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Catch Up: Penn State's Allen Robinson Now Elite

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Receiver Allen Robinson may have lost concentration sometimes last season, so he dedicated himself to fighting for every ball thrown to him this year. Photo by David Dermer/Getty Images.
Receiver Allen Robinson may have lost concentration sometimes last season, so he dedicated himself to fighting for every ball thrown to him this year. Photo by David Dermer/Getty Images.

Allen Robinson is elite.

There is no doubt about it.

You can say I was wrong to call him out in early August, but hindsight is 20/20.

Thing is, he really wasn’t elite last year, not even great. His performances against subpar defenses really did beef up his stat lines, but he didn’t shine against quality defensive backs.

Take, for example, when he lined up across from Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste in 2012. He combined for 11 catches and 165 receiving yards against them. That’s not bad. In fact, it’s respectable, but respectable is for solid players, not elite ones.

Fast forward to 2013, and it’s a completely different story, because he has evolved as a player.

Against Roby and Jean-Baptiste, two corners who will be selected in the next NFL Draft, he had 20 catches for 279 yards this season.

So what changed?

First, his maturity.

Robinson has never been a head case, nowhere near it.

The difference between this year and last year is Robinson is a leader now, whereas before he was a mostly unknown receiver trying to replace the Steelers' Justin Brown, who fled to Oklahoma in 2012, and Derek Moye. It was only natural that Robinson took a backseat to team leaders like Matt McGloin and Michael Mauti. They were the heart of Penn State football at a time when the program desperately needed a few veteran players to be the pulse of the team.

Even when he broke unspecified team rules before the season began, which got him benched by Bill O’Brien for the first half of the season against Syracuse, he wasn’t a selfish player. So, let’s not call TMZ and ask paparazzi to follow him around State College.

Instead of sulking over his one and only suspension in college, Robinson prepared himself with a trainer on the sideline before the second half began, thanked him and rushed over to his true freshman quarterback to talk. While their exchange is unknown, they took the field minutes later and absolutely dominated.

Robinson’s first play of the 2013 season was a slot screen. Syracuse showed man coverage, but a safety quickly gave their slot corner help. Robinson made each miss within five yards of the line of scrimmage and picked up 26 yards.

That play alone shows that Robinson has developed into the greatest offensive threat that Penn State has fielded since, well, maybe ever. His value becomes more apparent when you consider his output this season has consistently increased with an average run game, below average receivers and a true freshman quarterback surrounding him.

He has also most noticeably improved locating and receiving deep, errant passes.

Robinson struggled to fight for jump balls last season, typically failing to catch the ball at its highest point. He pointed to a lack of concentration throughout the offseason as the reason why he had multiple drops in several games last season

Just last week, though, we saw a glimpse of how far he has come. Hackenberg underthrew Robinson badly on a deep go route down the left sideline. Jean-Baptiste had perfect positioning to make a play on the ball. It was almost surely an interception or incompletion.

Robinson somehow made the catch, but it was a play he has consistently made this season to bail out his young quarterback. In fact, by my count, Robinson has only dropped eight passes this season, a significant improvement over last season. The difference has been a more tenacious effort to fight for the ball in the air.

When Robinson combines his size and athleticism with the desire to win every jump ball, to catch every pass, to score on every play, it’s only natural that he joins the elite.