INDIANAPOLIS — He refers to reporters as “sir,” he’s taking six classes right now and he already has a job lined up after football.
Jalen Robinette is most certainly not your usual NFL Scouting Combine participant, mostly because he is also an Air Force cadet.
Thanks to a 2016 update to Department of Defense policy, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound wide receiver is eligible to go directly into the NFL—rather than the previous mandatory 24-month active service stint—and his big body combined with his athleticism has him popping up on the radar of many teams in the league.
Much in part to the unprecedented success of former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, the DoD updated the policy, now stating that “a service member can request to be tendered an appointment in the Reserve upon graduation and satisfy their commissioned service obligation in the Ready Reserve.” The change has opened the door in recruiting for the academies and opened the door for players like Robinette to jump onto the scene.
“It’s really exciting, it came at a good time, and I think it’s great for everybody,” the Air Force receiver said at the combine on Friday. “For the academies, for the players, for the coaches and just for the guys who want to chase their dreams but also go to the academy, too. If anything, the policy benefits everybody and I’m proud of that tight end, Garrett Griffith, who is with the Saints and Keenan Reynolds of course. I’m proud of those guys. They were able to achieve their dreams and make it to the next level… I’m excited for us that we get this shot.”
Now it’s Robinette’s turn to chase his dream. The big target led the nation in yards per catch this season, turning his measly 35 looks into nearly 1000 yards (27.4 yards per catch).
“I’m a producer,” he said, delivering his answer with constant eye contact. “I’m going to make something happen whether it’s on the edge blocking, going up for a big play, even catching short routes and making some long yardage out of that. If you involve me in the gameplan, I’m a producer, and I’m going to show up.”
Therein lies the problem, though, he was rarely included in the game plan for the Falcons. Why? Well, as many know, Air Force runs the triple option system, focused almost primarily on running the football. The interesting circumstances have many drawing comparisons to other large wide receivers who found themselves in the triple-option system, guys like Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas. And while he acknowledges he isn’t quite as “swole” as a guy like DT, he’s honored by the comparison.
“I’ve been watching DT throughout my college and high school years and it’s an honor to be compared to him. I can see it, too, with our size, the way we play,” he said Friday. “I definitely watched film on what [Thomas and Johnson] did. They were kind of in the same situation, making big plays, didn’t really run much of the NFL route tree and I think they’re athleticism alone proved—despite what they went through with the triple option—that they could definitely integrate, knock out the rest of the NFL tree and do great things in the league, which they did. When you look at the numbers—I’m not huge into numbers—but if you look into the numbers, that alone says that if I’m able to produce this much in the triple-option offense then if you integrate me into a pro-style, I think my chances are pretty good.”
His chances are good, and with a good performance at this combine, he could jump onto the scene as a true draft prospect. He says it would be “cool,” “great,” and “awesome” to stay in his “second home” of Colorado with the Broncos, but he’s just hoping to get a look from a team.
At the very least, league staffs will be impressed by the way he conducts himself and the way he handles a workload.
“I let them know I have a lot of pride in what I’ve been through at The Academy,” Robinette concluded of what he’s been telling teams about his experience. “We go through a lot, from basic training just to the daily grind of being an Air Force Cadet. They’re curious about my daily regimen, how I balance everything. I’m busy, but that’s the way I like it. I take a lot of pride in being an Air Force receiver.”
After a 13-rep performance on the bench press, Robinette and his fellow pass catchers will get into their on-field work on Saturday.