In today's pass-wacky NFL, depth at the wide receiver position has taken on added importance. That, in turn, has driven up the demand for quality pass-catchers in the NFL draft.
This year, the good news for teams in need of a wideout is that it's a deep class. The bad news is, after consensus No. 1 Sammy Watkins, the waters get pretty muddy pretty quickly.
Among the players who headed to the NFL Scouting Combine hoping to separate from the pack and vault themselves into the first round is one player who is no stranger to dealing with adversity.
Rising Above the Turmoil
Even amid the fallout from the sexual abuse scandal that rocked Penn State in 2012, Allen Robinson had no problems separating himself from defensive backs in college.
Per CFB Stats
In his first year as a starter, the 6'3", 220-pound Robinson topped 75 receptions, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. His scores were down as a junior, but Robinson reeled in nearly 100 passes and flirted with 1,500 yards in 2013.
His 77 catches in 2012 were a school record, a record Robinson shattered the following year with 97 grabs.
It was enough to garner Robinson the Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award as the Big Ten's top receiver two years running and All-American nods from a litany of organizations a year ago.
It was also enough for the lanky wideout to work his way onto Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Matt Miller's first-round radar as the college season drew to a close:
Potential 2014 WR class: Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee, Mike Evans, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham all Rd1 guys— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 3, 2013
The Scouts Speak
Miller's esteem for Robinson continued unabated into February, when he called Robinson one of his favorite players of 2014 while ranking him fourth at his position:
Penn State's Allen Robinson has the size to beat up defensive backs in man coverage, but he's also fast enough to make plays after the catch. A 6'3" wide receiver who can high-point in the end zone and make plays in space is tough to defend, and that's what Robinson brings to the table.
That's far from an isolated opinion. Rob Rang of CBS Sports called Robinson a "fluid and flexible athlete," with "deceiving acceleration." Rang also writes Robinson is a "Physical ballcarrier with balance and body strength to shake off defenders and pick up chunks of yards after contact."
That ability to rack up the yards after contact is very appealing to NFL teams, and it's on full display in this amazing run after the catch against Ohio State in 2013.
However, not all draftniks were as impressed with what they saw from Robinson.
|Site/Ranker||WR Rank||OVR Rank||Proj. Round|
|Bleacher Report/Matt Miller||4||27||1|
|CBS Sports/Rob Rang||6||34||1-2|
|Optimum Scouting/Eric Galko||3||16*||1|
|Walter Football/Charlie Campbell||5||59||1-2|
*QBs not included
Bleacher Report's Ryan McCrystal just doesn't see a very high ceiling with Robinson:
Robinson lacks the upside and big play potential of a typical first round wide receiver prospect. His speed and overall athleticism is modest, which limits what he will be able to do against NFL defensive backs. However, he has the size and route running skills to develop into a quality possession receiver. A realistic expectation would be for him to develop into Brian Hartline type receiver—a quality second or third option who excels on underneath routes.
Rang also concedes that Robinson has "average vertical speed," and that his "focus will run hot/cold at times."
It would seem opinions on Robinson run hot and cold as well.
The Need for Speed
Often times, a large variance in opinions from draft pundits is indicative of considerable "wiggle room" with NFL teams as well.
This isn't to say NFL offices and those who write about the draft share opinions (or even ways of thinking), but we all watch the same games and review the same tapes.
Assuming for a moment that there are some NFL teams "on the fence" about using an early pick on Robinson, then the pressure to perform in drills at the combine ratchets up a notch or three.
One drill in particular.
The 40-yard dash was already going to be this year's most heavily scrutinized drill at the wide receiver position, especially with so many wide receivers entering with first-round grades.
|Player||School||WR Rank||OVR Rank||Proj. Round|
|Mike Evans||Texas A&M||2||13||1|
|Kelvin Benjamin||Florida State||4||25||1|
|Odell Beckham, Jr.||LSU||5||27||1|
|Allen Robinson||Penn State||6||34||1-2|
|Brandin Cooks||Oregon State||7||37||1-2|
Per CBS Sports
Sure, there are other drills that matter, but Robinson's agility and body control (cone and position drills) and leaping ability (high jump) aren't really in question.
Where should Allen Robinson be selected in the 2014 NFL draft?
Robinson's strength is another matter, but a (relatively) poor showing in the bench press is more rule than exception with wide receivers anyway. Besides, it's hardly unreasonable to expect that Robinson will bulk up a bit as he finishes growing into his frame, especially after he showed up bigger than expected in Indy.
With that said though, If Robinson can come close to the 4.43 seconds he was unofficially clocked at in the 40 at Penn State, according to John Stuetz of The Daily Collegian, then you can bet the rent more than one NFL team will be scrambling back to re-look at Robinson's tape.
At that point, you're talking about the total package at wide receiver. The size. The ability to make teams pay after the catch. And most importantly, the wheels.
Because for all the things these young wide receivers will be learning in the NFL, there's one thing the coaches can't impart.
As the old saying goes, "You can't teach speed."