Then And Now: Allen Robinson’s NFL Journey
Allen Robinson came from humble beginnings as an unheralded three-star recruit with only four offers to his name — two of which came from Mid-Atlantic Conference residents Toledo and Buffalo, along with two Big Ten offers from Minnesota and Penn State. Robinson decided to sign with Penn State, where he’d make Happy Valley his new home for the foreseeable future. The rest is history — 177 catches, 2,479 yards, 17 touchdowns later, Robinson blossomed into one of the most prolific wide receivers in school history, putting his name next to legends like Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood, and Derek Moye. Fast forward one year to the present day, and we find Robinson swiftly rising up the ranks as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Plenty has occurred since Robinson made the decision to leave Happy Valley in pursuit of NFL glory.
Robinson has experienced the highest of highs and suffered the lowest of lows, but through it all, he’s become a stronger, more confident individual. It’s all part of the story that is Robinson’s NFL journey.
Robinson’s road to the NFL began shortly after he announced his decision to forgo his senior year of eligibility and enter the 2014 NFL Draft. All the hard work and training that ensued was done in preparation for the most important job interview of Robinson’s entire life: the NFL Scouting Combine held at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis. A standout performance was exactly what Robinson would need in order to push his name up draft boards and boost his stock. After all, the 2014 wide receiver class was dubbed one of the deepest, most talented classes in recent memory. Names like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and Odell Beckham Jr. took precedence over Robinson’s in the eyes of general managers across the league, meaning every chance Robinson had to impress scouts became increasingly important.
“For me, the pre-draft process was the hardest part because you’re working out a lot, running routes, and just preparing yourself for the combine,” Robinson said. “Getting to the combine was intense, because the focus is all on you. You’re going out there competing with all the guys in your class, making every single rep count. It’s not just drills at the Combine, it’s interviews too. At the combine, I talked to roughly 25-26 teams, getting drilled on all sorts of questions. As a whole, the Combine is draining both mentally and physically, but you gotta have yourself prepared.”
Though Robinson didn’t exceed his Combine aspirations, he showcased his arsenal of physical attributes, giving teams a taste of his on-field prowess. Robinson posted a 4.6 40-yard dash, a 39-inch vertical leap, and jumped 127-inches in the broad jump — a group-leading figure. Despite performing admirably in most workouts, his modest 40-yard dash time led scouts to question his straight-line speed. Most of those question marks were erased once Robinson took the field for his Pro Day. There, he shaved a healthy amount of time off his 40 number, unofficially finishing between 4.42 and 4.47 seconds. While the 40-yard dash may not be imperative to a player’s on-field success, it’s a number that can boost a prospect’s draft stock. In Robinson’s case, roughly two-tenths of a second was the difference between being selected in the draft’s first two rounds and slipping into day three.
With the Combine in the rearview mirror, the only step left for Robinson was the draft itself. Where all of the hard work and training culminate in the moment a player dreams about for his entire life. Robinson knew the significance of this moment for his family, friends, coaches, teammates, and everybody else that helped him get to that point, which is why he chose to watch the draft at St. Mary’s Prep — Robinson’s former high school. “I was at my high school for the draft, which was a real fun atmosphere to be around,” Robinson said. “Being with all those people that care so much about me when I got that call really made the moment special for me.”
Going into the draft, there were a number of scenarios that could have played out for Robinson. Early on, there was some speculation he could have slid into the latter portion of the first round, but that speculation dissipated after Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin were selected by two of the most wide receiver-needy teams in the draft with the No. 20 and No. 28 picks, respectively. Once the first round concluded, it seemed as though Robinson was a lock to fall no further than the end of the second round. As day two of the draft carried on, it became a question of who instead of when in regards to the team that would ultimately select Robinson.
“I didn’t talk to Jacksonville before or after the Combine, so it was kind of a surprise when they picked me,” Robinson said. “Actually, the week of the draft I met with the Carolina Panthers, so I was thinking they’d end up selecting me, but the fit in Jacksonville was the best landing spot for me.”
In the end, it was the Jacksonville Jaguars that would eventually select Robinson, after trading back into the latter half of the second round with San Francisco to get him. As Robinson noted, the lack of communication between the two parties may have led him to believe the organization wanted another player. After all, the team had selected former USC receiver Marqise Lee with the No. 39 pick — 22 spots ahead of Robinson. Regardless, the Jaguars felt they could not do without Robinson, and promptly got their man before anyone else had a chance to pry him away.
The jubilant rush of emotion felt by Robinson after being selected didn’t last long, however. Once the draft concluded, it was business time.
“I was drafted on Friday, I came down [to Jacksonville] on Sunday, so it was a quick transition,” Robinson said. “We were there at mini-camps and everything, so we exceeded the expectations we had for ourselves early on. Because we were able to get familiar with the system right from the get-go, we were really eased into the transition from college to the pros, and helped us adjust to the speed of the NFL game. All of that preparation and work made it so the beginning of the season didn’t come as a surprise.”
