ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Wide receiver Jalen Robinette, who led the nation at 27.4 yards per catch, went undrafted after the Air Force told him just this week that he’d have to serve two years in the military before being allowed to play in the NFL.
Robinette, who is set to graduate from the Academy in less than a month, had prepared for the draft believing he’d be allowed to play in the NFL right away because of a U.S. Department of Defense ruling last summer .
Robinette was informed Thursday night as the first round was underway that Air Force leaders had informed the academy that cadets would still be required to serve at least two years on active duty before being allowed to apply for the Ready Reserve, which would allow them to play professional sports.
A projected mid-round pick, Robinson was the first Air Force player ever invited to the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine. He maintained a full class load while commuting 100 miles six days a week to train with other hopefuls in suburban Denver included Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. He’s on track to graduate May 24.
After Navy standout quarterback Keenan Reynolds was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens last year, the defense department changed its policy for service academy athletes who are offered the opportunity to play professionally, saying they could receive reserve appointments upon graduation and start their pro careers immediately rather than having to serving two years of active duty first.
In a statement, the Air Force said it informed the academy, however, that it “would not approve requests to waiver active duty military commitments for cadet athletes,” adding, “The Air Force places tremendous value on our cadet athletes and their contributions to the nation as we continue to build leaders of character, engage in combat operations overseas and continue to ensure our highest military readiness at home.”
At a shade under 6-foot-4 and just shy of 220 pounds, Robinette reminds some scouts of Broncos star receiver Demaryius Thomas, who came out of Georgia Tech’s triple option offense.
Robinette caught just 35 passes his senior season but they covered 959 yards for an NCAA-best 27.4-yard average , and he had six touchdown receptions. Over his four seasons for the Falcons, he caught 120 passes for 2,697 yards and 18 touchdowns.
He told The Associated Press this spring that he realizes he could have gone to another school and put up bigger numbers but said he never regretted choosing Air Force, not even when he caught just 16 passes is freshman year nor when an NFL future first came into focus his junior year.
He said he especially felt fortunate when the defense department changed its rules last year and he realized he could get both a great education and be able to fulfill his NFL dreams.
“I knew I was in the right place despite the stats,” Robinette, who sports an Air Force lightning bolt tattoo on his left bicep, said back in February. “I’ve never been huge…