Much of the Carolina Panthers media focus this year has surrounded their rookie corners. James Bradberry, a second round pick, is starting for the Panthers and saw mixed results in Denver. But did you know the Panthers were not the only team in the league with all eyes on a rookie corner? The San Francisco 49ers are also relying heavily on a rookie to defend wide receivers.
The San Fracisco 49ers selected corner Rashard Robinson out of LSU in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. At six foot one inch tall and a long wingspan, his measurables sound a lot like the Carolina Panthers rookie corners. Robinson was considered a bit of a reach in the 4th round, as off field issues including an arrest limited his college playing experience and drew red flags about his future. But Robinson is just like any other player that grew up in south Florida, tough and aggressive.
What we don’t know about Robinson is how he stacks up against NFL wide receivers because, well, he has not been targeted yet.
While Robinson is not a starter, he did play 25 snaps for the 49ers in their game against the LA Rams on Monday night. Robinson was not targeted once. You heard me right. The LA Rams offense, who scored zero points against the 49ers, had a rookie corner covering their receivers 25 times and not a single time did they think to throw his way. As a result, Robinson was named a top 10 rookie for week one by ProFootballFocus.
49ers head coach Chip Kelly could not explain why the rookie wasn’t tested by the Rams. “They just said, ‘Hey, he’s a rookie out there. He’s the best in the league, so we aren’t going to throw on him.’ No, it was just kind of how it worked out. I don’t think they specifically stayed away from him for any reason, but when he was out there he just didn’t have the ball thrown his way. He was solid in coverage and was close in everything he had to do.”
The Rams would have been well advised to at least throw Robinson’s way once or twice, if only to see what the kid is made of. Don’t expect Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to make the same mistake.
The Panthers increased quality at wide receiver depth has also been a big offseason story. This depth will have an opportunity to prove their worth against the rookie Robinson this Sunday. I suspect you will see Devin Funchess matched up against Robinson at times. Robinson plays the perimeter in nickel sub packages for the 49ers, which lands him squarely in front of Funchess. If that happens, it is probably safe to assume Cam Newton will test the youngster early.