Who needs Mel Kiper? Alabama football's Brian Robinson Jr. sees patience pay off in NFL Draft

Chase Goodbread
The Tuscaloosa News

DESTIN, Fla. – On a massive, 85-inch flatscreen, Mel Kiper barked with his expertise on the fate of roughly 200 college football players who were still waiting on the call of a lifetime. The second round of the 2022 NFL Draft was well underway Friday night when Brian Robinson Jr., with the vast majority of a lengthy wait still ahead of him, snapped all the tension in the room with a single thought.

His volume didn’t nearly match that of Kiper’s, but with extended family gathered all around Robinson, ESPN’s longtime draft expert lost everyone’s attention to the man of the hour. Or, as it were, hours. 

“I’m trying to be more grateful for where I go than when I go,” Robinson said. 

With that, the tone for what would turn into an excruciatingly long night had been set. Hours later, the former Hillcrest High star running back would at last be selected by the Washington Commanders in the third round with a compensatory third-round selection, No. 98 overall, and just seven picks before his wait would’ve been extended overnight had he fallen to the fourth round.

Former Alabama football RB Brian Robinson Jr. watches the NFL Draft on television hours ahead of his third-round selection by the Washington Commanders

But Robinson is no stranger to waits. His patience already had been tested like very few others among the draft’s 262 selections, having waited four years to be the starter in Alabama’s backfield. Stuck behind three Alabama running backs over four years who are already cashing NFL paychecks, Robinson eschewed the ever-popular transfer portal and stayed at Alabama for a fifth year. He erupted for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns. His draft stock with NFL scouts spiked as a result, and his patience would be rewarded all over again with the draft.

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After a four-year wait culminating like that, what was four hours? 

Heads around the room nodded with approval when Robinson revealed his heady perspective. He’d nailed the necessary mental approach to watching pick after pick come off the board ahead of him. 

“I’m just so proud of the way he stuck it out,” said his father, Brian Robinson Sr., who admitted seeing much of himself in his son. “I stayed with it myself, and now I’ve got a towing company.” 

A couple dozen members of Robinson’s immediate and extended family gathered in a pristine rented beach house in the Florida panhandle for a two-day party that was to commemorate his draft selection. The plan was to make a mini-vacation out of the stay, with the family preferring the beach setting to holding a draft party in Tuscaloosa. One of Robinson’s uncles, Wardrias Little, logged five hours on a gas grill Friday afternoon, cooking 30 pounds of chicken wings, dozens of burgers and sausages, and his signature baked beans. 

Just steps from Miramar Beach, the $3 million property featured an enticing back patio with a pool that beckoned as a breakaway from Kiper’s droning and any frustrations about Robinson’s fall toward the end of the draft’s third round. Eventually, the younger crowd in the family ditched the draft for some poolside hip hop music booming from a powerful amplifier that reverberated through the house, while the older crowd stayed glued to the TV.

Wearing a simple black T-shirt, with a Goorin Bros “Funky Little Monkey” cap on his head and a dazzling pair of yellow Nike sneakers on his feet, Robinson went for the music outdoors over the indoor draft watch. He and his more immediate family members had been in Destin since Wednesday, and he’d spent the previous two days enjoying the beach, racing go-carts and jet-skiing with his cousin Nyla hanging onto him from behind. 

He wasn’t about to let that much fun with family turn to melancholy. Running backs Breece Hall of Iowa State, Kenneth Walker of Michigan State, James Cook of Georgia, Rachaad White of Arizona State and Tyrion Price-Davis of LSU would eventually come off the board ahead of him. At one point, the TV teased “With the sixty-second pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs select Bryan … (audible gasp in the room) … Cook.” 

But Robinson knew he’d get a call from his new team before the TV broadcast aired his selection anyway. 

Who needed Kiper? 

Former Alabama RB Brian Robinson Jr.'s draft party was at the ready with a cap for all 32 NFL clubs.

He got up and walked past a table displaying a hat for all 32 NFL clubs, headed for the patio, and confidently declared: “I’m going to be in the Pro Bowl anyway. It doesn’t matter who takes me or when they take me.” 

Shortly after 10 p.m., with the threat of the wait dragging into Day 3 looming minutes away, Robinson walked back in and reached over 31 other hats that had passed on him. The call had at last come, and the Commanders – one of seven NFL clubs that hosted Robinson on a pre-draft visit – restarted the party. Robinson drooped, weak-kneed from the moment, as his mother Kimberly helped him stand. 

Former Alabama RB Brian Robinson Jr. needed some help standing from his mother Kimberly, as he was overwhelmed by being selected in the NFL Draft.

Someone pulled the amplifier off the patio and into the house, and blasted the volume many times louder than Kiper. Robinson took to the quiet of the patio to soak in his future in Washington. 

“I had to go back to my old strategy that I used at ‘Bama to just keep patient. I had to relax and sit back and just wait, and I did think about all the patience I had to use at Alabama a few times during the night,” Robinson said minutes later. “It definitely applied to this.”

Reach Chase Goodbread @cgoodbread@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.