Is Larry Donnell a New York Giants tight end, or the Senior Auto Claims Adjuster at the Geico in Hackensack, New Jersey?
The fact that you just left this page to Google “Larry Donnell” is pretty much all you need to know about the Giants' current tight end situation. Donnell, Kellen Davis, Daniel Fells – there hasn't been a less talented collection of names assembled in one place since the IMDb page for the Sharknado sequel.
On the bright side, the feculence that is the Giants' current tight end depth chart has made 2012 fourth-round pick Adrien Robinson a name to monitor in fake football circles. If recent reports are to be believed, Robinson has earned the chance to open the season atop New York's tight end scrap heap.
Does Robinson's ascension mean anything for your fantasy football team, or has he essentially been named the best smelling garbage man? Predictably, the answer to that question will come down to some combination of whether or not Robinson is any good at football, and how many throws Eli Manning will send in his direction.
Is Adrien Robinson Any Good at Football?
Anyone who claims to have the definitive answer to this question - at this point - is lying. Robinson has only played three offensive snaps (without being targeted) in his two year pro career, and was a part-time player in college at Cincinnati for three years before finally becoming a starter in his senior season.
Even when he did get the opportunity to start in college, Robinson was never featured as a pass catcher for the Bearcats. As a senior, he caught just 13 passes in 12 games played, for 183 yards and three scores.
If you're looking for feel-good stories from Robinson's Cincinnati days, there was this play and the fact that all three of his touchdowns as a senior came from inside the 21-yard line. The Giants, who finished second worst in our Passing Net Expected Points metric last season (adjusted for strength of schedule), could certainly stand to benefit from a 6'4'', 265 pound load, who theoretically profiles as a strong option in the red zone.
The reason New York was willing to invest a fourth-round draft pick in Robinson was based entirely on the raw athleticism he displayed at his Pro Day. Though Pro Day numbers are technically unofficial, Robinson's measurables place him in rare company. Here's how he stacks up against the short list of tight ends who weigh at least 260 pounds and have run a sub-4.6 40-yard dash at the combine since 2000:
|Robinson, Adrien||6-4||264||4.58||39 1/2||11'03''||4.43||7.1|
|Graham, Jimmy||6-6||260||4.53||38 1/2||10'00"||4.45||6.9|
|McDonald, Vance||6-4||267||4.6||33 1/2||09'11"||4.53||7.08|
While it's both ironic and disappointing to see Kellen Davis' name on that table, it's at least compelling that Robinson's athletic peer group also includes the greatest fantasy football tight end of our generation, and Vance McDonald, the 55th overall pick in last year's draft. By the way, an 11'3'' broad jump is ludicrous for a man Robinson's size. Only 10 players have topped an 11 foot broad jump since 2000, and of those players, only one (OLB Jamie Collins in 2013) exceeded 213 pounds.
It can very well turn out that Robinson is in fact bad at football – Kellen Davis bad even. However, when you factor in Robinson's physical tools, placement on the depth chart, and quotes like this one from Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin, I wouldn't blame you for being guardedly optimistic about his prospects.
But before you get too carried away, keep in mind there's more to this equation than the results of a single workout conducted more than two years ago, nominal June depth charts, or run-of-the-mill coach speak. Even if Robinson does open the season as New York's starter, his ability to become a fantasy difference maker will depend largely on the answer to the next question.
How Many Throws Will Eli Manning Send in Robinson's Direction?
Before we crunch the nerd stats, don't forget this season will be the Giants' first without former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in seven years. Taking his place will be former Green Bay Packers tight ends and quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo.
The lazy narrative would imply the hire of McAdoo, who spent six seasons coaching tight ends in Green Bay, is yet another feather in Robinson's cap. After all, it was only last season we saw tight end gurus Rod Chudzinski and Norv Turner conspire to turn another workout warrior - Jordan Cameron (also a fourth-round pick) - into the league's third best tight end based on our Reception NEP metric (and fourth best overall fantasy scorer at the position).
But if we operate under the assumption McAdoo's offense will mirror that of the Packers since he began his tenure there as a position coach, the numbers tell us we may want to pump the breaks a bit.
