Is It Time to Believe the Allen Robinson Hype?
Quick, name me the best rookie wide receivers from last year.
Forgotten due to a broken foot that sidelined him for the remaining six games of last season -- and let's face it, due to the fact that he's on the Jacksonville Jaguars -- Robinson has recently re-emerged onto the scene thanks to offseason praise for his displays of athletic prowess during OTAs, with many calling him the Jaguars' best receiver and most impressive offensive player on the field.
But as a second-year receiver lining up on a team whose total offense ranked 31st in the league last season and who will be catching passes from a fellow second-year player that has so far failed to inspire confidence in those around him, there is a question on all our of our minds: is the hype real?
Signs of Promise
As far as Robinson's rookie numbers go, compared to his fellow draft classmates, there's nothing that immediately stands out.
In his injury-shortened season, Robinson managed just 48 receptions, 548 yards, and 2 touchdowns in 10 games with the Jaguars, which projects out to 77 receptions and 877 yards over a full season. While not bad, it also isn't amazing. Certainly not for someone being tabbed as a breakout wide receiver in 2015, at least.
However, a deeper dive into last year's numbers begins to reveal some signs of encouragement from Robinson's rookie performance. As the season progressed, it became evident that Robinson was becoming Blake Bortles' most trusted receiver. Starting from Bortles' first game in the league in Week 3, Robinson garnered nine targets per game to lead the Jaguars until his injury in Week 10.
This trend has carried over into this year, with Bortles saying Robinson has been able to "run and do everything out in the open field, so he's been fun to throw to." And as far as offensive opportunities go, it's never a bad thing to be your quarterback's favorite target.
And as we'll discuss below, we'll soon see why Robinson quickly gained the trust of the Jaguars' first-round rookie quarterback last year.
Outperforming His Situation
While at face value Robinson's performance last season was average, at best, it doesn't fully take into account the difficult situation he was placed into.
Last season the Jaguars ranked second-to-last and last in total offense and points scored, respectively: quite a difficult situation for anyone -- let alone a rookie wideout -- to succeed in.
This is why Robinson's contributions to this team beyond his situation and supporting cast are best illustrated using our advanced metric, Net Expected Points (or NEP). NEP is a measure of a player's contributions to his team's chances of scoring above or below expectation. A positive NEP means a player improved his team's scoring opportunity, and as you might expect, a negative score means the opposite.
When we look at Robinson's production last season in this context, his performance becomes all the more impressive.
In Bortles' rookie season, he posted a horrid -0.18 Passing NEP per drop back -- the worst mark in the league among all quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs. This means that, on average, Bortles decreased his team's chances of scoring on every pass he attempted. And to put just how bad this number was in perspective, as our Editor-In-Chief JJ Zachariason has noted, this figure is well below the per drop back average of 0.03 among all signal-callers since 2000.
Yet, despite this situation, Allen Robinson managed a Target NEP -- or NEP on all passes thrown his way -- of 11.70 (0.14 Target NEP per target). This was far and away the best contribution in the passing game to this team. Indeed, in line with Bortles' poor performance in his rookie year, the Target NEP for all other receivers and tight ends on this squad totaled an abysmal -24.64 (-0.07 Target NEP per target).
So while, on average, every pass thrown by Bortles last season sank his team's chances of scoring, impressively -- and as a rookie nonetheless -- every pass thrown to Robinson did the opposite.
Robinson wasn't the only receiver in the league to maintain positive metrics with a poor quarterback, but he did perform best on his team by a significant margin.
We've Seen This Before
Despite evidence above that Robinson was able to transcend his situation and perform above expectations last year, those skeptical of a breakout season for Robinson continue to argue that as a member of an ineffective offense with a sub-par quarterback the deck is heavily stacked against him. Nothing against Robinson, but standout performances just don't come out of situations like this.
Or do they?
