Not only will Penn State have to contend with a few big Badgers on Saturday, the Nittany Lions will also have to deal with an elephant of their own in Camp Randall Stadium.
It has followed the Lions around and is getting bigger by the day. The elephant, of course, is where Allen Robinson will be playing football at this time next year.
A junior who is on pace to earn a degree in telecommunications in 2014, Robinson could choose to give up his senior season of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft, which is scheduled for May. So far, Robinson has been mum on the subject. He gave his first response to a question about his future leading up to the Michigan game, saying only that he’d sit down with his family after the season and make a decision.
Adrian Amos, one of Robinson’s closest friends, one of his roommates and also a member of the “Supa Six” recruiting class, gave no indication or hints that he knows which way Robinson is leaning.
“That’s for him to decide with his family,” Amos said.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien has also sidestepped questions about Robinson’s NFL readiness. The last time he was asked, O’Brien responded by calling the question “ridiculous.” Robinson hasn’t been made available to reporters since Nov. 5.
But while all is quiet on the home front, the buzz about Robinson’s NFL potential has only grown louder as the season unfolded. CBSSports.com lists him as a potential first- or second-round pick and the 33rd overall prospect who could be eligible once May’s draft rolls around. Different mock drafts have Robinson going late in the first round or early to midway through the second.
Robinson has done plenty to increase his value this season.
He’s already demolished the records he set last season to become Penn State’s single-season leader in receptions. In 2012, he broke Bobby Engram’s mark with 77. This year, he’s got 89 catches with one game to play. He broke Engram’s mark for receiving yards in a season at Minnesota and currently has 1,310 yards. Robinson’s seven 100-yard games are a single-season record, too.
He needs just 10 catches to become Penn State’s all-time receptions leader. So far this season, Robinson has three games in which he’s caught more than 10 passes. And he’s catching the ball with more regularity, too.
Last season, Robinson was targeted 126 times by Matt McGloin — a fifth-year senior quarterback who had several starts under his belt. This year, true freshman Christian Hackenberg has thrown Robinson’s way 138 times.
In 2012, Robinson caught 61 percent of his targets. This season’s he’s improved that to 64 percent.
In addition, Robinson has drawn multiple pass interference infractions in four games this season including four against Central Florida and two in the second half against Minnesota that put Penn State’s offense in position to cut into the Gophers’ lead.
“Allen is great one-on-one, so whenever he can draw those pass interferences it can help the team,” Hackenberg said. “That’s extra yards for us and puts us in good situations. So I know when he’s one-on-one down the sideline. At the end of the day I’ve got to execute and put the ball where I need to put the ball and let him have a chance to go up or get the pass interference.”
Robinson’s been especially effective as the primary weapon in Penn State’s short range-to-intermediate passing attack. His athletic skills and ability to read blocks have made him a dangerous open-field runner on wide receiver screens and swing passes to the boundary.
He’s a legitimate deep threat, too. His basketball background has come in handy on gridirons around the country where Robinson has consistently outjumped defenders.
His catch late in regulation to move Penn State into scoring position against Michigan stands out. But while catches like that have amazed Penn State fans over the past two seasons, his teammates have grown used to it.
“Throughout practice, he’s real technical,” tight end Jesse James said. “He makes sure he’s doing everything the right way.”
That will ultimately be the approach Robinson takes when he makes the final decision on his future. He has a few things to consider, and there are plenty of reasons for him to take advantage of the opportunity he will likely have.
First, Robinson could be looking at a hefty payday.
The top four receivers taken in the 2012 NFL Draft signed contracts with a total average worth of $10,912,396. In that group, Justin Blackmon was the first receiver chosen, at No. 5 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and inked a deal worth $18.5. Illinois’ A.J. Jenkins was the final wideout to go in Round 1, to the Kansas City Chiefs at 30th overall, and signed a contract worth just over $6.9 million.
Last season, three receivers were taken in the first round and they signed deals worth a total of $9,199,583. On average, those three players — Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams), DeAndre Hopkins (Houston Texans) and Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota Vikings) — average $2,299,896 annually. Each of those players is guaranteed just over $8.2 million but Austin’s big deal skews that number a bit. As the No. 8 overall pick, Austin was guaranteed $12.7 million compared to Patterson, the 29th overall pick, who was guaranteed $5.8 million.
Salary numbers drop off significantly for rookies chosen in Round 2.
The three wideouts taken in the second round of the 2013 Draft signed contracts worth an average total of $4,573,097, with average annual values at $1,143,274. The guaranteed money on those deals was just about $2.5 million each.
Robinson could see a reason to come back for his senior season in order to further polish his stock for NFL teams and increase his initial rookie payout. But he could also view this as his window of opportunity where it would be foolish to risk an injury playing college ball next season.
There is also a chance Penn State could be eligible to return to bowl play next season.
Penn State’s athletics integrity monitor George Mitchell did not rule out the possibility of recommending to the NCAA that it further address sanctions imposed on the university and football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. However, Robinson could very well make his decision long before the NCAA considers lessening the bowl ban.
Robinson did provide one reason why he may come back during one of his final talks with reporters, however, saying it would give him the chance to “finish what he started” with his teammates in his recruiting class.
Even if he chooses to leave, Robinson’s already made his mark here, his teammates said.
“He’s made a lot of plays and saved me on a couple of plays,” Hackenberg said. “So I think having him around helps our whole receiving corps.
“A guy like him, he’s had success now for two years in the Big Ten, and I think the younger guys are really starting to learn from him. For me, I just try to learn how he runs his routes, what he does to make himself different, and then that also helps me in turn with how I’m going to adjust my drop, how I’m going to adjust the touch on the ball and all those type of things.”