Why 49ers should target XFL safety Kenny Robinson in 2020 NFL Draft

Why 49ers should target XFL safety Kenny Robinson in 2020 NFL Draft

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. 

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.

[RELATED: NFL mock draft: 49ers, Raiders' post-free agency picks]

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. 

Former 49ers, Raiders QB Josh Johnson rips XFL coach over play calling


Former 49ers, Raiders QB Josh Johnson rips XFL coach over play calling

Despite signing with just about every single NFL team, including the 49ers and Raiders, quarterback Josh Johnson never got much of an extended run as a starter.

Now, the 33-year-old Oakland native is getting a chance to start for the LA Wildcats of the XFL, and is making the most of his opportunity.

But during Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Vipers, Johnson was not happy with Wildcats offensive coordinator Norm Chow and lit into him on a phone call from the sidelines to the coach's booth. Yes, XFL allows these conversations to be heard on live broadcasts.

"Too much complaining instead of coaching," Johnson said on the sideline as he walked to get on the phone with Chow.

Once Johnson and Chow were connected, Johnson didn't hold back.

"Coach, y'all doing way too much arguing and complaining," Johnson said. "Call plays. Stop that. Stop it."

Chow never had a chance to respond. Johnson hung up the phone right away.

Johnson completed 20 of 36 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns in LA's 41-34 win over the Vipers.

Selected in the fifth-round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Johnson signed a two-year contract with the 49ers in March of 2012. He was cut just five months later.

[RELATED: Why Kap isn't in XFL]

After that, Johnson bounced around NFL, making stops with the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, 49ers again, Bengals again, the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Raiders, Washington and Detroit Lions.

The XFL thrives on moments like this, so we're pretty sure Johnson won't be disciplined for yelling at his offensive coordinator. In the No Fun League, this definitely wouldn't fly.

Why Colin Kaepernick isn't playing in new XFL, according to Oliver Luck


Why Colin Kaepernick isn't playing in new XFL, according to Oliver Luck

The game looks familiar, even if the players aren't.

The 49ers' loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV marked the conclusion of the NFL season, but not football altogether. Within the week, the XFL returned from a two-decade absence, as Saturday marked the beginning of the league's reincarnation.

The XFL of 2020 is not what it was back in 2001. Player nicknames no longer appear on jersey nameplates, and there is more of a focus on the actual game itself. Still, there are many unique elements that serve to differentiate the XFL from the NFL, and from a financial perspective, the league believes it's now much more viable than it was back in 2001, when it folded after just a single season. XFL commissioner Oliver -- and father of former Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew -- Luck offered three explanations as to why he feels that way when speaking with NPR's Michel Martin on Saturday, including better funding, exposure and players.

The XFL approached former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick about joining and starring in the new league, but according to Luck, Kaepernick's salary demands ruled out that possibility.

"We gave it some thought," Luck told Martin. "We have some pretty significant salary restrictions, you know. We're a start-up league, so we want to make sure that we can be fiscally responsible and fiscally prudent. And the, you know, salary requirements that some folks, you know, shared with us were in our case exorbitant, so we, you know, couldn't go down that path."

"We spoke with his representative," Luck continued, "and the salary requirements that were broached in that conversation were exorbitant and certainly out of our range."

When asked if the XFL would reconsider its stance on Kaepernick if he lowered his salary demands, Luck was noncommittal.

"I don't know," Luck said. "That was well over a year ago, so I don't know what kind of shape, you know, Colin is in. And, you know, we haven't followed that because obviously, again, we want the best players who are interested in playing in our league. That's, you know, pretty much a requisite for our job."

[RELATED: How Kap, coach moves defined 49ers' up-and-down decade]

While no one could blame the XFL for trying to be fiscally responsible, Luck's last comment seemed unrelated to any financial hurdles associated with bringing Kaepernick into the fold. The XFL requires all of its players to stand for the national anthem, and Luck sure doesn't sound like he supports Kaepernick's chosen methods of protest in the past.

"Players have numerous opportunities to express themselves with all the platforms that exist today," Luck said. "So, you know, standing for the national anthem we believe is a part of their responsibility as players in our league. But we think it's important to have that -- you know, that requirement for our players."

When pressed as to why Luck feels it's important to have that requirement, he doubled down on generalizations.

"We think it's important. We think it's part of what we as a league should do."

If the XFL can't afford Kaepernick, then his absence from the league is simply the result of financial prudence. But if Kaepernick's social reputation is figuring into it and causing the XFL to avoid such a partnership, it sure seems like a gigantic missed opportunity. If anything, one would think the XFL should be leaning into all of the different ways it could distinguish itself from its much larger, much more established competitor.