Since 2006, the average NFL offense has aimed 20.16% of their pass targets at the tight end position. Over the same span, Green Bay checks in below the league average at just 18.37%. In fact, Green Bay tight ends have only seen greater than 20% of the team's total pass attempts in two of the last eight seasons.
Although Gilbride is no longer calling the plays, it's worth pointing out the Giants haven't fared much better targeting the tight end position. In the same time period, only 18.26% of Eli Manning's throws have gone to his tight ends. He hasn't targeted the position on more than 20% of his throws in a season since 2007 – the last year former first-round draft pick Jeremy Shockey was a member of the team. Take out the Shockey years, and the percentage of total pass attempts tight ends have received in New York dips all the way to 16.52%.
For more context, Norv Turner offenses have produced six top-five tight end seasons over the last seven years according to our Reception NEP metric. The percentage of his team's targets aimed at tight ends over that time – 23.12% - is substantially higher than the league average (don't sleep on Kyle Rudolph this year). If it were Norv calling the shots in New York, we'd have every reason to heighten our expectations for Robinson. Unfortunately, there's not much in the Packers (or Giants) recent history to suggest McAdoo's play calling will translate to heavy targets for New York's tight ends this season.
Even if he won't exactly be peppered with targets in McAdoo's offense, Robinson still has an outside chance to make a fantasy splash – but he'll need to maximize his opportunities. A quick study of Jermichael Finley's best fantasy seasons in Green Bay shows the common thread was receiving efficiency independent of volume, as proven by numberFire's Reception NEP/Target metric.
In 2009, Finley racked up 55 receptions for 676 yards and 5 touchdowns in 13 games played – good for a top eight finish in standard fantasy points per game. His Reception NEP per target that year placed him third among qualifying tight ends (minimum 50 targets).
2011 saw Finley finish seventh in standard fantasy points per game, on the strength of 55 receptions for 767 yards and 8 scores. Once again, efficiency was the key, as he placed third at tight end in Reception NEP on a per target basis.
It's certainly not out of the question McAdoo will look to deploy Robinson the same way the Packers did Finley. We've heard the Giants plan on utilizing plenty of three receiver sets (last season, Green Bay lined up with three wide receivers on 1st-and-10 60% of the time). As the single tight end in the three-wide formation, Finley was moved around based on defensive groupings and alignments to create mismatches. With similar size and better athleticism, Robinson theoretically gives the Giants a Finley-esque option.
However, a problem exists with projecting Robinson to reach Jermichael Finley's statistical peak, and it's a rather obvious one. When Finley found himself on an island, drawing press coverage from a safety, he had Aaron Rodgers threading needles to get him the ball. Adrien Robinson will have Fredo Manning.
To say Eli was bad last season is like saying the Red Viper of Dorne made a slight mistake by not making sure the Mountain was all the way dead. Manning's Passing NEP was third worst in the league last season – behind Brandon Weeden and Terrelle Pryor, and three times worse than Christian Ponder. At one point last year, Manning graded worse as a passer than (gasp!) 2011 Tim Tebow.
Before we can start talking about Robinson becoming the next Jermichael Finley, Manning must show he's made some serious strides under McAdoo.
What Can Robinson Do in 2014?
Until further notice, Robinson leaves us with a tight end streaming option with a bit of upside. Currently, there's no shortage of high ceiling tight ends with great opportunities for fantasy production being drafted outside the top 15 at the position. Heath Miller, Dwayne Allen, Delanie Walker, and Travis Kelce are a few that come to mind who could graduate from streamers to potentially every-week starters this season.
With guys like Garrett Graham, Jace Amaro, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins likely to be available for streaming purposes throughout the season as well, there's really no reason to draft Robinson in a 12 team league.
He's certainly an impressive athlete, and it sure looks like he'll get his opportunity to start, but Robinson's got too much to contend with before he becomes fantasy relevant. The fact he's never been a featured pass catcher at any level, is in an offense that figures to target tight ends below the league average, and plays with a quarterback who breathes with his mouth open doesn't give a ton of initial hope.
If the Giants are getting him involved in the preseason, especially in the red zone where they ranked 30th in touchdown conversion percentage last season, my interest will be piqued. Until then, it's safe to assume that, for fantasy football purposes, Robinson is indeed the best smelling garbage man. At least he plays his home games in New Jersey where his scent will blend in seamlessly with his surroundings.