NFL

Is Allen Robinson the Next Great NFL Wide Receiver?

Odell Beckham, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans get all the hype, but is Allen Robinson in their league?

Thank you for clicking on this article -- it's the most love the Jacksonville Jaguars have received in a long time. 2007 was the last time the team posted a winning record, and while optimism seems to now surround the much maligned franchise, it has yet to translate into results on the field.

2014 in particular saw the team stockpile talent on the offensive side of the ball, investing premium draft picks in quarterback Blake Bortles, guard Brandon Linder and receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Add to that the emergence of UDFA Allen Hurns, and perhaps there is a basis for the optimism in Jacksonville.

Robinson in particular had a standout rookie season before landing on injured reserve after just 10 games. He totaled 48 catches for 548 yards and finished first on the team in targets and receptions per game. From Weeks 3 to 10, he emerged as Bortles' favorite target, showcasing the ability to move the chains and create a safe target for his young quarterback.

The bad news is, when we take a look at Robinson’s season utilizing numberFire’s signature Net Expected Points metric (NEP), we end up talking about a receiver who possessed a player efficiency in line with Riley Cooper and Andre Roberts. NEP measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average player would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data -- it helps show how a player performs versus how he's expected to perform. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

The Numerical Narrative

Robinson’s 0.51 NEP per reception, while by no means indicative of a player with no talent, was representative of the fact that he did very little with the large volume of targets he received. Robinson averaged nine targets per game after Week 2, and still only had two top-24 PPR performances for a wide receiver in the eight games he played.

In essence, the volume was there, but the production was not.

Over the course of the season, Robinson saw 81 targets and produced a Reception NEP of 41.17, a similar pace to players like Jeremy Kerley, John Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Kenny Britt. Historical comparisons don’t yield better results, where Robinson compared to low percentage possession guys like Greg Camarillo (2008), Todd Pinkston (2001), Bill Schroeder (2003) and Josh Morgan (2009).

And while the expectation of bigger receivers is that they would produce in the red zone (Robinson is 6’3'' with a 39-inch vertical), Robinson saw only five targets inside the 20-yard line in 2014. Both of his touchdowns came due to his ability after the catch, but his 11.4 yards per catch average is subpar, and doesn’t seem to indicate the big play potential you’d like to see from a player who isn’t doing damage in the red zone.

The silver lining would seem to be the high number of targets that went his way which could pave the way for an increase in production. But with the addition of Julius Thomas and the continued maturation of Lee and Hurns, an increase in his already high volume appears doubtful. Especially in the red zone where Thomas thrived and emerged as one of the most efficient tight ends in the NFL. And in the absence of big plays or red zone potential, it’s hard to see how Robinson becomes anything more than a volume dependent possession receiver. This could produce value in fantasy football PPR formats, but in standard formats where touchdowns and yardage totals are essential, Robinson’s 2014 season did little to provide hope that a substantive breakout is coming.

Now, it’s fair to blame Blake Bortles for much of the mediocrity. He was simply terrible as a rookie, posting a -97.97 Passing NEP, which puts him in the ballpark of NFL greats like Chris Weinke, Akili Smith and Jamarcus Russell. Sure, there were flashes of brilliance for the young Jaguar, and improvement is likely. But if you’re betting on Allen Robinson taking a major leap, you are betting on him displaying traits that he simply didn’t show last season. Namely, downfield explosiveness and red zone proficiency. Just adding a few more nine yard receptions on hitch routes won’t significantly enhance his value.

Beyond the Metrics

While the numbers seemingly put a damper on the Jacksonville positivity, metrics don’t always tell the full story.

One of the most encouraging observations is that Robinson is still only 21 years old, far from hitting his prime as a receiver or as an athlete. Contrast that with rookie sensation Kelvin Benjamin who, at 24 years old, is much closer to being a maxed out prospect.

And as an athlete, Robinson is an intriguing player. Outside a subpar 40-yard dash time, his size, strength and explosiveness compared favorably to many outstanding prospects.

YearNameHgtWgtArmsHands40 ydBenchVert
2008Jordy Nelson6' 3"21732½"10"4.511436"
2010Dez Bryant6' 2"22534"9¾"4.521936"
2010Mike Williams6' 2"22132½"9¼"4.531536"
2010Eric Decker6' 3"21731"9⅛"4.541936"
2011Lestar Jean6' 3"21533"9"4.6123 
2012Josh Gordon6' 3"22433¼"10"4.52 38"
2013Da'Rick Rogers6' 2"21732¾"9½"4.52 39½"
2014Allen Robinson6' 2⅝"22032"9½"4.61939"

Sure, he could be more Eric Decker than Dez Bryant, but that's not a knock on his potential at all. While he may never be a dominant player due to his deep speed limitations, his size and vertical explosiveness should allow him to be a great possession target. Provided, of course, that the Jaguars use him correctly.

And that wasn't always the case in 2014, where his role was often limited by his routes and his teammates. We’ve already touched on the horrendous season from Blake Bortles, whose play would have made it difficult for even the greatest wide receiver to produce. That being said, Pro Football Focus charted Robinson with only one dropped pass on the season, and he consistently demonstrated the ability to make difficult catches in traffic. The tape also shows a player often working routes that have him coming back to the ball, allowing him little opportunity to produce after the catch or make plays down the field.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Look, the numbers aren't fantastic. But the hope is that there is so much more to Robinson's game than we have even seen! That his natural athleticism and talent for the position will continue to improve alongside the offense around him, vaulting him into the conversation with sophomore sensations like Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans.

What is more likely, however, is that Robinson simply doesn't have the elite tools to emerge as the next great receiver from the 2014 class. While he can still be an effective player in the short and intermediate passing game, his inability to gain separation down the field will cap his fantasy value, especially in non-PPR formats. While we can expect his efficiency to improve as he matures and Bortles perhaps sucks a bit less, Robinson seemingly isn't in the same class as some of his 2014 counterparts. With expectations in check, however, he could still have a solid season as a security blanket in the Jaguars improving offense.

Take what you can get, Jacksonville.