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View from the O-Zone: A-Rob on way to elite


JACKSONVILLE – Let's acknowledge what is now clear – that is, if you haven't already done so.

Allen Robinson is the Jaguars' best player.

Considering he was the team's lone Pro Bowl selection last season, that's no secret. But here's what's more important to realize about Robinson:

He appears on his way to becoming elite – quite possibly sooner rather than later – and he may be on his way to becoming one of the top handful of receivers in the NFL.

That's his goal – and one he doesn't mind stating publicly.

"For sure, for sure," Robinson said this week. "When it's all said and done, the goal is to continue to get better. I look at myself and the sky is the limit. When it's all said and done, I would love to look back at myself and be a Hall of Fame guy."

When Robinson said this Tuesday, it wasn't with arrogance. Nor was it as if he believes he is elite right now, that he is a "Hall of Fame guy" right now or that he is close to being either of those things.

But that's without question his goal, and while it is the goal of many NFL players, it has become apparent in the last year it may be within Robinson's reach.

To wonder if he can be a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL is now silly.

That's because the question now indeed is just where Robinson can eventually rank among the league's best. He's that good. He's improving that quickly.

Yes, he's reaching that level – and doing it in a hurry.

He's also doing it progressively – and steadily. He was good as a rookie in 2014 before a stress fracture in his foot ended his season after 10 games. He was very good last season, making the Pro Bowl with a franchise-record 14 touchdown receptions. Now, this preseason … if there isn't a regular-season's worth of statistics to prove progression there is the feel you get watching Robinson in the last few weeks and months.

"I think it's his confidence," Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin said. "He feels like he should be open every play. Anytime you can play with that kind of confidence, it's hard not to be successful."

Who was the Jaguars' last truly elite-level player? Maurice Jones-Drew in his prime for a season or two? Perhaps. Fred Taylor in his prime?

Either way, it has been a long time. If Robinson indeed becomes elite, the benefits go beyond his own numbers. Elite receivers force defensive coordinator to change game plans, and that means easier reads for the quarterback, more definite play calls for the coordinator, more one-on-one coverage for other receivers.

Elite players change everything, and while there are other current Jaguars players capable of reaching that level, Robinson right now seems the closest.

You know what the silliest criticism heard from Jaguars observers is these days?

That Blake Bortles is too dependent on Robinson …

That he "throws it up" to Robinson too often …

When an NFL player has a definable, reliable skill you use it – and that's particularly true when that skill proves devilishly difficult to defend.

That's what Robinson's ability to win 50-50 passes has become: not a fluke, or gamble, but a reliable skill. That's true enough that teammates took last season to calling Robinson 75-25.

But the idea that Robinson is on the verge of ascending to elite status isn't about a nickname. And it goes beyond numbers. It's how he has practiced throughout the offseason and training camp. It's how he has worked through the offseason. There's a dedication elite-level players show, and he shows it.

That work has benefitted Robinson in a tangible way. Whereas he entered last season/offseason determined to play as he did in college – with a dominant style and an aggressiveness to the ball – his focus this past offseason and entering this season was to improve as a route runner.

"That was my No. 1 focus," Robinson said. "I thought that could get better – just watching around the league, seeing the other receivers. I'm just trying to make Blake's job, either. It's not about targets. If I can just become more efficient and become more efficient, that'd be a great deal."

In terms of route-running? Mission accomplished. Robinson has gotten open consistently in the preseason – just as he did during training camp, when he was open far more consistently on intermediate and short routes than was the case last season.

In terms of it not being about targets? Time will tell. One school of thought is Robinson might not reach his 80-reception, 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown level of 2015 if the Jaguars improve this season. A better running game and playing with more leads could curtail receiving numbers.

At the same time, Robinson's improvement could offset those factors. Elite receivers have a tendency to put up elite numbers, and if Robinson isn't elite yet, he's getting there. And as for his career goals …

Well, even if he's not near them, the goals themselves seem a bit more realistic by the day.

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