The 2014 NFL draft is particularly deep at wide receiver, but that doesn't mean there aren't standout prospects. Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, for example, are believed to be the best at the position and should have immediate impacts on the offenses they land with next week.
But how about Penn State's Allen Robinson? Because of the depth at the position, he might not find his name called on the first day, but that won't necessarily define how well he plays in the NFL. In fact, with the right team, he could emerge not as a No. 2, possession-style wideout but a true No. 1 franchise receiver.
Robinson's draft stock took a hit at the scouting combine in February. His height, 6'2", was more than ideal for a top receiver, but his weight, at 220 pounds, affected his speed. He ran just a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, per NFL.com, leading to questions about whether he'd have the quickness to evade professional-caliber cornerbacks despite his size.
His pro day provided Robinson the opportunity to improve his draft stock, which it appears he accomplished, according to NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt:
Robinson shaved off 12 pounds from his frame, and the result was a 4.47-second 40-yard dash time. He took nearly a half-second off his three-cone drill time at the combine, and he had a 42" vertical leap, up from 39" in February. He clearly put in the work to improve in the eyes of the coaches and scouts in attendance at Penn State in April.
But it's not just controlled workouts that will determine Robinson's NFL readiness. It's also heavily reliant on what he put on tape in college, and based on that, it appears that Robinson's ceiling is incredibly high.
Robinson was the Big Ten's leader in receptions and receiving yards in 2012 and 2013, most recently catching 97 passes for 1,432 yards and six scores. He displayed reliable hands and good footwork, and most importantly, he was a strong route-runner in Bill O'Brien's NFL-style offense.
Though not the fastest receiver nor the most explosive, Robinson is, as Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle notes, "deceptive." He can accelerate at a moment's notice, and his strong footwork can shake faster defenders.
The funny thing about Allen Robinson's numbers, people actually keep telling me he isn't explosive. Tried to tell them he is deceptive.— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) April 8, 2014
His good route running is the single aspect of Robinson's game that makes him pro-ready—and capable of being a No. 1 wideout for his new team. It's one of the more difficult aspects of making the transition from college to the NFL, and any receiver who possesses an advanced knowledge of the route tree has an advantage over his other first-year counterparts.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Robinson as the draft's 12th-best receiver or tight end (out of 21), giving him an overall score of 86 out of a possible 100. His best grade was an 18 out of 20 in route running, with Miller saying, "The Penn State offense under Bill O'Brien was a true NFL system, and Robinson comes to the pros ready to run any route in the playbook."
There is one area, however, that Robinson will have to work on to really shine in the NFL. Miller continues:
He definitely excels outside the hashes as opposed to working in traffic, but has the hips and feet to sell routes and pull away from defenders on breaking routes. He doesn't have the speed to simply run away from a cornerback and must become better at making contested catches. ... As developed as he is as a route-runner, there's room for him to become more of a competitor over the middle and further improve his route game.
This is why some feel that Robinson's upside is primarily as a possession receiver. A true No. 1 wideout will need to make plays all over the field, not just on the outside. However, Robinson certainly has the size and power to do this job. The question is whether his new team will ask him to do it on a regular basis.
On the outside, however, Robinson shouldn't have much trouble. His well-developed routes combined with his size and great footwork make up for any lack of speed, whether real or perceived. He's not a one-trick vertical scoring threat, which could limit his usefulness—think Torrey Smith in Baltimore or Mike Wallace in Miami.
He's polished, like San Diego's Keenan Allen, and, like Allen, he should have a great rookie season. Allen was drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft, but he emerged as the Chargers' top receiver. Allen and Robinson have similar body types—both are 6'2", and Allen weighs 211 pounds to Robinson's 208.
Allen's good hands and strong route-running weren't enough to make him a first-round prospect last year, but he's certainly become the Chargers' No. 1 receiver. He caught 71 of the 105 regular-season passes thrown his way in his rookie season—a 67.6 percent catch rate—for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. He also added nearly 200 additional yards and two touchdowns in the postseason.
As a result, Allen was ranked 10th overall among wide receivers by Pro Football Focus (subscription required), ahead of well-established No. 1 wideouts like Larry Fitzgerald, Josh Gordon and Dez Bryant. And one look at a scouting report for Allen from last year uncovers a lot of similarities between Allen and Robinson: well-developed routes, a lack of overwhelming speed and explosion, and a pro-style collegiate system.
When do you think Allen Robinson gets drafted?
A knee injury is the only reason he fell to Round 3 last year. Robinson doesn't have the same questions surrounding his health, so he should be drafted much higher—likely in the top half of Round 2 at the latest. But he should flourish as a No. 1 receiver, much as Allen has, as long as he's taken by a team that lacks one.
That's the only limit to Robinson's impact in the NFL, both in the short and long terms. Robinson can certainly emerge from the pack this summer on a team with well-established starters at receiver, but he'll have a better chance to take the reins of a No. 1 receiver job if that role is vacant heading into the draft. He could also be viewed as a No. 2, possession-style receiver initially but prove to be much more once he takes the field.
Robinson's ceiling in the NFL is very high. He may not be the fastest receiver in this year's draft class, and he does have to work on making contested catches over the middle of the field. But there doesn't appear to be a reason to believe this is something he's not capable of improving. His only limits will be imposed by the system that employs him and not by any inherent in his game or potential.