Corey Robinson

Freshman Focus: Corey Robinson

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More than a few eyebrows were raised when Notre Dame reached out to little known San Antonio wide receiver Corey Robinson. Playing in lower division Texas high school football and a relative newcomer to the game, Robinson pledged to the Irish with fans knowing nothing more than he was the string-bean shaped son of former NBA star David Robinson.

With recruiting boards scratching their heads to even find information on Robinson, the profile of a 6-foot-4 (and likely growing) wide receiver with elite genetics gave Irish fans some degree of certainty, along with Brian Kelly and his staff’s ability to mine for diamonds. Then, Robinson’s national profile slowly began to emerge. At the Army All-American game, the San Antonio native showed himself to belong with some of the countries finest players.

Yet nothing was more important to Robinson’s future than the spring semester he spent in South Bend. Learning on the fly, our glimpses of the young wide receiver weren’t of a Bambi learning how to play, but rather of a velcro-handed athlete that looks like he’ll be able to help the Irish sooner than even the most optimistic Irish fan even thought.

Let’s take a closer look at Corey Robinson.

RECRUITING PEDIGREE

Robinson isn’t on any recruiting services’ Top 250 list, and Notre Dame was his first major offer and the school that put him on the national radar. While it wasn’t enough to boost him into the Top 250, Rivals added a fourth star to Robinson’s name after his performance at the US Army All-American game, where he garnered almost all positive reviews.

In addition to the Irish, Robinson had scholarship offers from Navy, where his father starred as a basketball player, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, and Wake Forest.

He committed to the Irish in March and enrolled early with fellow freshman James Onwualu, Steve Elmer, Malik Zaire, and Mike Heuerman in January.

EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES

We’ve covered the deficiencies on the Irish depth chart at wide receiver, especially with the departures of Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson. Robinson quickly found his way during spring drills, and got to a point where Brian Kelly acknowledged a fall plan for the talented freshman, similar to the way the Irish used Chris Brown last season.

“He’ll be a role player, kind of like Chris Brown was,” Kelly said last spring. “Chris helped us win a game against Oklahoma. That’s how you have to look at Corey Robinson. No, he’s not a finished product yet. He’s got to get stronger. But he does have a skill set. When you throw that ball near him, he comes down with it. So I think there’s a place for him in our offense, but he won’t be a featured guy.”

Working to piece things together, expect Robinson to make his way into some red zone packages, an area the Irish offense needs to improve in, and a segment of the offense that would definitely benefit from the height and length Robinson provides. For a guy that provided one of the highlights of spring, the future could be sooner than later for the under-the-radar prospect.

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

Taking an educated guess as to what the future of Robinson’s playing career looks like is tough business. After all, who would have predicted his father would’ve grown nearly a foot before his final year year of high school and then sprouted to be a seven-footer after being just another 5-foot-9 high school junior?

Robinson is already a shade over 6-foot-4, and while not everybody gets a late growth spurt (I’m still waiting for mine), he’s definitely going to grow into his body, adding bulk to his frame and possibly an inch or two before he’s done in South Bend. That’s going to give the Irish a weapon they haven’t had under Brian Kelly and a guy that could be highly versatile.

Robinson will need to learn the nuances of the game, and he’ll need to continue to improve his quickness and speed, making sure he’s not pigeon-holed as just a jump ball threat. He’s a much smoother athlete than most expected and the term “catch radius” all but sprung into Irish fans lexicons after listening to the coaches rave about Robinson, so there’s reason to be excited.

A pure outside receiving threat on a roster filled with guys that can play both inside and out, Robinson will have a chance to make a name for himself by the time his career is over in South Bend.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”