+Rarely drops passes
+Good route runner
+Very deceptive with his eyes
+Solid after the catch for his size
+Pretty quick laterally with the ball in his hands
-Not a good jump ball receiver
-Can’t make catches in traffic
-Doesn’t accelerate quickly
-Average change of direction skills
The first time I saw Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson, he made a nice impression. Very good after the catch for his size, doesn’t drop passes, good route runner, deceptive with his eyes, etc. But, then, on a goal line fade, he made a play that kind of killed him in my eyes. Classic jump ball, matched up against an undersized defensive back, in traffic, oh crap. Did he just let that ball hit hid pads? The ball ended up being stripped from his hands by the corner, and that play is still one of the only times I’ve seen Penn State try to target him on a goal line fade, and for good reason. Granted, it wasn’t a perfect throw (though Robinson could have done a better job of fighting for position), but the problem isn’t that he didn’t make the play. It’s his method for trying to make the play that gives him little NFL potential.
I’ll keep this simple. The whole point of being 6’3 is that tall receivers can make catches when they are covered. Frankly, most tall receivers receivers don’t do a very good job of creating separation, since long striders like themselves lack short area quickness and change of direction skills, especially when you compare them to the corners that are covering them. With few exceptions (Megatron, Andre Johnson, probably A.J. Green), their routes lack the suddenness and quickness to create separation from NFL defensive backs. A nice head fake or a well disguised offensive pass interference goes a long way, but separation isn’t how they make plays. What they can do is make catches while being covered. In theory, the corner is hopeless against a well thrown ball. The receiver’s responsibility is to use his long arms to go and get the football before anyone else can touch it. If the receiver is in good position, there is no reason the corner should be able to touch the ball, since with longer arms he should be able to touch it first. Touching the ball first doesn’t mean catching it; a good corner can often swipe his arms through those of the receiver to make him drop the pass, but the timing has to be perfect to avoid a pass interference penalty. Still, the receiver cannot wait for the ball to come to him. He can’t let the corner touch the ball. He needs to catch it with his arms extended, and keep the ball away from the corner’s reach as he reels in the pass.
For this reason, a 6’3 body catcher is among the most useless types of players in existence and a prototype NFL bust. There might not be a single corner in the NFL that can reach a football that Calvin Johnson caught with his arms fully extended. There aren’t many adult humans who can’t reach Calvin Johnson’s shoulder pads (assuming they are about 4 inches below the top of his head, anyone with standing reach of at least 6’1 could do it). Even on the catch shown in the photo above, if you watch the footage of it, it’s thrown at helmet level so body catching is impossible, but the nose of the football is about 2 inches from his facemask before it touches each of his hands. Granted, the corner was pulling on his left arm a little bit, but that catch would have been so much easier to make if he caught it with his arms extended in front of him. Still, a 6’3 NFL receiver makes this catch. With Robinson is such good position, that ball shouldn’t be deflected.
Maybe the most frustrating thing about Robinson’s body catching is that he flashes the ability to catch a pass with extended arms when he must. Many body catchers just have small hands, but Robinson doesn’t usually drop the ball during the rare If the ball is thrown so high that he can’t help but catch it with extended arms, he can catch it. But he really doesn’t make an effort to catch the ball at its highest point. He’s not aggressive enough about catching the ball before anyone else can. It’s a mindset, like rebounding in basketball. Given that there really isn’t a football equivalent to boxing out, you have to charge the glass to get rebounds. You have to chase the football before someone else beats you to it. This just doesn’t come to Allen Robinson, and you just don’t see him aggressively trying to get the ball. Additionally, even when Robinson’s arms are slightly extended when he touches the ball, they don’t stay extended for long. It’s a good idea to try to keep the ball high for as much time as possible when you are catching a jump ball, but Robinson usually puts lets the ball into his pads immediately, giving a corner a chance for a strip. NCAA corners rarely strip it, but NFL corners will.
Truth be told, Robinson rarely drops passes, which is uncommon for body catchers. But still, not dropping passes is very different from having good hands. Robinson is the reverse Michael Crabtree. Jim Harbaugh has been mocked for saying Michael Crabtree is one of the best catchers of all time, even though his drop data indicates otherwise. But Crabtree does an outstanding job of pursuing the football making sure no one else can lay a finger on it. He gets his hands on balls that other 6’1 receivers, especially those who are average leapers, simply cannot touch. Catching isn’t just making a high percentage of catches but also doing whatever possible to get your hands on the football, just like tackling isn’t measured by the percentage of the tackle attempts you convert but also your effectiveness at putting yourself into position to make a tackle. Luke Kuechly doesn’t just make tackles. He creates tackles because his instincts always put him in position to make a play. Guys like Crabtree don’t just make catches but create catches by finding ways to get their hands on the ball.
Robinson is a good route runner for his size. He’s decent at basic option routes but doesn’t consistently find holes in zone coverage. However, his eyes are extremely deceptive and he can beat plenty of corners with head fakes. Still, his quickness is mediocre like most 6’3 receivers, and NFL corners are athletic enough that they won’t feel the need to bite on any of his fakes. At the collegiate level, he is neither more nor less athletic than the guys covering him, and his head fakes create separation, but, at the NFL level, the people covering him will be much more quick and his best bet at separation is a well disguised pass interference, something that he does with moderate success (especially when running deeper routes). Still, quickness, not speed, gets you separation at the NFL level (Antonio Brown) for most of the routes you run. Speed only helps when you are running in a straight line. In terms of getting separation, getting open against man coverage, Robinson will probably about as successful as Eric Decker.
Robinson is surprisingly good after the catch for such a big receiver. He has really good balance, he’s very deceptive with his eyes, he has some power and above average long speed. Although his change of direction skills are only average, he’s extremely quick laterally for his size and can make defenders miss in the open field. Still, his lack of change of direction skills and short area speed keeps him merely good after the catch and not in the same realm of say, Cordarrelle Patterson.
Ultimately, I’m not a fan of Robinson. His body catching is maddening and really prevents him from being and outstanding jump ball receiver. He has potential, but body catching is a really hard habit to break, and could be his undoing in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Robert Meachem. Meachem is a tad faster, Robinson is a tad taller.
Grade: 77 (worthy of an early third round pick)
Projection: 90 (will be a late first, possibly early second round pick)