After watching the Giants partake in the offseason workout program, it's hard not to get excited about the potential of rookie wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson.
Robinson took full advantage of some of the team's other receivers not fully participating in the spring practices. The second-round pick seemed to be the preferred target of quarterback Daniel Jones and primed to contribute to the offense.
After spending his first two collegiate seasons at Nebraska, Robinson transferred to Kentucky, where he enjoyed a breakout performance in 2021. This led to him being selected with the No. 43 overall pick, joining (last year's first-round pick) Kadarius Toney as the team's highest-drafted wide receivers since Sterling Shepard was taken in the second round of 2016.
Looking at Robinson's college tape, it's not difficult to see why he was selected where he was.
"When I got on staff here, the guys were saying 'Hey, we got a pretty good shot at landing this transfer, Wan'Dale. He's from Kentucky.' I threw on his Nebraska tape, and the thing that pops off right as you watch it is this man is special with the ball in his hands," Kentucky WR Coach Scott Woodward told the Giants Huddle podcast. "He would line up in the slot, at running back, all over the field. When Nebraska got the ball in his hands, special things happened. Coming from Nebraska and bringing him into our system, with Liam Coen who's now the OC for the Los Angeles Rams, all you can kind of look at it and see is the Cooper Kupp comparison.
"What the Rams would do with Cooper Kupp, that's kind of what we sold him on. He came in here and obviously produced at a very high level, had 104 catches for over 1,300 yards… With him being such a guy who just loves football and can take it mentally and put it back on the field into what a great product he did, it was so easy just to get him the rock because we lined him up all over the place. But his mental aspect of the game is not as good as Cooper Kupp, but just very close to it. We threw a lot at him and he was able to handle all of it."
Coen spent three seasons with the Rams' offense before leaving to become Kentucky's offensive coordinator for the 2021 campaign. With Coen leading the offense, Robinson caught 104 passes for 1,334 yards and seven touchdowns. The receptions and receiving yards set single-season school records, while the 104 catches ranked third in the nation.
Woodward wouldn't go so far as to say Robinson is the next Cooper Kupp. Kupp just led the NFL with 145 receptions for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns last season on his way to being named Offensive Player of the Year. Putting expectations like that on a rookie would be completely unfair and unrealistic. But Woodward highlighted some similar characteristics between the two receivers, including their football intelligence and ability to line up anywhere on the field.
"When Liam came here, he would talk about how Cooper, how smart he was and how they could throw all this stuff at him and he could handle it all and understand defenses and understand concepts and the coverage and what's going on, not just pre-snap but post-snap," said Woodward. "When you sit down and talk to Wan'Dale, since he's been drafted or before he was drafted, all these scouts and coaches have always asked me, 'What makes Wan'Dale so great?' One thing, the kid is an absolute dog. That's just on the field. But one thing that really makes him special is anything that I have ever said to that kid, he's remembered.
"There was never an issue of taking anything I've told him or coached on in the meeting room to the field. It was second-hand. You could tell him some little detail about a route or a play, and it's done on the field. That's a very special trait to have as a wide receiver. Especially being in a pro style system I'm assuming the Giants and a bunch of other teams will be running, helped him a bunch and helped him tremendously. His mental, he'll already be ready to go. Hear the play in the huddle, come out, break the huddle, line up in the slot or wherever it may be, and play fast and at a high level."
It's been obvious since the draft that the Giants think very highly of Robinson. General Manager Joe Schoen made that clear when speaking to the media following the selection.
"Good football player we've had our eye on, generator with the ball in his hands, very good run after the catch, very good route runner, can separate. And for what we are going to do offensively, we thought he would be a very good fit for us…" Schoen explained in April. "When we looked at certain players that may be there, he was a guy we thought could potentially be there and we have a very clear vision for the player and look forward to utilizing him."
View photos of the the Giants' 2022 draft class on the practice field during spring workouts.
Head coach Brian Daboll and coordinator Mike Kafka are now leading the Giants offense after both achieved a lot of success with their previous teams. Daboll served as offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills for four seasons, helping the unit become one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. Kafka comes to the Giants after five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, including the past two as their quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.
The pair of offensive minds now get to add Robinson, who finished with a 91.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (best among SEC WRs), to a receiver room that already includes Kenny Golladay, Toney, Shepard and Darius Slayton.
"You can tell by the Giants drafting Wan'Dale in the second round that they had a clear vision for what they want him to be," the Kentucky WR coach exclaimed. "That was one of the things after the draft that I talked to Wan'Dale about. When he talked to Coach Daboll, they just had a clear vision of what he wanted him to do for them…
"He was our No. 1 receiver. He lined up and he ran the big boy routes. He was running those 20-yard outs, those 20-yard ins, all of those play action passes that the Rams do so well and the 49ers and all these teams do so well in the NFL. He was our guy that we were throwing that ball to. He can run the route tree. Yes, can he do all of those gadget things? Absolutely because he's just so dynamic. But I think he's going to fit perfectly in that offense because being drafted so high in the second round, it just shows you the clear vision and the plan that the Giants have to use him."
Robinson's stats back up these statements. He had 8+ receptions in eight of Kentucky's 13 games last season. Additionally, he ranked sixth among wide receivers with 22 missed tackles forced and 16 deep catches, highlighting his ability to line up all over the field.
Listed at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, it's easy to just pigeonhole Robinson as a slot receiver. But don't let his size fool you. According to his collegiate position coach, the rookie can do so much more than that.
"He's an absolute dog," Woodward said. "There was a play this past season where he catches the ball on the three-yard line, and the only way to the end zone was through a guy. He ran him over for six points. He's had many, many explosive blocks in the run game as a wide receiver to bounce our guys, our running backs, to the outside. He's just very smart with it. Is he going to be the most physical guy out there? Absolutely not. But he's going to be smarter than the person that he's blocking, and he's going to know how to use his body and his leverage to the best of his ability, and he'll get the job done. No doubt about that."
Woodward has some interesting ties to the Giants. He played at Massachusetts with Big Blue legend Victor Cruz, and thinks Cruz and Robinson have some intriguing things in common when it comes to their style of play.
"One thing Victor didn't get a lot of credit for is how smart he was, as well," Woodward said. "When we were in college, we were a pro style offense, as well, so we moved him all around and he was able to run the route tree. I do see some similarities, how they move in the slot and how smooth he is. Being able to, on those choice routes and option routes, how to make the decisions to make the defender never right. Then the ability with the run after catch I think is very similar. When Vic caught the ball for the Giants, you never knew what he was going to do with it. Same with Wan'Dale… I hope Wan'Dale is just as successful as Vic as he comes to be a Giant."
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