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Allen Robinson II and the Great Escape From His Quarterback Hell

The Pro Bowl receiver spent nearly a decade catching passes from quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Mitchell Trubisky, and Justin Fields. Now that he’s in offensive paradise with the Rams, Matthew Stafford, and Sean McVay, it’s finally Robinson’s time to shine. 

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There are plenty of reasons to believe Allen Robinson II’s best is yet to come. Well, one infamous reason really: He’s spent the entirety of his career, nearly a decade, playing with terrible quarterbacks.

Robinson’s fight with poor quarterback play goes as far back as his Penn State days, when he played alongside Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg. In the NFL, it’s been a combination of Blake Bortles in Jacksonville and Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton, and Justin Fields in Chicago. Trubisky is the only signal-caller of the five who earned a Pro Bowl nod (2018) while throwing to Robinson, but you could argue that honor was still wildly unwarranted. Trubisky didn’t even crack the top half of the league in total passing yards and ranked 34th in Pro Football Focus’s passing grade that same season.

That subpar quarterback play has, unsurprisingly, resulted in bad overall offense, year after year, throughout Robinson’s career. He’s never played in a passing offense that finished higher than 14th (the Bears in 2018) in combined passer rating, according to Pro Football Reference, and in his past three seasons in Chicago (2019 to 2021), Bears quarterbacks finished 24th, 24th, and 29th in combined passer rating, respectively.

So this spring, when Robinson became an unrestricted free agent after playing last season on the franchise tag, the decision to leave Chicago for Los Angeles couldn’t have been easier. If he picked Chicago in 2018 to cash in during his first shot at free agency, this time, he was looking to upgrade from the Bears’ Ford Pinto offense to the Rams’ Mercedes-Benz.

“As a guy who’s been in this league for nine years, there’s nothing you can take for granted,” Robinson said. “For me to be able to get an opportunity to join this culture, this offense and play with the guys that we have on this team, being able to come out here to L.A., joining the Los Angeles Rams, a Super Bowl champion team, it was a no-brainer.”

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Cooper Kupp both went to Sean McVay this offseason to voice their interest in recruiting Robinson to Los Angeles as the Rams were prepared to make dramatic changes to the receiver room. Robert Woods, one of the first players McVay signed when he took the Rams job in 2017, was coming off a torn ACL and due $10 million in 2022, and Odell Beckham Jr. was entering the offseason as an unrestricted free agent with a torn ACL that he suffered in the Rams’ Super Bowl win. Trading Woods to the Tennessee Titans and losing pass rusher Von Miller to the Buffalo Bills in free agency opened up enough cash flow for McVay and Co. to make a play for arguably the best wideout on the market.

Robinson, 28, signed a three-year, $46.5 million contract with the Rams in March; his deal includes $30.8 million fully guaranteed. A flurry of offseason wide receiver contracts, including Davante Adams’s record-setting $141.3 million deal with the Las Vegas Raiders and the extension Kupp signed with the Rams in June, pushed Robinson’s $15.5 million average annual salary down to 24th among all NFL wideouts, according to Over the Cap. Robinson very well might end up as the steal of free agency. Consider his production in far worse situations than what he’s entering into with the Rams: more than 6,400 career receiving yards and 40 touchdowns, including three individual seasons when he has eclipsed 1,100 yards. Prior to an injury-plagued 2021 season in which he suited up in just 12 games, Robinson ranked 12th and fifth among all wideouts in Pro Football Focus’s receiving grade in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Robinson was a fan of the McVay scheme long before Stafford and Kupp first jumped on Zoom calls with him to show how he’d fit into the offense. Playing for McVay, he believed, would allow him to show off his versatility as a receiver and parts of his game that were hidden in more limited offenses in Chicago or Jacksonville.

“His résumé kind of speaks for itself. He’s a pro’s pro,” McVay said in July. “With a guy like Allen Robinson’s caliber as a possibility to acquire, we wanted to be very proactive and urgent about pursuing him. He’s wired to be able to separate and has body control for a bigger, physical player. His contested catch point consistency in terms of being able to go up and high-point the football—he’s been an upgrade for our football team.”

McVay’s offense is a proven paradise for wideouts. McVay is a master of using motion, play-action, and timing routes to scheme his receivers open, and Stafford’s big arm and accuracy open up every possible throw. Even before McVay helped craft Kupp’s triple crown in 2021, Woods and Brandin Cooks each recorded single-season career bests in terms of receiving yards under the coach, and Beckham experienced a career rejuvenation in just half a season with the Rams. Since 2017, the Rams’ passing offense ranks sixth in expected points added (EPA) per dropback, and that includes some turbulent seasons with Jared Goff under center.

“He allows players to play. He corrects us and things like that, but it’s his ability to allow players to play,” Robinson said of McVay in his introductory press conference in May. “Each and every day, we go out there and as we’re practicing and things like that, we’re able to make corrections and make adjustments based on things that guys are doing right or doing wrong. It’s his coaching style that truly allows players to play freely, and then we just correct off of that.

“So whenever I step onto the field, I’m able to be myself. And if I do mess up something or am wrong here, he’ll correct me and we’ll just keep it pushing.”

And now that the Rams have seen Robinson in that offense for an entire offseason and two weeks of training camp, teammates and coaches are raving.

