kid,” said Vaughn. “He’s a leader in his community. He’s always taking kids under his wing, mentors a bunch of kids back home in Frankfort, [Ky.].”
On the field
When the Giants selected Robinson, GM Joe Schoen said the team had “a very clear vision” for how he would be utilized.
“(Robinson is a) good football player we’ve had our eye on, generator with the ball in his hands, very good run after the catch, very good route runner, can separate,” Schoen said. “And for what we are going to do offensively, we thought he would be a very good fit for us.”
Many believe Robinson’s role will, at least initially, be limited to schemed touches on offense via screens, jet sweeps and other quick plays, along with use as a punt and kickoff returner.
Marrow calls Robinson “pound for pound the toughest kid I ever coached.”
“He caught over a hundred balls,” Marrow said. “We didn’t scheme and gadget a hundred different plays. He caught those running routes.”
Robinson may not yet be a fully accomplished route runner, but Vaughn and his staff have been working for years to develop Robinson from athlete to receiver.
“He was really more of a running back when he first came to me. When you’re in high school and you’re dynamic they’re just looking for ways to get you the ball,” Vaughn said.
“We spent a lot of time with him learning how to run routes and how to stem routes and how to use his hands and how to set people up and how to work angles and get in and out of breaks and stuff like that. Use his lateral quickness to his advantage so he was a receiver.”
Marrow summed up his thoughts on the Giants landing Robinson this way:
“I think the Giants, whoever was the brains behind that he’s pretty smart.”
We’ll see about that. Given what Robinson has already done, though, it seems unwise to bet against him.