Player Faceoff: WR Allen Robinson, Jacksonville

Two staffers go head-to-head and discuss Allen Robinson

The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.

High Side: Matt Waldman

Robinson was dominant in 2015 and a disappointment in 2016, and much of the reason was the disappointing performance of his quarterback Blake Bortles. The statistical differences between his 2015 and 2016 seasons explain many of the differences that were attributable to Bortles, who should rebound to his 2015 form. Although the Jaguars want to strengthen its ground game, Robinson is still the primary option in the passing game. Any improvements to the running game should benefit Robinson’s vertical and red zone production.

Although this faceoff is about Robinson, the underlying issue for Robinson’s subpar year was Bortles. The third-year quarterback worked out daily with throwing Coach Tom House prior to his 2015 season and Bortles emerged as a legitimate playmaker. Bortles supported Robinson and Allen Hurns, a tandem that combined for 144 catches, 2430 yards, and 24 touchdowns, averaging over 16.5 yards per catch between them. When a quarterback is mentally and physically sharp, he spots downfield opportunities and the Robinson-Hurns combination thrived despite an inconsistent ground game and struggling offensive line. Prior to 2016, Bortles did not spend any time with House and reports surfaced that he was a regular on the club circuit. The result was a diminished passer who regressed with his recognition of coverage and his technical skills as a thrower.

Throwing the football is a lot like playing a musical instrument. It requires consistent maintenance of technique or the skills deteriorate. Bortles didn’t even maintain his craft last summer and the difference in Robinson’s yards per catch and Bortles’ yards per attempt are indicators that the Jaguars could not throw downfield. The offensive line was still bad, but it didn’t prevent Bortles from excelling in 2015 so it should not be as strong of a variable as some make it. Bortles hurt this offense with poor decisions and execution early in games, the defense wasn’t good enough to keep the games close, and Bortles earned much of his production as a garbage-time passer against defenses that could play soft coverage underneath without giving up the big play.

Robinson’s diminished production with yards per catch and touchdowns despite a similar amount of production is a reflection of this situation. In 2015 Robinson’s yards per catch average was above 16 in every quarter, but Robinson’s best average in 2016 was the first quarter (14.8). After the first quarter, defenses didn’t allow big plays because they had a lead and Robinson’s second, third, and fourth quarter averages were 10.1, 11.7, and 12.8. Dropped passes are often a reflection of a receiver and quarterback not in sync, but one can’t write off Robinson’s responsibility in this equation. Add to the fact that Allen Hurns was once again dealing with an injury, and Robinson didn’t earn the consistent support.

This offseason, Bortles returned to Tom House and early reports are positive. The Jaguars also gave Bortles his fifth-year with his rookie deal, which is a sign that the front office believes Bortles has learned his lesson about working at the game. While it would be nice to believe that Leonard Fournette and a healthy Chris Ivory can jumpstart the ground game with the help of veteran Offensive Line Coach Pat Flaherty, who is known for matching scheme with talent, it may take at least a year to see significant returns. I doubt we’ll see Jacksonville become a conservative offense overnight. If the ground game succeeds, expect more production from the play-action passing game. If not, I still expect a sharper Bortles, a healthier Hurns, and an emerging Marqise Lee to create better targets for Robinson in 2016 and support a rebound in 2017.

Low Side: Justin Howe

There are things I love about Allen Robinson. He’s big and uses his frame well, making him a dynamic target downfield and near the goal line. His 2015 was dazzling to those ends, featuring huge production in long receptions and touchdowns. Still, I don’t see him quite reaching his current 3.09 PPR ADP. At the very least, I’ll say that I believe he’s being drafted near his realistic ceiling, which makes him a barely-bargain at best. His situation just isn’t easy to trust – and in some ways, neither is he.

Robinson’s 2015 breakout was more than impressive – it was revelatory. He dominated all over the field, and his numbers reflected it. Even more impressively, Robinson registered 31 receptions of 20+ yards – dating back to at least 1994, only Calvin Johnson has notched more in a season. Not surprisingly, Robinson finished with an 80-catch, 1,400-yard, 14-score season that qualified as PPR WR6 (and standard-league WR4). That’s the absolute ceiling we’re looking at here, and it’s what’s driving those higher draft slots we’re seeing. (According to Fantasy Football Calculator, he’s gone as early as early Round 2.)

But there’s a lot of evidence that that blowup came during a perfect storm that pushed him from “great season” to “historically excellent season.” Robinson’s 2015 eruption came in not only Bortles’ most pass-heavy season by ratio, but also his only strong season: the only time he topped a 5.8 average-yards-per-attempt (AYA). That year, the Jaguars dropped back 102 times in the red zone – most in the league by a mile, and a mark they haven’t sniffed in either of Bortles’ other seasons. Simply put, an investment in Robinson is a simultaneous investment in the Jaguars offense returning to its pass-dominant, solidly-efficient form of 2015. But it’s hard to forecast that. The team will almost certainly scale back its passing after investing heavily in Leonard Fournette, a mega-gifted franchise-cornerstone type that will likely command far more offense than predecessors T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory did. I doubt Bortles will sniff 600 attempts again, and the volume floor is fairly troubling. I just don’t see the pathway for Robinson to approach his 2015 campaign.

Besides, Robinson hasn’t been a consistently efficient receiver. I wasn’t a huge fan of Robinson the prospect in 2014, considering him a third-round option with considerable bust potential. And sure enough, his ho-hum deep speed and inconsistencies at the catch point have made NFL excellence elusive. His career 52.6% is poor and can’t be pinned entirely upon his quarterbacking. In fact, aside from his outstanding 2015, his 16-game extrapolation is 74 catches for 881 yards and 5 touchdowns. And that’s come with less competition than he faces now. Robinson contends for targets with fellow outside playmaker Allen Hurns and emerging slot man Marqise Lee, as well as intriguing mid-round rookie DeDe Westbrook. Robinson is the clear No. 1, but he’s unlikely to thoroughly dominate targets the way he did in 2015. A floor around 73-881-5 is scary for a third-round pick, and in Robinson’s case it’s backed by more history – two of his three seasons – than I’d like to see.

And there’s baked-in risk for any receiver catching balls from Bortles, who’s been one of the league’s least efficient regular passers over the past three years. Over that span he sits 30th (min. 500 attempts) in completion rate, and he’s been sacked more than anyone else, ceding a whopping 140 attempt opportunities. He’s also 37th over that span in red zone rating, below the likes of Brock Osweiler, Austin Davis, and Zach Mettenberger. Robinson has talent, but it’s fair to wonder how clear Robinson’s path to success really is when catching balls from a scattershot passer. Bortles has been so uneven that many are bracing for an in-season benching or two, and no one would want to lean on Robinson should Chad Henne step to center.

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