“We threw everything at him, at everyone. We installed very quickly, and his ability to just kind of pick the stuff up and go with it, it says a lot about him,” Kupp said after a practice in late July. “He can do a lot of different stuff. He’s able to do the stuff underneath. He’s able to run just about any route tree we would throw at him. … He just has an innate feel for that kind of thing. That just kind of comes naturally for him, just feeling where guys are and where he’s supposed to be.”

So far, Robinson has lined up all over the offense. He’s the clear no. 2 option behind Kupp and has no limitations in terms of his alignment or assignment. He’s already made highlight-reel plays at all levels of the field, including impressive one-handed snags and multiple wins in clear 50-50 situations.

In an interview with The Ringer, Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson described the Rams’ new receiver as “a movable chess piece.” This versatility means Robinson’s role will vary week to week in the offensive game plan and that he’ll be inside and outside near interchangeably. The Rams are working on ways to get Robinson open on short routes and deep down field, inside the numbers and out.

This will be a change, and a welcome one. Per PFF, Robinson has played 72 percent of his career snaps from outside receiver alignments and, most recently, his average depth of target (ADOT) has dropped dramatically. Through the past three seasons, 55 percent of Robinson’s targets have come within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage. In his first five career seasons, that figure was just 42 percent. He hasn’t ranked among the top 20 wideouts in ADOT since his career season in 2015 with the Jaguars, when he totaled 1,400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.

Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen fawned over Robinson’s underneath route-running ability in June and, more recently, made comparisons between Robinson and Woods, who had three consecutive 900-plus-yard seasons in Los Angeles before tearing his ACL halfway through his 2021 campaign. Woods was a do-it-all player for McVay, equally adept at running crossing routes as he was comfortable blocking off the line of scrimmage. Coen is excited by Robinson’s ability to create mismatches on the same and opposite sides of Kupp in the formation and compete in high-leverage situations like third downs and in the red zone.

“Robert [Woods] was absolutely one of my favorites to ever work with,” Coen said. “His mentality, his work ethic, kind of that dog that he gets into when he gets into competitive situations—Allen has some of those similarities. When we get into competitive spots in practice, you can see a little bit of a different look in his eye, which is great to see.”

Robinson caught 293 passes in four seasons with the Chicago Bears.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Robinson’s size—6-foot-2, 210 pounds—makes him desirable, as does his sure-handedness in open and contested situations. His career drop rate, per PFF, is 5 percent, and he logged 67 contested catches in his four seasons with the Bears. But beyond the physical tools, he’s impressed his coaches with his curiosity about the scheme and his attention to detail in the film room.

“I think he’s got a great grasp. You can see the questions that he’s asking,” McVay said. “It’s not just, ‘What’s my assignment?’ It’s, ‘What are the nuances and the mechanics within the frameworks of this assignment? How do we want it run versus three-deep, four-underneath as opposed to split-safety, match coverage, man coverage with low-hole help?’ He’s asking all those kind of things, which is what you want to see.

“Football is a game that’s always made sense to this guy, but the comfort level, the rapport with him and [Stafford], that I think is really beginning to show itself out at these practices. I think he just needs to continue to approach it like he is, one day at a time. I feel really good about what Allen’s done up to this point.”

Even though he isn’t expected to throw much for the rest of camp due to some bad tendinitis in his throwing elbow, Stafford has thrown enough to build notable momentum with Robinson. In the Rams’ red zone and third-down team drills earlier in camp, before Stafford’s reps were significantly limited, the Stafford-Robinson connection was red hot. No area of the field is off limits, and Stafford has been quick to leverage Robinson’s frame and physicality in those critical red zone and third-down situations.

“He’s a big, physical guy, can separate, can run, can jump and catch. He’s got a lot of skills that are appealing for a quarterback,” Stafford said recently. “He’s doing an unbelievable job of learning this offense, figuring out how he fits in, learning to run those routes with just feel and confidence and not thinking. The more that happens, the better it looks on tape. His ability to go up there and make contested catches with guys around him has been on display all camp.”

On one of the Stafford-Robinson red zone connections in training camp, Robinson was the fourth progression on a play and Stafford still found him for a touchdown. That type of patience—and an uncanny ability to throw no-look passes—are quarterback talents Robinson can’t help but appreciate at this stage in his career.

“[Stafford] is a guy who has a special trait of seeing the entire field,” Robinson said. “Whenever you have a quarterback like that, as clichéd as it may sound, always having all five eligibles alive on every play truly makes the game come alive.

“When you look across the league, there’s not many teams that have that ability to where anybody on the field can get the ball any given play. As far as weaknesses and coverages and things like that, he’s able to get the ball to any place on the field.”

All of this is obviously very new for Robinson. If Bortles or Trubisky attempted a no-look pass, it was probably an accident. Playing with Stafford and McVay will give Robinson a chance to show off a more diversified skill set, but Robinson’s unique ability to win contested throws downfield will help an aggressive passer like Stafford.

“I’m excited. I think the biggest thing as a player, as a competitor, when you join teams like this and cultures like this, it only brings out the best in you,” Robinson said. “Having coach [Sean] McVay as a coach, playing with Matthew [Stafford], playing with Cooper [Kupp], playing alongside those guys brings the best out of you as a player. You want to always be at your best. For me, that was something that going into it that I knew. Now being here and feeling it, it brings the best out of me each and every day.”

The best of Robinson is something we haven’t seen in quite some time, if ever. And finally, heading into his ninth NFL season, it seems the stars are aligning for him to be exactly that in Los Angeles.