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USC football or MLB? Duce Robinson's path to becoming two-sport star
College Football

USC football or MLB? Duce Robinson's path to becoming two-sport star

Updated Apr. 6, 2023 5:30 p.m. ET

Five-star tight end prospect Duce Robinson thrilled USC and college football fans when he signed his national letter of intent just two days before the April 1 deadline for the 2023 class.

That day, March 30, also was Opening Day this season in Major League Baseball, and that is not a coincidence as Robinson is not just an elite-level tight end, but the Anthony Richardson of this year’s MLB Draft.

At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, Robinson compares most favorably on the diamond to New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge. While he is not an S-tier prospect, he could turn out to be an S-tier player given time and at-bats as a pro.

At tight end, Robinson would immediately become one of Lincoln Riley’s most talented pass-catchers at a position that lacked production in 2022. A player of Robinson’s caliber could develop into what Mark Andrews was at Oklahoma or Michael Mayer was at Notre Dame last season: a 60-catch, 800-yard mismatch nightmare.


How good of an athlete is Robinson?

He is the most talented two-sport star since Kyler Murray.

USC signs five-star tight end Duce Robinson

RJ Young reacts to Duce Robinson signing with USC and shares his insight on whether Robinson will play baseball or stay in college.

Murray was selected No. 9 overall by the Oakland Athletics in the 2018 MLB Draft and was offered a deal by the team that included a $4.6 million signing bonus. That same year, Murray started under center at Oklahoma, where he won the Heisman Trophy, beat Texas in the Big 12 title game and led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff.

Following that Heisman season, Murray quickly became the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Knowing this, the A’s reportedly offered Murray $14 million cash to play baseball in January 2019 — a number near what a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft would sign for in the same year. 

He declined. 

Murray was selected No. 1 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft and signed for more than $35 million, fully guaranteed, with the Arizona Cardinals.

The 25-year-old Murray is an athlete on par with Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. Robinson is not — though he’s closer than anybody else playing either sport right now.

The truth is that QBs such as Murray are more valuable than TEs such as Robinson, or even running backs and cornerbacks such as Jackson and Sanders, respectively. But Robinson is a guy you want in either sport. His bat speed, power and ability as an outfielder make him an intriguing MLB prospect with a very high ceiling. 

But is it worth it for Robinson to play just one sport in college, as a pro, or try to do both?

Regardless of what he decides to do, Riley is best fit to help guide Robinson through such a unique career path. After all, he managed to get a full season of college football out of Murray on the A’s dime for nearly $5 million. It also could be a reason Robinson ended up at USC and not Georgia, his other finalist. Add in the fact that Robinson played high school football at Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, the same school former Riley pupil and five-star QB Spencer Rattler played high school ball, and you can see the fit is about as good as it gets.

But the fact remains that Major League Baseball can't compete with the NFL in terms of pay as a rookie.

The first pick in the fourth round of the NFL this year is slotted to make $4.1 million over four years. To make $4.1 million in the MLB Draft, Robinson would have to be selected No. 17 overall or higher or have a club that wants to pay him that much just to keep him off of a football field.

It is also important to note that NFL rookie contracts are generally four years in length, with a team option to be extended for a fifth year for first-round selections. As for MLB, while there are some caveats based on when a player gets called up to the majors, rookies are essentially under six-year contracts once they reach the big leagues, assuming they don't sign an extension.

For added context, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 MLB Draft is slotted to receive a little less than $10 million, while the top selection in the NFL will receive a $27 million signing bonus with an average annual value of $10.24 million. Now, you can manipulate this value, and some do, paying prospects less than the slotted amount to spend more later. But overpaying carries a heavy penalty in the MLB Draft, which could include paying a tax on the overage and losing future draft picks.

Paying extra for a player and losing draft picks means a club has to fall in love with a prospect. In Robinson's case, he has more to prove on the diamond before he's considered a consensus first-round pick in the sport.

However, Robinson has enough leverage to do whatever he wants, which is a dream for every high school recruit.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The Number One College Football Show." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube.

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