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Saturday Spotlight: Allen Robinson

Throughout the 2020 NFL season, we’ll spotlight a Bears player in a weekly column. This week, we’ll take an in-depth look at wide receiver Allen Robinson.

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Name: Allen Robinson II

Position: Receiver

Nickname: “A-Rob”

Number: 12

Age: 27

Time with Bears: 2 Seasons

The Past:

“2nd and 6. Catch is made by Robinson and he breaks free! Allen Robinson takes it all the way for a Bears touchdown!”

Have you ever walked into a room full of strangers and felt alone? That feeling that, because you don’t know anybody there, you aren’t really a member of the party as much as an invader in an established social dynamic? But then there they are. That familiar friend, the person that, even if you don’t know them very well, is still on a first-name basis with you. Now you have a reason to be at the party. Now you have someone to talk to. Now you can relax and enjoy yourself.

Now you have a safety blanket.

Allen Robinson II grew up in Detroit, and if you ask his mother, he would have gone pro at basketball if the stars had aligned. His highlights in high school basketball are exciting to watch: A dynamic two-way forward with a flashy dunk and a flashier shot block. Robinson was an even better football player, and legendary coach Joe Paterno saw it.

Robinson enrolled at Penn State in 2011, declining offers from a few other schools including Buffalo. It’s worth noting that if he had chosen Buffalo, he would have played three seasons with Khalil Mack. At Penn State, Robinson saw limited action as a freshman behind star receivers Derek Moye (RS SR) and Justin Brown (JR). In November of that year, the Jerry Sandusky scandal blew up, and Joe Paterno was fired by the Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees after 46 years. This was a crushing blow to a program steeped in football tradition, and for Robinson, the coach he had signed on to play for was gone just three months into his first season. Robinson finished the season with three receptions for 29 yards, and the longest off-season for Penn State fans began.

Penn State vs. Purdue Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Bill O’Brien was brought in to fill the head coaching position, and his entrance corresponded with a massive exodus of talent from the roster due to Paterno’s firing. For Robinson, this was a blessing in disguise. He went from a fill-in player in his freshman season to a starter as a sophomore and he put the Big-10 on notice. In his first game, he caught nine balls for 97 yards. Two games later: 136 yards and three touchdowns. Late in the season against formidable foe Indiana, he caught 10 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns. Robinson ran crisp routes, stayed disciplined through press coverage, and went after 50-50 balls like the game was on the line every time. At just 19-years-old, not even old enough to order a bourbon, Robinson was drinking up success and making a name for himself.

After an All-Big 10 selection and a sophomore year to remember, Robinson entered his junior year, and his 20s, ready to impress some NFL scouts. He did just that, averaging 135 yards receiving per game through his first three games in 2013. He had another outstanding game against Indiana, reeling in a (college) career-high of 12 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Every NFL scout was watching Robinson, knowing that he could be a second-round steal in an upcoming NFL draft loaded with receiver talent the likes of Odell Beckham Jr, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and Brandin Cooks. Robinson finished his junior year with a staggering 1432 yards receiving despite just six touchdowns. He Had proved to be a solid production receiver who can help move the ball into the red zone to set up other players for the scoring play. That identity has followed him into the NFL, as Robinson has continued to get impressive yardage rather than consistent touchdowns. After postseason All-America honors for his junior season, Robinson entered the NFL Draft in 2014.

The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Robinson near the end of the second round, one pick before Jimmy Garoppolo and 10 picks after the Chicago Bears’ infamous draft bust Ego Ferguson. The Jaguars were quickly challenging the Cleveland Browns for the biggest joke in football, and they were looking to recreate their entire roster around their new quarterback, No. 3 overall draft selection Blake Bortles. Robinson and Bortles immediately established a connection, with Bortles regularly going to Robinson when nobody was open. After a 48-catch, 548 yard rookie season, he followed the mold of his college career and took off in Year 2. His 1400 receiving yards were good for sixth in the entire NFL, with a league-leading 14 touchdowns (tied with two others) to set his career best, the touchdowns being a feat he hasn’t come close to since.

Carolina Panthers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

While with the Jaguars, Robinson started his Within Reach Foundation, a philanthropy which has a mission to “provide educational opportunities and resources to low-income and inner-city students” and does so by sponsoring back-to-school supply drives and Christmas events.

Despite his averages regressing to the mean in 2016, Robinson still led the Jaguars in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns in his third NFL season. Despite this, the Jaguars refused to sign him to a contract extension, and he entered his contract year in 2017 ready to impress other teams who would be calling the following offseason. Unfortunately for Robinson, his ACL tore in the first game of the season, and he underwent season-ending surgery before becoming a free agent the following spring.

