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Raiders rookie Amik Robertson carries chip on shoulder

Updated June 8, 2020 - 5:04 pm

It didn’t seem possible that the chip on Amik Robertson’s shoulder could grow any larger. But then NFL draft weekend arrived in April and every doubt about the 5-foot-8-inch, 188-pound Louisiana Tech cornerback gained new life.

Hence, the flood of tears that overcame Robertson when coach Jon Gruden called to tell him the Raiders were selecting him in the fourth round with the 139th pick in the draft.

Gruden said a lot on the draft-day phone call, but all Robertson heard was that Gruden didn’t care how tall Robertson was or how much he weighed. He just believed Robertson could help his team win, and that he was giving him a chance to do exactly that.

“That’s all I’ve ever wanted,” Robertson said.

But up until that point in the draft, all Robertson heard was what he considered the same old nonsense he’s heard for years.

You aren’t big enough to play big-time college football. You aren’t tall enough to stick with premier wide receivers. You’re just too small to make an impact as a dependable cornerback. “I’ve been dealing with it my whole life,” Robertson said.

Never mind that he shut up all his doubters at Louisiana Tech, where he outperformed, outhit and outplayed many of the same high school peers who were ranked higher than he was coming out of high school.

A three-year starter, including as a true freshman in 2017, Robertson had 14 interceptions over 38 games, three of which he took back for touchdowns. Of his 184 tackles, 23 were for losses, including four sacks.

By any measure, those are premium numbers.

But just as it was in high school in Thibodaux, Louisiana, when he was designated a three-star recruit in spite of production and performance that indicated a much higher ranking, it wasn’t Robertson’s toughness or skill level being called into question.

It was an arbitrary assumption that a cornerback has to be a certain height and weight to be effective in the NFL. “If he was two inches taller, he would have gone (in the second or third round.)” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said.

So Robertson sat. And waited. And watched as players he flat-out knew he was better than were drafted before him. Then the phone call arrived from Gruden, and all of a sudden a chip that had been fueled by anger all these years added one other key ingredient: Loyalty.

“I appreciate Jon Gruden believing in me,” Robertson said.

The result is a Raiders rookie who is motivated by dynamics that go above and beyond the normal incentives and inspirations. “I want to prove to them and everyone else they didn’t make a mistake,” Robertson said. “I thrive on all that.”

Without the benefit of a normal NFL offseason, Robertson has thrown himself into the Raiders virtual OTA’s. In the process, he’s already hitting it off with Gruden.

“He’s like a father figure, like an uncle to me,” Robertson said. “He’s already given me knowledge and encouragement and what to look forward to at the next level and to not rush greatness. Just continue to do what I’m doing with the work ethic and watching film and learning and progressing every single day. I know it’s going to be fun playing for him.”

The plan for now is to develop the 21-year-old Robertson at slot cornerback.

That isn’t to say Robertson can’t play one of the wide cornerback positions — something he did often at Louisiana Tech — but with Trayvon Mullen and either veteran Prince Amukamara or rookie Damon Arnette slated to play outside, Robertson’s best bet to see immediate playing time could come inside.

His physical profile certainly projects as a quality slot corner, where he’ll often be matched against smaller, quicker receivers. And with incumbent Lamarcus Joyner struggling in that role last year, Robertson is in prime position to earn playing time.

If so, it can help shore up a major weakness in the Raiders’ defense.

Robertson might not be big in stature, but he’s a feisty, tough, fundamentally sound defender. He makes up for his lack of height by bodying up receivers at the snap to slow their release at the line of scrimmage and has the quickness and athletic ability to stay with them in coverage.

According to the grading system of Pro Football Focus, Robertson was the highest-ranked cornerback in college football in 2018 and 2019. As a junior last year, he surrendered just nine catches on 38 targets while forcing 24 incompletions.

“He’s always around the football. He’s an instinctual kid and he’s not afraid to go make a play,” Mayock said. “I think that’s underrated — he’s looking to make plays. We need to get much better at taking the football away on defense. This is the kind of kid who thrives on that.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore onTwitter.

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