We only need to take a look at Alshon Jeffery, a player Robinson has often been compared to recently, in order to see that breakout seasons can emerge from precisely these situations.
|Name||Ht||Wt||40 yd||20 yd||10 yd||Broad||Vert||20 ss||3Cone|
|Allen Robinson||6' 3"||220||4.47||2.59||1.53||131||42||4||6.54|
|Alshon Jeffery||6' 3"||216||4.48||2.63||1.64||122||36.5||4.17||6.71|
Right off the bat, we see that both Jeffery's and Robinson's physical builds and pro day numbers are nearly identical to one another. And while Jeffery has been touted as an explosive receiver himself, His 122-inch broad jump and 36.5-inch vertical leap pale in comparison to Robinson's marks of 131 inches and 42 inches in these two events.
Clearly an athletic freak based solely on his measurables, Robinson translates his ability to the field as well.
Just like Jeffery, Robinson uses his size to play a physical style of football from the receiver position. He demonstrates excellent body control, and does not shy away from contact. As Matt Harmon has shown, this willingness to go over the middle on contested catches is one reason Robinson has excelled on in-breaking routes even as a rookie.
Beyond this, his vice-like hands also make him a welcome target to Bortles. Robinson snatches the ball out of the air with a lock-tight grip which allows him to make key plays on key downs to keep the chains moving. And on this note, the coaching staff has stated they expect Robinson to play to these strengths with head coach Gus Bradley saying, "We want to be able to throw it up to him and know he's going to come down with the ball."
It's clear that when comparing Jeffery to Robinson, from a physical standpoint at least, Robinson has all the tools necessary to excel in the NFL. But what about their team situations?
As I mentioned earlier, Robinson tallied a 0.14 Target NEP per target in his rookie season, ranking him in the 34th percentile among all wideouts with at least 40 targets in 2014. While this mark seems unimpressive when taken at face value, this is actually in line with Jeffery's rookie year Target NEP tally of 0.12 per target, which ranked him in the 29th percentile in this category in 2012.
And similar to Robinson's situation last season, Jeffery too had to deal with poor quarterback play his rookie year. That season Jay Cutler had a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.02 for a total of -9.88 Passing NEP, ranking him as the 13th least efficient quarterback in the league, right behind Michael Vick.
It's not nearly as abysmal as how Bortles performed last year, but it wasn't an ideal situation.
Yet, despite a less than promising start and below-average surroundings in his first year in the league, Jeffery still emerged with two straight 1,000-plus yard seasons in 2013 and 2014 on the strength of his individual talents.
Those still worried about the Jaguars' offense and Bortles would do well to remember that last season Cutler had a Passing NEP of -1.24, ranking him as the sixth worst quarterback among all those with at least 200 pass attempts last season, yet Jeffery still finished as the 11th best wide receiver in standard leagues. Bortles posted a Passing NEP of -97.97 last year, nearly 100 points worse than Cutler. The gap is still huge, but Robinson might possess the attributes necessary to overcome the situation.
And while Jeffery's situation in Chicago the past few years may be the best example for Robinson's potential in 2015, this isn't just an isolated case we've cherry-picked for our purposes. Indeed, analysis done by our own associate editor Brandon Gdula earlier this offseason demonstrated that the top 50 receivers in the league do not necessarily come from prolific passing offenses.
From all this it's clear that, while it won't be an easy one to take, Robinson has a path to success already laid out in front of him.
On the surface, it isn't clear that Allen Robinson is in line for a breakout 2015 season. But as we've learned from the past, and by the very definition of a "sleeper," true breakout performances rarely ever come from obvious situations.
Given Robinson's rise to prominence on the Jaguars' depth charts and his ability to dominate physically on the field, the second-year receiver out of Jacksonville is in a prime position to surprise a lot of people in 2015. And from a fantasy football perspective, with an average draft position in the high-80's, he just may be the type of low-risk, extremely high-reward type of player that helps propel teams to league titles next season.