The Packers called in the spring of 2018. The Bears also called. While we may never know everything that went on behind closed doors, Robinson chose the windy city as his new home, and this was a god-send for second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears roster was littered with unproven talent at receiver during Trubisky’s rookie year, and he desperately needed an established go-to guy. With a new three-year contract to play under, while still under 25-years-old, Robinson began his new journey as a Bear.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Robinson became the go-to guy immediately for the young Bears offense. New head coach Matt Nagy brought an offensive system predicated on pre-snap movements and short routes to poke constant holes in the opposing defense’s metaphorical boat, and at least one receiver running the safety-blanket route ready to catch it without room to run. Robinson filled this crucial role well, racking up 55 catches for 754 yards in his first season with the Bears, helping Trubisky to a Pro Bowl alternate selection. He had an outstanding game in their 2018 playoff matchup against the Nick Foles-led Eagles, catching 10 passes for 143 yards and running: this lethal route against man coverage for the touchdown.

Most would agree the Bears’ offense was bad in 2019, with Trubisky failing to take the needed step forward and instead taking two steps backward in his development as an NFL starting quarterback. The Bears parted with starting running back Jordan Howard, and rookie David Montgomery struggled early on to get his footing. Without a running game to keep the defense honest, opposing defenses would sit in zone coverage and only focus on keeping the ball in Trubisky’s hands long enough for the pass rush to get home. The one player they could not cover, however, was Robinson. With 154 targets, he was thrown to more than any other NFL receiver except for Michael Thomas and Julio Jones, both of whom are perennial All-Pro receivers. He cracked 1000 yards receiving for the first time since his famous 2015 season, but again fell back into a role of catching for yards but not touchdowns.

The Present:

Robinson entered the 2020 season looking for a long contract extension which would give him time to challenge for the title of Bears all-time leading receiver, something he has said is a goal of his. With the yardage record being a pathetic 5059 yards set by Johnny Morris in the 1950s, and the touchdown record being an attainable 50 set by Ken Kavanaugh in the 1940s, many thought Alshon Jeffery would break these records before the Bears let him go to free agency in the middle of his prime. Certain parallels can be drawn between how the Bears treated Jeffery after his contract was up and how they’re treating Robinson now; 27-years-old, former Pro Bowl in the career resumé, and clearly the best receiver on the roster and looking for a contract to match his production. Bears fans should hope that Robinson doesn’t go to free agency the same way Jeffery did.

In the Week 2 matchup with the New York Giants, Robinson went up for a jump ball which was ripped from his arms in mid-air, a play which had an unfortunate echo the next week against the Atlanta Falcons. With the Bears beginning a massive comeback after switching to Nick Foles at quarterback, he caught a pass in the endzone which would have been his first touchdown of the season, but the ball was again ripped out of his arms for an interception. He did reach the endzone later in the game, shedding his possession-receiver-identity for a moment while breaking two tackles and running 28 yards after the catch for a memorable touchdown in a solid Bears win.

Even in a Week 4 matchup where the Bears offense seemed to still be hungover from their 3-0 start to the season, Robinson topped 100 yards and caught his second touchdown on the season. He’s already approaching 500 receiving yards on the season and is firmly in the role of Bears WR1.

Robinson’s Within Reach Foundation now has its focus to specifically support Chicago inner-city youth, while providing low-income students with supplies and opportunities to succeed in school and life. He is involved in the community and is the Bears’ best receiver, something the Bears shouldn’t forget during contract negotiations. If you want more information about the Within Reach Foundation, our own Jeff Berckes interviewed Robinson on his pod and you can listen to the interview here.

The Future:

Robinson clearly needs an extension. Reports are that Robinson is seeking $18 million per year, a massive contract for any player who’s not a quarterback but a fair request considering the money Amari Cooper and Keenan Allen recently signed to play for their respective teams. Robinson, for his part, has made his displeasure quite obvious to anyone paying attention, scrubbing his social media of the Chicago Bears references and speaking to the media about wanting a contract done before the season is over. The Bears have the option to either use the franchise tag to keep Robinson around for one more season after this, or follow their history of using the transition tag for their star players as they did with cornerback Kyle Fuller and let the market decide what they will pay their star receiver.

For those unfamiliar with the latter tag, if they apply the transition tag to Robinson after this season is over, then Robinson is free to speak with other teams in free agency and sign a contract with another team. The Bears then have an opportunity to match that contract to keep Robinson for the exact contract details he agreed upon with the other team. The main argument against this idea is that another team could put a “poison pill” in the contract, getting Robinson to agree to a front-loaded contract which the Bears wouldn’t be able to match in the early years due to limited cap space. The ideal situation will always be for the Bears to sign Robinson to a reasonable contract for a top wide receiver. Unfortunately Bears general manager Ryan Pace has a history of completing his contract negotiations before seasons start and he may be waiting to find out if lack of revenue from the 2020 NFL season is going to affect the 2021 salary cap.

The Bears match up with the Los Angeles Rams for Week 7’s Monday Night Football showcase. In two career matchups with the Rams, Robinson has averaged 4.5 receptions for 28.5 yards, well below his career averages. While there is reason to believe superstar Rams cornerback Jaley Ramsey won’t shadow Robinson for this matchup after he has moved to the slot, the Rams will still focus heavily on containing Robinson while forcing Foles to throw elsewhere. Look for great production from other receivers, and Robinson to catch a few very difficult catches that don’t jump off the stat sheet but do stand out in tape.

Week 7 prediction: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 60 yards