The New York Giants took a divide-and-conquer approach to upgrading their defensive line this offseason rather than making a big splash. A’Shawn Robinson was one of the later additions to solidify a run defense that was the NFL’s worst a season ago. Can the former Rams Super Bowl champion make a big difference in New York?
By the numbers
Position: Defensive line
Contract: One-year, $5 million (plus three void years) | Guaranteed at signing: $4 million | 2023 cap hit: $2,488,236
Career to date
Robinson was drafted out of Alabama by the Detroit Lions with the 46th pick in 2016. He played in 16 games as a rookie (five starts), posting 30 tackles (22 solo), six for loss, 2.0 sacks and quarterback hits, and seven passes defensed. Pro Football Focus graded him at 62.9.
The next year, Robinson started all 16 games for the Lions. He recorded 53 tackles (32 solo), four for loss, 0.5 sacks, six quarterback hits, six passes defensed, one pick-six, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. His PFF grade increased to 66.7.
Robinson’s third season earned him the best PFF grade of his career at 89.7, primarily on the strength of a 91.3 run defense grade. He had 49 tackles, three for loss, four quarterback hits, one sack, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery in 13 games (seven starts). His grade regressed in his final season in Detroit, though, tumbling all the way to 56.0 in 13 games (nine starts).
Robinson then joined the Los Angeles Rams for three seasons. His best year with them came during their Super Bowl season in 2021, when he recorded a 72.5 PFF grade in 14 starts with 67 total tackles, two for loss, two sacks, and two forced fumbles.
Last year, Robinson appeared in 10 games for the Rams but tore his meniscus in late November, ending his season. He had a 64.4 PFF grade, including 68.8 in run defense, with 42 tackles, two for loss, and three quarterback hits.
Robinson’s contract with the Rams expired after the season. He signed a one-year deal with the Giants in late April to add to their defensive line depth.
In his career, Robinson’s biggest strength has been his disruptiveness in the run game. In 2022, he tied for fourth out of 82 qualified interior defensive linemen (min. 175 run defense snaps) with a 10.5% stop rate. This means on 10.5% of his run defense snaps, he made a tackle that resulted in a negative Expected Points Added (EPA) for the offense. In fact, Robinson has been in the 67th percentile or above in run stop rate in every season that he had at least 175 run defense snaps; in three of those seasons, he has been at or above the 80th percentile.
Robinson has shown that he can still be a strong run defender at this point in his career. His 68.7 PFF run grade in 2022, while far from the best mark of his career, still ranked 20th out of 82 interior defensive linemen.
That being said, Robinson has had the luxury of playing with other dominant run defenders on the defensive line throughout his career. His best-graded season in the run game came with Damon Harrison beside him on the line; Harrison had a 93.7 run defense grade along with Robinson’s 91.3. With the Rams, Aaron Donald was his linemate, eating up double- and triple-teams to give teammates an easier lane to the ball carrier.
Still, the Giants have their own beast in the middle in Dexter Lawrence, whose 81.9 PFF run defense grade led all starting interior defensive linemen in 2022. This would suggest that even if Robinson’s success came in part due to the player next to him, he should still be able to succeed as a run defender in 2023.
The biggest question with Robinson is whether he has recovered from his meniscus tear. Presumably, the Giants were satisfied with his medicals before they signed him.
It is reasonable to expect Robinson to play a large diet of early-down snaps in run situations. With Leonard Williams and Rakeem Nunez-Roches also available on the interior, there will likely be a stronger rotation beside Lawrence. In a run-focused role, Robinson could provide significant help for the Giants’ defense.