This Mizzou prospect has shot up NFL Draft boards. Why the Chiefs are a fit

For two decades, the Detroit Lions commenced their seasons, and all the optimism that came with them, in Allen Park, Michigan, the site of their training camp.

OK, perhaps not a lot of optimism came with an organization that sandwiched 31 years between playoff wins — but this isn’t really about the team, because those days still provided the allure for a handful of kids in attendance.

Like Darius Robinson.

You might know him now as the first-team All-SEC defensive lineman on the best Mizzou team in a decade. Or maybe you’ve heard he’s one of just 13 prospects attending the NFL Draft this week in Detroit, a short drive from where he grew up.

Life, you could say, is about to change.

Strangely enough, though, it prompts a memory of familiarity.

Robinson was just a kid — with a basketball dream, not yet a football dream — when he and his family would make the 15-minute drive to Allen Park for Lions training camp. Somewhere, he says, they have the pictures to prove it.

Robinson would hang around after practice, waiting in the autograph lines. But rather than walking away after collecting signatures, he’d lock eyes on the players as they disappeared into the team’s practice facility.

That’s where imagination took over.

That’s where, this week, his memory took over.

For years, Robinson recalled in a phone interview with The Star, he wondered about the behind-the-scenes life of a football player. About how it all came together, as he phrased it.

And now?

“I finally get to see where everybody was going,” he said. “It’s just kind of a full-circle moment.”


At some point this week, possibly as early as Thursday’s first round, Robinson will hear his name announced on an NFL Draft stage.

In his hometown.

It’s a pretty neat story, come to think of it. But if you consider it a pinch-me moment, well, that would imply some element of surprise.

This followed a plan.

A year ago, Robinson debated leaving Mizzou for the NFL. He’d already graduated in Columbia and knew there would be no shortage of interest at the next level. Maybe he could work his way to becoming a second-day draft pick.

Thus, last winter, his future became the topic of a conversation with his head coach, Mizzou’s Eliah Drinkwitz, who brought something up.

“We kind of set the dream in place: ‘Hey, man, go walk out in the first round in Detroit,’” Drinkwitz said. “That was his vision.”

He was sold.

A twist, though.

Ahead of a season in which he wanted to prove himself worthy of a first-round draft pick, Robinson switched positions: He became an edge rusher rather than a defensive tackle.

Let me underscore that: He opted for a move, while trying to improve his stock, that “made me feel like a freshman all over again.” A year after lining up along the interior on 87% of his snaps, per Pro Football Focus date, that number dipped to 3%.

Turns out you can put him anywhere. Robinson totaled 8 1/2 sacks as a senior. His pass rush win rate, at 17%, places him among the top 25 pass rushers, per PFF.

That’ll play. But where will he play?

That’s to be determined — in more ways than one. Robinson’s stock soared during the season and then accelerated rapidly after he dominated during the week of the Senior Bowl. He made some offensive linemen look so overmatched that he might’ve affected their draft stock in the process.

Few players, if any, have seen his kind of rise over the last four months. The website Grinding The Mocks, an aggregation of mock drafts, projects Robinson will land somewhere near the end of the first round. That projection had been in the middle rounds as recently as December.

A hot commodity, Robinson, who measures at 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, took 12 top-30 visits during the pre-draft process. A funny thing about those meetings: Each team he visited seemed to have a different plan for how to use him.

“I basically told them whatever position ya’ll see me playing, I’ll do it, and I’ll do it to the best of my ability,” Robinson said. “That’s what was awesome throughout this process — every team has a different opinion on what position they see me playing. I’m just excited for whoever drafts me and (to) see what position they put me in.”

That sounds like a comfortable fit for one team in particular that likes to move around its defensive linemen — one team that is picking at the back end of the first round in the neighborhood of Robinson’s projection.

The Chiefs.

If he’s still available, that is.

We had to bring the Chiefs into the conversation at some point, right? Sure, their primary targets remain left tackle and wide receiver, but they’re not without a need at defensive line. On Friday, general manager Brett Veach, who’s put more resources into defensive line than any other position in the early rounds, even said as much.

The most obvious spot is alongside Chris Jones at defensive tackle, but the Chiefs could use some help on the edge, where, after the knee injury to Charles Omenihu, they lack depth.

So, you know, a guy capable of playing both inside and outside would be ideal.

Of note: Robinson met with the Chiefs, including head coach Andy Reid, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and defensive line coach Joe Cullen, during the NFL Combine.

“My visit with the Chiefs was awesome,” Robinson said. “They really set the standard of what a championship organization looks like and what the expectations are. And then to be able to be a Chief would be amazing, because Missouri fans and Chiefs fans are the same people, so I already have enough familiar support.

“We’ll see what happens, but that definitely would be a very exciting time if that did happen.”