Niner Noise’s continues it’s annual “Who Is?” breakdown on San Francisco 49ers players. In this installment, we look at second-year cornerback Rashard Robinson and what he means to the 2017 defense.
Second-year San Francisco 49ers defensive back Rashard Robinson found himself posted to the team’s No. 1 corner role earlier this offseason when the team elected to release veteran cornerback Tramaine Brock following an arrest for an alleged domestic violence incident.
Just like that, the former fourth-round pick out of LSU, with a checkered past of his own, winds up being one of the most crucial pieces for the Niners defense.
It’s not all bad. In fact, the promotion is probably a good thing.
San Francisco 49ers
Robinson was clearly one of San Francisco’s best corners in 2016. According to Pro Football Focus, Robinson led all rookie corners in coverage snaps per reception (13.2) and was even touted as the NFL’s fifth best rookie heading into Week 7 last year.
His play dropped off a bit down the stretch, resulting in an OK 61.8 overall grade, per PFF.
Still, Robinson might be one of the few gems former general manager Trent Baalke landed in his final years. And it will be up to him to ensure San Francisco’s passing defense makes some strides this season.
With a new defensive scheme, under coordinator Robert Saleh, what can we expect in 2017?
Let’s take a look.
Why He’ll Improve
Prior to the 2016 season, 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley noted Robinson “has some dog in him.”
This kind of tenacity is something San Francisco’s secondary has lacked for a while. And the 6-foot-1, 177-pound corner is looking to keep that description trending in the same direction.
Niners Wire’s Chris Biderman described an incident from 49ers OTAs:
"Rashard Robinson broke on a short pass to Pierre Garçon and knocked it out of the veteran receiver’s hands. The second-year player had something to say to the wideout with 564 receptions during his nine seasons, getting face mask to face mask, which is nothing new for the 49ers’ presumptive top cornerback."
With Saleh implementing a lot of Cover 3 schemes, 49ers corners will be expected to operate well enough in one-on-one coverages.
Robinson, so far, has seemed to be able to handle these kinds of assignments. And it’s worth noting many players make their biggest jump, performance-wise, in their second year.
Perhaps 2017 is the season where Niners fans realize what kind of player the team has in Robinson.
Why He’ll Regress
Despite some attempts to add muscle this offseason (Robinson was 171 pounds entering the league), the cornerback is still lanky and thin.
This might not be a big issue, as early observations reveal he plays tougher than his size would indicate. But the strength factor is something to watch.
Another point of note, made by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s Grant Cohn, calls concern to Robinson’s abilities to cover fast receivers deep. Cohn wrote:
"Robinson owned Garcon. But, Robinson did get burned deep once by Goodwin during that play when [Brian] Hoyer missed [Marquise] Goodwin by a mile. Robinson may have trouble with fast receivers. Something to keep an eye on."
Cohn has been singing Robinson’s praises throughout offseason programs, and this is the only negative seen so far.
How much this translates into regular-season problems is anyone’s guess. But Robinson will be on his own in coverage aplenty this upcoming season, so there is a possibility burned coverages become somewhat of a problem.
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What to Expect in 2017
San Francisco doesn’t exactly have anyone else on the roster capable of taking Robinson’s No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
Yes, the team drafted former Colorado corner Ahkello Witherspoon in Round 3 of the NFL Draft. But Witherspoon probably won’t be a starting-caliber player for some time — perhaps not until the middle of 2017 at the earliest.
Still, Witherspoon likely projects as the team’s No. 2 corner after, let’s say, Keith Reaser. Depending on how that camp battle pans out.
Robinson stays at No. 1 for now, and it’s a spot the defense will need him to thrive in.
We’ll likely see Robinson locking down one side of the field with some sort of regularity, as PFF’s coverage-snap analysis from last year suggested. There will probably be some gaffes, especially against faster receivers. But most probably feel comfortable with Robinson seeing plenty of the field in such an important role.
If he thrives under this newfound pressure, there’s no reason to assume Robinson won’t have a great season.