While the sports world has come to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic, it was business as usual for the NFL last week with free agency kicking off. As NFL teams shook up their rosters, however, another football league canceled the rest of the season.
The XFL's return was cut short Friday after only five weeks due to the coronavirus. The league previously announced that all players would be paid in full for the 2020 season, but many won't have to wait until the 2021 season to lace their football cleats again. Starting Monday at 6 a.m. PT, XFL players became eligible to sign free-agent contracts with NFL teams.
Quarterback P.J. Walker quickly agreed to a two-year contract with the Carolina Panthers. And though many other players will be worthy of free-agent contracts, the 49ers should have their eyes on an XFL player eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft.
It's time to meet Kenny Robinson.
Robinson, 20, was dismissed from West Virginia University after his sophomore season for a student code of conduct violation that involved academic fraud. He decided to join the XFL instead of waiting a year as a transfer student, making him the XFL's first test case among college athletes. And it was a successful one, too.
But he isn't eligible for free agency. Instead, Robinson can be selected in the draft this year. The 49ers should take a long look at him.
At 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, Robinson has ideal size for a safety in the NFL. He is an absolute ballhawk who had seven interceptions through two years in college, and returned two of them for touchdowns. His completion percentage allowed as a sophomore would have been the third-best in the country last season.
Current XFL safety Kenny Robinson Jr. allowed a 36.0% completion rate his final season at West Virginia.— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 16, 2020
That would rank 3rd in 2019. pic.twitter.com/MJZYVU66Jn
Over five games as a pro in the XFL, Robinson surely didn't disappoint. Roaming as a free safety for the St. Louis Battlehawks, Robinson had 21 tackles, two interceptions and one sack.
The 49ers brought back safety Jimmie Ward on a three-year deal this offseason, but that shouldn't stop San Francisco from looking at Robinson. After their two first-round picks, the 49ers aren't on the clock again until the fifth round, where they have two picks. That could be the perfect spot for Robinson.
Opinions seem to vary on where Robinson will land in the draft. PFF's Mike Remmer is a big fan and believes Robinson could be a third-round pick. The Athletic's Arif Hasan told the Sporting News he believes Robinson will be taken in the sixth round.
S Kenny Robinson Jr.:— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) March 20, 2020
9 INTs in 28 games between West Virginia and the XFL
Don't forget about the best ball-hawk in the draft class pic.twitter.com/IboxADLNpz
Sure, there are red flags with a prospect who was kicked out of school, but many players have received second, third and fourth chances in the NFL for much, much worse decisions. The main reason Robinson chose the XFL was to help his family after his mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“The deciding factor was my family," Robinson said to Sporting News. "It felt like the best choice for me was to take care of her and make sure everything was okay.”
The 49ers made it a priority to re-sign Ward in free agency. They sealed the deal, though they shouldn't be done. Even after bringing back Ward, the reigning NFC champs are thin at defensive back. Robinson fits Robert Saleh's Cover-3 scheme and might even be versatile enough to play a little cornerback.
The XFL saved Robinson's career. Now, the 49ers can continue it through the draft.