football-player football-score football-helmet football-ball Accuracy Arm-Strength Balance Ball-Security Ball-Skills Big-Play-Ability Block-Deconstruction Competitive-Toughness Core-Functional-Strength Decision-Making Discipline Durability Effort-Motor Elusivness Explosiveness Football-IQ Footwork Functional-Athleticism Hand-Counters Hand-Power Hand-Technique Hands Lateral-Mobility Leadership Length Mechanics Mobility Pass-Coverage-Ability Pass-Protection Pass-Sets Passing-Down-Skills Pocket-Manipulation Poise Power-at-POA Progressions RAC-Ability Range Release-Package Release Route-Running Run-Defending Separation Special-Teams-Ability-1 Versatility Vision Zone-Coverage-Skills Anchor-Ability Contact-Balance Man-Coverage-Skills Tackling Lifted Logic Web Design in Kansas City clock location phone email play chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up facebook tiktok checkbox checkbox-checked radio radio-selected instagram google plus pinterest twitter youtube send linkedin search arrow-circle bell left-arrow right-arrow tdn-mark filled-play-circle yellow-arrow-circle dark-arrow-circle star cloudy snowy rainy sunny plus minus triangle-down link close drag minus-circle plus-circle pencil premium trash lock simple-trash simple-pencil eye cart
NFL Draft

How James Robinson Cemented Himself As Jaguars Weapon

  • The Draft Network
  • September 25, 2020
  • Share

The Jacksonville Jaguars entered Thursday Night Football without star wide receiver D.J. Chark. That’s okay—this offense had some sneaky wide receiver depth, and with Gardner Minshew at the helm of a Jay Gruden-crafted system, there was trust in the suddenly plucky Jaguar attack. Surely second-round rookie wide receiver Laviska Shenault, who had been so effective to this point as a gadget option and underneath receiver, could shoulder the additional load. Or Chris Conley, the Jaguars’ leader in yards per route run even with Chark healthy, a large and speedy deep threat. Or Keenan Cole, Minshew’s preferred target through two weeks.

How does none of the above sound? In a disappointing goose egg against the reeling 0-2 Dolphins, the Jaguars best receiver by a country mile was their undrafted free agent running back: James Robinson.

If you don’t know much about Robinson, I won’t fault you. He was a Shrine Bowl participant after a dominant four-year career at Illinois State, a top FCS program. Robinson left the Redbirds second on their leaderboard in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, as well as all-purpose yards and total touchdowns. So likely a big receiver, right?

Wrong again. 

Robinson played in 46 games at Illinois State and had a total of 58 receptions for 428 yards, with two total touchdowns. In his final season, that was 16 receptions for 80 yards, an average of just over one per game—he already has 10 catches in his first NFL season, and his 83 receiving yards last night beats his total from his senior year of college.

It also led the Jaguars on a day the offense couldn’t get going. In most weeks, Robinson won’t see the same amount of volume or production, as the wide receivers will be winning more one-on-one matchups and Minshew will be under less pressure and more willing to push the ball down the field. But for an undrafted free agent rookie running back who seemed to suddenly grab this starting job, to be a true dual-threat back like this is something else. The Jaguars were expected to run a committee backfield after cutting Leonard Fournette, with Washington holdover and passing-game specialist Chris Thompson joining Jay Gruden in Jacksonville—and Thompson was a big part of the passing game last night, grabbing five of six targets for 35 yards. But Robinson outplayed him as a pass-catcher last night.

If this role continues, the bell-cow Illinois State back who was hardly involved in the passing game in college will break the modern record for receiving yards in a rookie UDFA year. Since 2000, only Keiland Williams has caught more than 300 yards worth of targets in his rookie year in the backfield; Austin Ekeler’s 2017 season is second on this list at 279. Only three games into the season, and James Robinson is already 22nd on this list with 129 receiving yards. He’s caught more than 90% of his passes and is hauling in a ridiculous 11.73 yards per target for 43 yards per game.

Robinson’s numbers will likely simmer down—though his role in the passing game has increased with each contest, as Minshew’s trust in him seems to grow. The interesting sensation is that Robinson doesn’t look like or move like a space player—he isn’t an Ekeler or a Phillip Lindsay, a Jalen Richard or Matt Breida, all of whom have recently climbed into this leaderboard. His best analogy is perhaps Damien Williams, who had 187 receiving yards for the very Dolphins that just beat Robinson’s Jaguars. At 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds, Williams was also a well-built back, but he still had the quickness to get into Oklahoma’s program: a 4.45s 40-yard dash with a 1.57s split. Robinson’s 4.64s 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine was a huge part of his fall as a prospect.

But that lack of final gear is not stopping Robinson from finding explosive plays in both the running and the passing game. He’s leaning on his explosiveness. Robinson was a 90th percentile tester in both the broad (10’5) and vertical (40”) jumps, and with his bowling-ball frame at 5-foot-9 and 220 pounds, presents the charging bull to tacklers that Jacksonville long hoped they would get out of Fournette.

Fournette should remind us of the boon of the situation. After being a non-factor in the receiving game for his first two seasons in Jacksonville, Fournette was a 100-target, 500-yard player for the Minshew-led Jaguars in his rookie season. Little changed about the player—so little, clearly, that the Jaguars were willing to move on from him. Robinson’s passing game production certainly speaks to his ability—he’s shown good hands, routes, spacing, checking all the boxes—but it also speaks to the quarterback with whom he’s playing, and his willingness to dump it off underneath.

But for the year, this job is firmly Robinson’s. Even as Ryquell Armstead comes off of the COVID reserve list, he won’t take away many of Robinson’s running down snaps, and Chris Thompson’s role in the passing game is fairly minor. From a dominant FCS career right into a quick depth chart ascension as a UDFA running back, kudos go to Robinson, who cemented himself as one of the unexpected Jacksonville weapons with his performance against the Dolphins.

Filed In

Related Articles

Written By

The Draft Network