Despite being hampered by a lingering hamstring issue early on in OTAs, Robinson was able to hit the ground running, while forging an important relationship with the player whom he’d be receiving passes from. Former Central Florida standout quarterback Blake Bortles was taken by Jacksonville with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft, ushering in a new era for the struggling franchise. For Robinson, having the opportunity to work with Bortles right from the beginning allowed the two to develop chemistry — something that would be reflected on the field throughout the regular season after Bortles took over for a struggling Chad Henne four weeks into the 2014 regular season.
“Having Bortles come in at the same time as I did helped in a big way,” Robinson said. “All those reps on the practice field helped us get to the point we’re at. All the film we’ve watched and things we’ve studied really set us ahead. But with us both being rookies, we were definitely able to get comfortable with one another early on, and that really made a difference for me. I knew where he was gonna throw the ball, and he knew that I’d be in the right spot once he let it go.”
The chemistry between quarterback and receiver is crucial. It involves an element of trust, and is a relationship that only strengthens with time and repetition. The rapport that Robinson forged with Bortles early on made the transition into the regular season virtually seamless, and helped the two connect on a number of highlight reel plays — including on Robinson’s first career touchdown reception (where he fittingly capped off the play with a Schmoney Dance in the corner of the endzone).
Robinson hit his stride early on, developing into Jacksonville’s top receiving target throughout the first half of the regular season. His presence helped to fill the void left by embattled star Justin Blackmon, the team’s top pick in 2012. Blackmon was suspended indefinitely after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy for a third time, and found himself in even more trouble after being arrested for possession of marijuana back in July of 2014. His absence provided Robinson the opportunity to step in and contribute right away, and with each passing week, Robinson’s confidence grew.
Through 10 games, Robinson posted 48 catches, 548 yards, and two touchdowns, averaging 11.4 yards per reception. It was his 81 targets, however, that indicated both his ability to get open, along with the trust he developed with Bortles and backup quarterback Chad Henne. It seemed as though Robinson was on the cusp of something big; he was beginning to figure out how to beat cornerbacks, and find open spaces as he split coverages. He was the team’s leading receiver and showed no signs of slowing down. But just as Robinson began to make his mark, things took a turn for the worse.
Against the Dallas Cowboys on the famous pitch at Wembley Stadium, Robinson’s season came to a screeching halt. Robinson suffered a stress fracture in his right foot, leaving him no option but to undergo surgery. The news was a big blow to a team that, at that point, was in the middle of a nightmare season in which the team had just one win to its credit. Robinson’s absence left a void in the lineup, while his designation to Jacksonville’s injured reserve list cast a damper on what was shaping up to be a fine rookie campaign.
“Getting hurt was definitely disappointing because you got into a groove, and just like that your season is over,” Robinson said. “Now you have to start over, working on rehabbing and getting back to the position you were in before the injury.” Robinson also touched on his injury back in November in an interview with Jacksonville.com. “It’s disappointing,” Robinson said. “It’s been bothering me for a week or two. I didn’t think it was that bad.”
With his season in the books, the only thing left for Robinson to do was to fully dedicate himself to rehabbing his foot, and return to the field with a vengeance.
That leads us to the present day.
It was an eventful season for the 21-year old Robinson, but as the 2015 season steadily approaches, he’s preparing with a different mindset. Entering year two, it’s time for business.
“Right now, I’m a few weeks away from being 100 percent. The foot has been feeling great, and I’m able to run routes and cut like I did before the injury,” Robinson said. “On a general note, it’s a lot easier heading into my second year as opposed to coming in as a rookie because you had a whole offseason to know what you had to focus on, instead of having to re-familiarize yourself on everything. It’s nice to just hit the ground running, and the product of this hard work will definitely be on display once the season starts. We’re definitely headed in the right direction. We got a new offensive coordinator [Greg Olson], and his system should mesh perfectly with the guys we have.”
For Robinson, the key to taking that next step boils down to one thing: confidence.
“For me it’s definitely confidence, but having our wide receivers coach push us week in and week out has made the difference,” Robinson said. “He pushes us to get better, which helps us make each other better in the process. We had a large group of rookies step up at different points last year, and we all gained that confidence down the stretch. We built chemistry with one another, and that’s something we’re going to bring to the table next season.”
Allen Robinson has come a long way since being passed over by schools across the country as a three-star high school prospect. What separates Robinson from his peers is how he got to where he is today. He earned his success — nothing was ever handed to him. It’s no coincidence that a kid who once had four scholarship offers to his name is now preparing for his second season in the NFL.
It’s just another chapter in the story of Robinson’s journey, and if the last one was any indication, the next should be special.