The Eagles made two new defensive signings with one motto in mind, prove-it. Former Patriots DE Chris Long joined the Eagles, replacing the hole left by Connor Barwin. But it’s the second acquisition that brings a lot of intrigue. Former Colts, Chargers, and Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson signed a 1-year deal with the Birds..but it’s unclear what his role will be.
Jalen Mills and Ron Brooks are the only two returning cornerbacks from 2016, with Aaron Grymes and Mitchell White representing the CFL as they compete for roster spots. So, does a $1M contract guarantee Robinson to start? Not at all..so what exactly are the Eagles getting in the 29-year old?
Robinson was drafted with the last pick of the first round in the 2010 draft by the New Orleans Saints, quickly earning a reputation as a ball-hawk and climbing the depth chart ladder. In 2012, he was named a starter and would amass 7 picks and 33 pass defenses in the 2011/2012 seasons.
But then injuries began to chain him down. A leg injury forced Robinson to miss 14 games in 2013. After landing with the Chargers in 2015 and resuming slot duties, the team decided to part ways after one season..leading him to Indianapolis where he hoped to revitalize his career for good. He would miss nine games due to a hernia..which when combined with a new front office direction, saw the Colts cut ties, allowing the Eagles to swoop in. This may be Robinson’s last chance at proving he has the tools to be a dominant NFL cornerback and the consistency to do so long-term. But just how much of that potential remains?
For those that have followed this site for a while, you’ll know that evaluating and analyzing cornerbacks is one of my favorite things to do. With that in mind, I don’t say this loosely. The technique possessed by Robinson may be among the smoothest I’ve seen, period. From back-pedaling and flipping his hips, to keeping his eyes on the ball..Robinson is a corner who can succeed regardless of where he’s lining up.
Against the Chiefs last year, he showed this time and time again. Working on the outside here for the Colts, Robinson is so quick in his movements, that he’s able to back-pedal much deeper than most before flipping his hips to assert his direction. As he turns one way, he keeps his eyes ahead of him and is able to dissect the breaking route, coming back over the top to bat the pass away.
While on the topic of back-pedaling, this is the kind of coverage that can stem from confidence in your ability to pick up wideouts. At the bottom of the screen, Robinson keeps his receiver ahead of him for so long, that he is able to foresee and disregard the attempted stutter break outside. He flips direction and picks up his wideout, forcing him toward the sidelines. The Eagles have struggled prominently when it comes to jamming at the line of scrimmage..with this kind of ability, the corners can afford to sit a little deeper on projected passing plays.
It sounds minor, but the ability to backtrack so consistently is rare to find in today’s game. It shows a confidence in ability, as well as meaning that eyes on the quarterback are always present. Against the Raiders in 2015, Robinson showed arguably his best example of this. The way he’s able to sit so deep in the routes and close the top is beyond impressive.
So what does this mean for the Eagles? Well according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed 8.9 yards per catch during that lone season with San Diego, the best among corners targeted 40 times or more. When lined up in the slot, he allowed 0.78 yards per coverage snap, the second best among corners targeted over 200 times in the slot. Mic drop.
Robinson also plays very tight press coverage due to his fluid body movements. He’s not an overly aggressive corner, but he’s also not one to shy away from bigger wideouts. Instead, he uses his extensive football IQ to dissect routes and close them off with quick transitions. Again, the Chiefs game last year showed a great example of this.
On a comeback route, look how quickly Robinson is able to read the situation, make the cut and then recover to force the incompletion.
The one play that stood out was the fluidity in transition here. Again, this isn’t said loosely, but look how well Robinson is able to loop over the top of a corner route and completely shut off the passing lane.
The same traits were shown in San Diego during the 2015 campaign. Starting on the outside in a cover-1 look, the former FSU standout shadows his receiver over the middle, but keeps his eyes fixed on Brock Osweiler on a play-action pass. He immediately rotates over the middle and picks up a receiver fading into a one-on-one matchup with the Safety, leaping over the top and making a play.
