A’Shawn Robinson’s career in Detroit has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. When the Detroit Lions first drafted him, many believed they got a first-round talent early in the second round.
The early results didn’t bear that out, however. Robinson wasn’t bad per se—he had 13 passes defended in his first two years—but his overall efficiency left much to desire.
But when Matt Patricia took over in 2018, many believed Robinson would be one of the roster pieces that would benefit from the scheme change, and early on, it looked like those theorists were right. After an early benching in 2018, Robinson returned to the lineup with a vengeance, quickly becoming a top-tier run stuffer.
However, he couldn’t follow it up with a solid 2019, and now he’s facing free agency with a ton of questions surrounding him. Will the Lions consider a re-signing? Let’s look a little closer into the Robinson conundrum.
Expectations before 2019
As I mentioned in the intro, Robinson was coming off a very solid 2018 campaign. While he was primarily used as a run stuffer and still hadn’t developed many skills as a pass rusher, he was highly valued in this scheme, and we saw towards the end of that season just how dominant the Lions run defense could be with him and Damon Harrison Sr.
In fact, morale was so high in this unit that former teammate Ricky Jean Francois predicted that Robinson would eventually grow into a top-three run defender in the entire NFL.
“He will be probably one of the top three run defender or d-linemen in the league,” Francois said. “He’s that special that he can do it. Now he just has to finish this season out great. Fourth year, now you have to take that big leap.”
That last line turned out to be foreshadowing...
Actual role in 2019
2019 Stats: 13 games (9 starts): 40 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
PFF Grade: 56.0 (101st of 120 qualifying DTs—20% of snaps)
Shockingly, the Lions run defense struggled out of the gate, and Robinson played a big part in that. Though he started the season strong, his production quickly deteriorated as the season went on.
He remained a liability as a pass rusher, and while his run defending was adequate, he very clearly did not take the next step in his progression and, instead, became a key piece in Detroit’s most disappointing unit in 2019.
His season would end in Week 14 after suffering a shoulder injury that would keep him out of the final three games of the season.
What should the Lions do with him?
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
The case for re-signing:
It’s hard to justify re-signing A’Shawn Robinson based on his 2019 play, but the Lions’ current roster makeup may necessitate it. They covet run-stuffing interior defenders at a premium, and with Harrison now considering retirement, Detroit would be left with exactly zero players capable of a starting role.
While Robinson likely wouldn’t be able to take over the nose tackle role that would be potentially left vacant by Snacks’ retirement, he would be able to draw some defenders off of whoever the Lions would use to potentially replace Harrison, and he’s been fairly durable his entire career.
While Robinson was certainly disappointing over his four-year rookie deal, he’s at least an average early-down interior defender, and if the Lions can get that back on a reasonably cheap deal, there’s no reason they shouldn’t add him for depth reasons.
The big question is whether Robinson likes it enough in Detroit to take a modest deal here. It’s really impossible to know given his contentious relationship with the media, but he seemed to be generally well-liked by his teammates.
The case for letting him walk:
Robinson’s play was just far too inconsistent throughout his entire career, and sometimes, he was downright undisciplined. His emotions often got the best of him, leading to bad personal foul penalties and poor mistakes.
Big run stuffers are generally not as highly regarded in free agency, meaning the Lions could probably add similar talent on the free market at somewhat of a bargain.
Snacks’ situation should certainly play some sort of factor in this equation, but even if the nose tackle decides to hang them up, it’s hard to really justify bringing Robinson back. While his potential talent is still tempting (he’s still only 24!!!), his attitude and lack of progression through his first four years in Detroit make it hard to justify a second contract here.
The Lions will simply have to attack this position hard in free agency, and while the past results of that haven’t been promising—Sylvester Williams, Akeem Spence, Stefan Charles—it’s probably the best course of reaction for this franchise, mixed with a doubling down in the NFL Draft.
Should the Lions re-sign A’Shawn Robinson?
This poll is closed
Only if Damon Harrison retires