It's safe to say that the fantasy community has cast a cynical eye towards Laurent Robinson's breakout 2011 season. Playing alongside Miles Austin and Dez Bryant (not to mention Jason Witten), the argument goes that defensive coordinators chose to focus their attention on the name-brand talent when playing the Cowboys. Robinson caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, good enough for 15th place in non-PPR leagues despite missing two full games. Over the last 10 weeks of the regular season, Robinson was even better, ranking as the fifth-most productive fantasy receiver.
Still, haven't we seen this before? A team's No. 3 receiver taking advantage of single coverage to produce big numbers? Yes and no. Since 1990, Robinson is the fifth different receiver to start six or fewer games but gain at least 700 yards and eight touchdowns in a single season:
In 2004, Brandon Stokley was the third receiver behind Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison but still gained 1,077 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. In 2008, Lance Moore started six games and gained 928 yards with 10 touchdowns. In 2010, he started just one game but picked up 763 yards and had eight scores. In both years, Marques Colston and Devery Henderson (along with Jeremy Shockey, Reggie Bush and Robert Meachem) helped make life easy for Moore. In 2003, Javon Walker played behind Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson before emerging as an elite receiver in his own right. Like Robinson (Tony Romo), Stokley (Peyton Manning), and Lance Moore (Drew Brees), Walker was also the beneficiary of an elite quarterback in Brett Favre. In 1991, Floyd Turner led the Saints with 927 receiving yards along with eight touchdowns, despite Eric Martin and Quinn Early being the nominal starting receivers for New Orleans.
But only Robinson switched teams after such a breakout season, making it difficult to truly compare any situation. Making matters worse, on the surface, is that he's headed for the fantasy wasteland in Jacksonville. Since Jimmy Smith in 2005, no Jaguar has gained even 900 receiving yards in a season. Mike Thomas led all Jacksonville wideouts with just 415 yards in 2011. The Jaguars produced by far the fewest fantasy points at the receiver position. That makes comparisons tough: even in the age of free agency, few teams with such obvious needs at receiver have added a big name player through free agency.
Since 1990, only three teams have added 1,000-yard receivers after failing to have a single receiver top 600 yards in a season. In 1997, Willie Davis led Tennessee wideouts with 564 receiving yards, while Yancey Thigpen gained 1,398 yards for the Steelers. Tennessee signed Thigpen to a record-breaking contract, but the ex-Steeler never reached 650 yards in three seasons with the Titans. In 2001, the Chiefs had Tony Gonzalez and Priest Holmes, but Snoop Minnis was the leading receiver with just 511 yards. That same year, Johnnie Morton set a career high with 1,154 yards for the Lions and went to Kansas City with high expectations. Unfortunately, Morton was more sizzle than steak in Kansas City, gaining 397, 740, and 795 yards in three seasons with the Chiefs. From 2001 to 2004, Derrick Mason gained over 1,000 yards each season for the Titans. But in March of 2005, the Baltimore Ravens signed him to cure their perennial ineptitude at the position. Mason had a much stronger track record than Robinson, of course, but he was able to top 1,000 yards in four of his first five seasons in Baltimore.
The other key note is that the Jaguars doubled down on the receiver position this offseason by selecting Justin Blackmon with the fifth pick in the draft. If you doubt Robinson's ability to excel playing opposite a talented No. 1 receiver, that worry is somewhat alleviated with the addition of Blackmon. On the other hand, Blaine Gabbert was the most ineffective starting quarterback last season, and it's hard to get excited about Robinson now that the pie is smaller. Personally, I'm a believer in Justin Blackmon, who was arguably the most dominant receiver in college football the past two seasons.
I think the floor for Robinson is higher with Blackmon on board, as he won't be the sole focus of the defense as long as Maurice Jones-Drew and Blackmon are on the field. On the other hand, his ceiling is now considerably lower. But without a Blackmon injury, it's hard to imagine Gabbert turning two receivers into solid fantasy options after he looked lost for most of last season. I think the fantasy community is right to have low expectations for Robinson this year.
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