Aside from the injuries, the one thing that Robinson has struggled with is consistency. After a season in which the Eagles gave up more yardage on deep routes than any other team in the NFL, instances like this would go down horrifically. Working on the outside against Chris Conley, Robinson slips and falls to the ground, leaving Conley wide open for a huge catch..ouch.
Against the Lions in 2016, Robinson was lucky that this one fell beneath the cracks. At the top of the screen, the former Colts corner lost his footing and allowed what would have been a huge out route completion, pushing the team into field goal range. Stafford instead went to drop the ball in the bucket deep down the sideline.
Playing the ball:
The one thing that Robinson does differently to the more aggressive recently tenured Eagles cornerbacks, is he plays the ball and not the player. If you combine his athletic prowess with some eyes fixed on the ball, you get a player who can undercut routes and slip underneath bigger receivers. It was something Jim Schwartz preached last season, especially to Jalen Mills..that you can’t make plays with your back to the ball. Robinson ensures that he’s always in a position to make a play..and it doesn’t matter if the receiver ahead has leverage, if he can detect the ball early enough, there’s a chance it’s broken up.
This huge pick against the Lions one year earlier definitely highlights this. By keeping his eyes fixed ahead, Robinson is comfortable letting the receiver running a Sluggo route, break down the sideline. If that ball finds its way over the top of the 5’11 cornerback, it’s pretty much game over. But Robinson sees the low through due to pressure and positions himself to make a big catch.
Pressing for more:
The only real setback to Robinson’s game, is that he suffers from the same weakness as Mills, jamming. The difference is, that he’s often able to recover quickly and fight through the remainder of the route.
Robinson is able to stop the receiver getting inside at the first step, but ends up fighting an uphill battle during the stem on the play below. The catch is made, but Robinson did a good job of wrapping up the receiver and ensuring that the play ends there and then.
Robinson was targeted extremely early on a deep route against the Chiefs, but even though he lost a step early on, he was able to close the top of the route and force his receiver to walk the tightrope. The ball was overthrown, but what started as a deep shot for the quarterback, very quickly became a 50-50 battle.
The same kind of thing can be seen here. The initial steps of the route look as though a physically overwhelming Golden Tate has been able to work his way outside into the endzone for a shot. But as the ball is thrown, some light contact and great mirroring close off any inside leverage and see the ball that landed out of bounds be of no threat.
As strange as it seems, I would liken Patrick Robinson to Ryan Mathews. A veteran who has proven time and time again that he can be prolific at the next level..but injuries and inconsistencies have seen his reputation tarnished, and land in a do-or-die situation.
The good news, is the technical aspect of Robinson’s game will never fade..and given that the team are set to draft at least one corner (one would assume) this year, Robinson will be extremely valuable to such a young and raw cornerback corps, which as of right now consists of Ron Brooks, a seventh round pick and three undrafted rookies. Those bad habits deployed by the young guns will be ironed out..and for $1M, there may be no better option than Robinson to help aid that process.
At worst, Robinson will be a player fighting for a roster spot in training camp. Should he make the roster, he could be a depth or rotational player who can help in clutch situations.
At best, the corner entering his 8th season will be a reliable slot option for the Eagles, with the versatility to play outside and flexibility to take the chains off of the Jim Schwartz defense in blitzing situations. If Patrick Robinson can flash even some of the potential that has been included in the above clips, the Eagles could finally be the team to benefit from the services of a player who is still bursting with potential..but has not yet been in the right environment or moment to flourish.
It’s also Robinson’s last chance to play for his NFL future. If he is able to have a career year under Jim Schwartz, Robinson could very easily want to stay in Philadelphia..giving the team some much needed reliability at the position for a cheaper price than a proven star. It’s a win-win for the Eagles..but if Robinson can really break out and flash that first round potential, it’s a unified home run.
Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports