Should he stay or should he go?
While star players in other winning programs are gearing up for bowl games in the coming weeks, Penn State’s postseason ineligibility leaves its entire roster already eyeing what’s beyond the postseason horizon. And for one NFL prospect — junior wide receiver Allen Robinson — this likely includes making a complex decision regarding his future.
John Urschel, Glenn Carson and DaQuan Jones (who accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl on Monday) round out the list of seniors expected to hear their names called in the 2014 NFL draft. But the Nittany Lion with perhaps the best chance of shaking commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand on the opening night of draft weekend possesses one more year of eligibility, if Robinson chooses to use it.
The standout wide receiver has done nothing but raise his draft stock after completing a breakout season in 2012, finishing this past season with school records in catches (97) and yards (1,432). Robinson has said he would wait until winter break to make the decision along with his family and the coaching staff, and he has until Jan. 15 to do so. He has also stated that finishing what he started with his teammates and getting his degree — which he’s on pace to complete by next summer — would be potential reasons for why he’d stick around.
But Robinson also hasn’t negated the chance of leaving early for the NFL, and was not made available to Penn State media members for the final few weeks of the season.
Some question whether Robinson, a projected late-first round pick on CBSSports.com’s NFL Draft Tracker, would be able to outdo his impressive 2013 stats and improve his stock further with another season.
However, Gil Brandt — a senior analyst with NFL.com and former vice president of player personnel for the Cowboys who’s been around the league since 1960 — said history shows players who opt to finish their collegiate careers tend to reap the benefits.
“There’s always a few exceptions. Unfortunately, people [mention] the exceptions,” Brandt said in a phone interview. “But, historically, guys that are four-year players end up being drafted higher and end up having a better career and making more money.”
Look no further than former Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley for one of the most publicized of those exceptions. Barkley opted to stay in school for his senior year after being projected by most scouting services to be a sure top-five pick following his junior season. But a disappointing final season in Los Angeles dropped him all the way to the fourth round of the 2013 draft, where the Philadelphia Eagles selected him.
Robinson, of course, isn’t nearly as highly touted as Barkley once was, and Brandt suggests any underclassman projected to be drafted outside the top-10 should definitely stay. But he added that the thought process of “leave while you’re hot” appears far too prominently among talented underclassmen.
And without professionally documented measurables (Robinson has unofficially run a 4.43 40-yard dash), not all analysts are yet convinced Robinson even deserves first-round consideration.
Dan Shonka, a draft analyst and general manager of scouting website ourlads.com, has Robinson projected somewhere in the second- or third-round range. With another year under Robinson’s belt, and a few less game-changing receivers left on the board in the following draft, Shonka agreed that this projection would likely improve with an additional year in school.
“With [Christian] Hackenberg there,” Shonka said, “it wouldn’t be a bad idea to even stay another year, because he’s going to have a pretty good quarterback throwing to him.”
Brandt said one major complication for highly rated underclassmen who are considering the draft is that aggressive NFL agents initiate communication with them while they’re still in the decision stage. This often leads them to have lofty expectations for their draft stock and eventual payday, which is enough to lure some players on the fence, Brandt said.
But whatever Robinson may choose, the NFL-lifer said it should benefit the receiver that Penn State coach Bill O’Brien has spent time in the NFL.
“There isn’t anybody that has more connections in the National Football League than coach O’Brien,” Brandt said. “And I think he’s a pretty square-shooting guy.”
John Stuetz can be reached at email@example.com or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnStuetz_PSU.