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Mark Robinson is a project with real upside for the Pittsburgh Steelers

While he is a seventh-round pick, the Steelers linebacker has a shot to be a good NFL player.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Texas A&M at Ole Miss Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Seventh Round picks in the NFL Draft aren’t expected to be much more than bottom of the depth chart players, and many seventh round picks don’t ever play a snap in the NFL.

The Steelers have had more success than most teams, but for every Brett Keisel and Kelvin Beachum there are far more Gerrod Hollimans and Joshua Fraziers. That’s why I love it when teams go outside the box with their late picks. Take a gamble on a player that has some different circumstances or a unique skill set.

Mark Robinson fits in as a player with interesting circumstances in his college football career. Robinson was drafted as a linebacker, but he started out as a running back, but in 2020 while sitting out to transfer he swapped to playing linebacker, and won a starting job on the Ole Miss defense in 2021.

Ole Miss vs. Louisville

Mark Robinson is the inside linebacker just inside the hashmarks.

This was Mark Robinson’s first game playing linebacker. He leads with his helmet, hits the helmet of the runner, and was ejected from the game for targeting.

Not a great way to start your transition to defense. He went into contact the same way a running back does, and it showed up in other games as well, he was used to putting his head down and that’s a hard habit to break.

Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt

Mark Robinson is standing up, right in the middle of the defensive line.

Although some of his running back instincts got him into trouble, his knack for finding creases in the offensive line and exploding through them is a great benefit to Robinson in run defense. He doesn’t have refined moves to get past blockers, and usually tries, like he does here, to just run through his opponent.

Ole Miss vs. Tennessee

Mark Robinson (#35) is the inside linebacker to the bottom of the screen.

He shows fluid change of direction and an instinctive understanding of angles that you would expect to find from a running back turned linebacker. Part of the reason Robinson gets to this ball carrier is how comfortable he is running tight to the other players, whether his fellow defenders or blockers. That makes him a dangerous blitzer as he squeezes the play and forces blockers to bunch together to stop him.

Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt

Mark Robinson is the inside linebacker to the left side of the screen (on the 5-yard line).

Another positive that shows up is how quickly Robinson reads many run plays and how well he understands rush lanes and leverage. He diagnoses this play, beats the guard to his gap and hangs on to make the tackle for a minimum gain.

Ole Miss vs. Tennessee

Mark Robinson is the inside linebacker to the bottom of the screen.

On this play Robinson reads the back, picks up the outside lane and again holds on to make the tackle and limit the gain. Robinson isn’t a Vince Williams, you don’t see him crashing into lineman and outmuscling them, he beats lineman with his elusiveness or with leverage. Here he is again tight to the formation and the lineman can’t turn tight enough to meet him square.

Mark Robinson is a solid to very good run defender, he’s not an elite lateral mover and he isn’t going to bully offensive lineman, but he reads the play quickly, does a fantastic job sniffing out the rush lane and beating blockers to it. He hits hard and hangs tough against blockers, and you can see he improved his tackling form by the middle of the season.

Ole Miss vs. Tennessee

Mark Robinson is the linebacker to the top of the screen.

Where Robinson isn’t very good yet is in coverage. He gets to his spot, but you can see he isn’t fluid or quick to the ball. As a rookie he is not a player you want dropping into coverage at all.

Ole Miss vs. Tennessee

Mark Robinson is the linebacker to the bottom of the screen.

I just said you don’t want Mark Robinson in coverage, but there is an exception. Where he is slow and a bit awkward defending most passes, he shows a good knack for covering running backs, you can see here how he picks up the leaking back as he slips out and is right there to take away the dump-off option.

Ole Miss vs. Tennessee

Mark Robinson is the inside linebacker to the right side of the screen.

Here Robinson is covering the running back, and when the back stays in, Robinson shifts from a run defense approach to rushing the quarterback. What is impressive here is how tight he rushes to the offensive line, and it lets him slip through the bodies in his path to find the quarterback.

Mark Robinson is already a pretty good green dog blitzer, covering backs and if they are kept in to block, rushing the quarterback. This role of being manned up on the back lets Robinson focus on run defense, puts him in coverage situations he can do well in and lets him blitz like this when the offense keeps that back in to block.

Ole Miss vs. Tennessee

Mark Robinson is the linebacker to the top of the screen. He moves up to the line right before the snap.

Another green dog blitz and Robinson does a great job reading and attacking the blocking, and he disrupts a throw to a wide-open receiver.

Ole Miss vs. Tennessee

Mark Robinson is the linebacker on the hash marks toward the bottom of the screen.

Tennessee is struggling to deal with Robinson’s blitzes, and the coaches send in this quarterback draw that is relying on Robinson reading the running back and playing aggressively to free the quarterback to get out of the pocket and score. You can see he had the blockers to cut outside and make it too, but Robinson sees the play and is able to adjust and make the tackle.


Mark Robinson is most likely never going to play a snap on defense in the NFL, but he was a pretty good linebacker with less than one season at the position, and while he has clear flaws that come from his inexperience, he also has innate traits that signal the Steelers may have found another Robert Spillane level player who just needs time to learn the position.

If Mark Robinson can make the roster on special teams, or even sit on the practice squad, he will get the time to develop. While there is no guarantee he will develop those skills, the potential is there, and it makes this pick a good use of a 7th round draft pick.