*This is a repost of an article by Shane Hallam on FakePigskin.com on July 8, 2019 titled The Next David Johnson: James Robinson, Illinois State*
In the current day and age of the internet and social media, there are very few “gems” left in devy drafts. Articles are everywhere and there’s hype on social media for freshmen and even high school players. That being said, the small school scene is usually ignored until late August or into September. Yet there is one dynamic player right now who could be the next NFL star from a small school. I remember drafting David Johnson in rookie mock drafts during the summer of 2014. Through that season, he would rise to be a 3rd round NFL Draft pick (a whole round later than Ameer Abdullah) and a potential NFL superstar. There is someone in the 2020 draft who may be the same.
Running Back James Robinson was a four year starter in high school at Rockford Lutheran HS in Illinois, making the All-Conference team as a Junior and Senior and All-State as a Junior. Despite this, he was ranked as a 2-star recruit and saw very little interest at the FBS level due to academics (Robinson was a 16 year old senior and struggled academically). Iowa recruited him, but ultimately it was Illinois State who offered him a scholarship and saw his commitment. Almost immediately, James Robinson was getting into games as a freshman, including a 122 yard performance in a close game with Southern Illinois. He looked like a Big Ten RB in the Missouri West Conference, and it showed.
Robinson has since become a downright stud. He was an All-American as a sophomore and the finalist for the FCS Walter Payton Award as a junior. He led the conference in rushing with 1,290 yards plus he was second in touchdowns with 12. Add in 21 receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown and you have a complete player. If you want big games, his 256 yards rushing against Youngstown State in the final game of the season capped one of the best RB years in the Missouri West in a long time.
Stats and history is good, but for the NFL traits matter. At 5’10 and 220 pounds, Robinson isn’t a 4.3 speed player, but he should be a solid 4.5 player with small space quickness to be incredibly effective. Robinson is a smooth athlete with great change of direction ability and has the bulk to not be brought down easily with soft tackling. Often when watching him, he is making defenders miss due to reaction time. As a runner, he is the best FCS RB I have scouted since David Johnson. He is also an impressive receiver. Though most of his receptions were check-downs, his technique is good and he goes from reception to RB mode very quickly and effortlessly. Though his receiving ability isn’t to the ability of Johnson’s in college, the potential is there and I would expect even more receiving usage from him as a senior. These are the traits of an NFL starting RB and I think he could find his way into that role in the NFL.
Ultimately, James Robinson will be in a loaded RB class, so he may fall to the 4th or 5th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Even with that, I will be snapping him up late in devy leagues and hoping he falls late in next year’s rookie drafts so I can get my shot at the next David Johnson.
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