For four years at Alabama, Brian Robinson Jr. had to wait for his turn.
The top-100 recruit arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2017 and was immediately buried on the depth chart behind future NFL starters Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs. Once those two backs turned pro, Robinson spent the next two seasons splitting carries but still had to wait behind another future first-round pick in Najee Harris.
Using his extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic, Robinson returned for his fifth college season in 2021. Last fall, he earned Alabama’s lead-back role and certainly made the most of it. Robinson carried the football 271 times in 2021, rushing for 1,343 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns. He earned first-team All-SEC honors and raised his draft stock significantly, as the Commanders selected him in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
In order to prepare for the college-to-NFL transition, Robinson spent time during the pre-draft process with one of his former teammates, Harris, who turned in an impressive rookie campaign with Pittsburgh last year.
“I talked to Najee. We just kind of had a little 1-on-1,” Robinson said last Friday following Commanders rookie minicamp. “This offseason I spent a little time with him, just to kind of pick his brain, just to see the steps he took his rookie year to get him [to the] Pro-Bowl. He had a good year.”
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Although Harris’ presence in Tuscaloosa is a big reason Robinson didn’t break out until his fifth and final season at Alabama, the two running backs are close friends. And, seeing all the success Harris had with the Steelers last season made him the perfect person for Robinson to reach out to about the college to pro adjustment.
“It was easy to pick his brain. We’re boys,” Robinson said. “I can easily ask him a question and he’ll help me out with what I need help with.”
The Commanders’ rookie cited the talent level difference between college and the NFL as the big thing Harris told Robinson to expect specifically as a rookie. That talent gap between the two levels of football is no secret and it’s a big reason why some rookies struggle to adjust to the pro game initially.
However, Harris made it clear to Robinson that his time at Alabama prepared him well and that he’s ready for the next level.
“He was just telling me how it’s going to be a big transition,” Robinson said. “But he also let me know that I’m ready for it, too.”
Similar to how he did at Alabama, Robinson will have to earn his snaps in Washington as well. Third-year pro Antonio Gibson figures to be the lead running back, while JD McKissic has been one of the best pass-catching backs in the entire NFL the past two seasons.
After Robinson was drafted, head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew pointed to the running back’s physicality as something that stood out during the pre-draft process. Washington’s brass believes Robinsons’ bruising, powerful rushing style is something the Commanders running back room didn’t have before.
Robinson knows he’s more than just a power back, though, and feels he’ll be able to be a factor as a pass-catcher in Washington’s offense, too.
“If the team uses me to run more routes and use my hands more, I can definitely show that I’m efficient in the pass game,” Robinson said. “I caught  balls last season, too. I can catch the ball.”
Although Rivera and his staff have only had a couple of days to work with Robinson so far, they’re pleased with the running back’s first impression.
“We saw Robinson run the ball, a big physical body. When you see him out here it’s impressive,” Rivera said. “It really is. He moves well for a big guy. He’s got good lateral quickness, good footwork. That was really good to see.”
With rookie minicamp now in the books, Washington’s third-round pick believes his initial transition to the NFL has been a success. But Robinson we’ll get his first real taste of NFL football during OTAs later this month when the whole team gets to practice together, not just the rookies.
“[The transition has] been great. I’ve processed so much information in 24 hours,” he said. “Not really having any mental errors when we come out here and practice. Just trying to stay on top of everything we’ve been installing. I feel like it’s been good so far.”
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