ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette went undrafted after the Academy said just this week that it would require cadets to serve two years of active duty before they can join a professional team.
Robinette, who is on track to graduate May 24, had prepared for this NFL draft believing he would be able to join a team immediately due to a U.S. Department of Defense ruling last July. That decision has not changed overall, but the Air Force notified the academy Thursday night -- the draft's first night -- that cadets would still be required to serve two years' active duty.
Robinette was informed of the Air Force's decision Thursday night, about an hour after the NFL draft started. In a statement to the Denver Post, the Air Force said it would "not approve requests to waiver active duty military service commitments,'' 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.''
While some had Robinette projected to be drafted in the mid to later rounds, he does not appear to be on the ESPN 300 draft board.
Some associated with Robinette and his pre-draft preparations said Saturday morning that they hoped to argue that since Robinette had been working under the guidelines of the Department of Defense ruling for months and that the draft had already started when he was informed, that he could move into the NFL under the guidelines in place before the Air Force's decision.
It is believed, as of Saturday, that the Army and Navy had not changed the policy for athletes at West Point or the Naval Academy.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound wide receiver participated in the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine this past February. He was the first Air Force player to participate in the Senior Bowl.
Robinette said in the weeks leading up to the draft: "To possibly play at the next level, and I believe I can give that my best, or fall back on a great, great career in the Air Force. It's really the most win-win it can be. I'll have my degree and this opportunity as well, so it's worth all of the effort. But things that you believe are worth striving for are always worth the effort.''
Unlike many draft hopefuls, Robinette maintained a full schedule for a cadet as he prepared for the draft. He attended classes each morning at the academy, and afterward drove 100 miles round-trip to train with other draft candidates, a group that included Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.
After his daily workouts, Robinette would return to the academy to finish out his school day.
"When I get back, it's all homework, try to get something to eat and try to go to bed at a decent time," Robinette said last month. "I was doing homework on the trips to the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, too. After I'd watch the film from practice, interviews with the scouts. I'd do my homework. Kind of a cadet day over in Tampa and Mobile, too."
Robinette is a big-bodied wideout who averaged a double-take-worthy 27.4 yards per catch last season and 24.7 in 2015 as the deep-ball option in Air Force's run-heavy-option attack.
A team could still draft Robinette Saturday before the seventh round draws to a close, and then place him on reserve/military until he has served his commitment.
The Broncos did just that when they signed current Atlanta Falcons center Ben Garland as an undrafted rookie in 2010. Garland was a four-year project for the Broncos before he played in a regular-season game.
The Broncos waited and kept Garland on "reserve-military" during his two-year active-duty commitment. He was then on the team's practice squad for two more seasons.
After first attending the team's training camp in 2010, Garland played in a regular-season game in 2014.
"I know [Garland's] story, of course," Robinette said last month. "As players from the academies, we can show we do some pretty badass stuff, but we can also compete in that athletic arena, too. And if I wasn't doing this, I'd probably regret it looking back. I just don't think you should leave any doors unopened in life. I just couldn't see myself not trying this."