Fantasy Football: Allen Robinson Is An Underrated WR1
To the esteemed fantasy football community, please, put some respect on Allen Robinson’s name! The poor man has had to endure the likes of Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubsiky, for crying out loud. Despite playing with two of the worst high-investment quarterbacks in the last few years, Robinson has managed two top-8 performances in PPR. His talent makes him the kind of guy that quarterbacks lock onto. In three of his six seasons, he’s put up just over 150 targets. Just last year, for example, he finished third in targets among wide receivers. Before I get too ahead of myself, let me just say, any receiver who sees that amount of targets has top-3 upside. It’s time that Robinson gets the credit he deserves.
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Fantasy Football: Allen Robinson Is An Underrated WR1
Let’s talk about perception for a moment. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Robinson is going with the first pick of the fourth round in PPR drafts. Although he finished eighth last season, he’s being taken as the WR13, just outside of the WR1 range. So, what changed this season that knocked him down five spots? Nothing, nothing at all. As a matter of fact, replacements to the Bears’ offensive personnel make for a more productive passing game in Chicago.
Coaching Changes In Chicago
Bill Lazor was brought in as the offensive coordinator, and pass-happy John DeFilippo is now the quarterback’s coach. While Lazor has had his ups and downs as an offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy is still calling the shots on offense. The significance behind the hirings of both Lazor and DeFilippo is their effect on quarterbacks. In this case, that’s more than just a general statement. DeFilippo and Lazor both have familiarity with Nick Foles, who’s competing for the starting job this season. DeFilippo served as the quarterback’s coach during Foles’ Super Bowl run in Philadelphia, and Lazor held the same position when Foles had his magical season under Chip Kelly’s offense.
Lazor has a recent history of getting quality production out of his quarterbacks. In his time in Cincinnati, Lazor coached Andy Dalton to three of his best statistical years. In terms of overall passer rating, Dalton’s second, third, and fourth-best seasons all came under Lazor’s guidance. Meanwhile, in Miami, Ryan Tannehill’s best season came under Lazor as well, where he finished as the QB10 in fantasy.
Where DeFilippo is concerned, his history of pass-heavy influence is well documented. Since 2016, here is where his teams have finished in overall passing attempts: 6th, 13th, 6th, and 12th. While DeFilippo and Lazor haven’t had stellar careers as offensive coordinators, their passing offenses have performed very well. They both operate best as complimentary coaching pieces, and in Chicago, that’s precisely what they’ll be.
Taking a look at the career efficiency, or inefficiency, of Bortles and Trubisky, it’s a miracle Robinson has performed as well as he has. During Robinson’s tenure in Jacksonville, excluding 2017, where he nearly missed the entire season due to injury, Bortles failed to complete 60% of his passes in even one of those seasons. Making matters worse, here were his finishes in passer rating: 33rd, 23rd, and 26th. Although Robinson eventually escaped Bortles’ clutches in free agency, he was once again paired up with an inadequate passer in Chicago. In the first three seasons of Trubisky’s career, his passer rating numbers haven’t been much better than Bortles’. He had a career-high rating of 95.4 in 2018, but even then, that was only good enough to land him a top-16 ranking. His other two seasons, on the other hand, each placed him in the basement at 28th.
The Bears recently declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option, and at the same time, they brought in veteran Nick Foles to apply pressure and potentially take over the position. Neither quarterback is the solution in Chicago, but Robinson has already posted elite stat-lines on the backs of terrible quarterback performances. Don’t let them scare you away from the most important piece in this offense.
Considering the limitations of Trubisky’s game, Nagy would prefer to run the ball more often than not. In 2018, when the Bears’ stout defense led them to the playoffs, Chicago ran the ball the eighth-most amount of times in the league. That’s a stark contrast from their plummet to 21st last year. So, what went wrong that changed their offensive philosophy?
At the heart of their struggles sat their offensive line. Chicago’s protection up front dropped from the 11th ranked unit according to Pro Football Focus in 2018 all the way down to 25th last season. If you want to run a successful offense, letting David Montgomery run the ball 242 times on an average 0f 3.7 yards-per-carry isn’t the way to do it. Unfortunately, the second-year running back didn’t receive much help in the offseason, as the Bears didn’t do much to improve this unit. Their uninspiring list of moves includes the signing of Germain Ifedi and Jason Spriggs in free agency, as well as the drafting of two rookies in the seventh round. Sure, they brought in the lauded Juan Castillo as their offensive line coach, but he certainly has his work cut out for him with this group.
Where other options in the passing game are concerned, Robinson doesn’t have much competition. Starting at tight end, last season, the Bears’ corps caught an abysmal combined 29 receptions. They’ve since let go of Trey Burton, but they replaced him with only Jimmy Graham and rookie Cole Kmet. Those aren’t the kinds of additions that help a passing game expand. Graham, who will be 34 this November, is coming off a season with nearly a career-low 38 receptions. His days of elite production are well behind him. Meanwhile, Kmet, who was taken in the second round of the draft, only caught 60 passes in his collegiate career. In fairness, his athleticism speaks for itself. He may prove to be a weapon in the future, but as a rookie, he won’t have a significant role in the offense.
Moving to the wide receivers, Chicago needed a speedster after letting Taylor Gabriel walk, but all they got was a 35-year old Ted Ginn. Like Graham, he only accounted for a small slice of his former offense’s reception total. More importantly, perhaps, was their drafting of Darnell Mooney in the fifth round. The rookie receiver brings dynamic speed to the offense, and he’ll compete with Ginn for reps as the offenses’ Z receiver. Neither guy will have a meaningful enough role to impact Robinson, but it does provide the offense with capable field-stretchers.
Shifting the focus to last year’s guys, Anthony Miller returns next to Robinson as a full-time starter. Miller filled in for the injured Gabriel last season and made a statement in his expanded role. From Weeks 11-17, Miller saw a surprising 55 targets go his way. In his third season, Miller is a viable threat opposite of Robinson, but concerns remain with the young receiver. Dating back to his college days, Miller has a long list of injuries he’s had to overcome. Most notably, he has suffered three separate shoulder injuries, two of which resulted in surgery. Talent aside, Robinson is the clear-cut WR1 in this offense. His 154 targets prove that. Should Miller miss time, however, Robinson’s target share would only stand to go up.
Just to put a nice little bow on Chicago’s offense, I’m going to ask you a question. What do you get when you have an offense who can’t run the ball, who has only one elite pass-catcher and lacks depth behind him? If you answered “a hyper-targeted WR1,” you’re absolutely correct.
In 2019, Robinson enjoyed the second-best season of his career. Somehow, he managed to do so while Trubisky threw for the lowest yards-per-attempt total in his three seasons in the league. Perhaps 2018’s 7.4 YPA number is an outlier, but even a return to his rookie season total of 6.6 could be significant for Robinson. It’s no coincidence that he had his second-lowest yards-per-reception total last year. If he had managed 2018’s average of 13.1 YPR, he would’ve finished last season with 1,283 yards. For perspective, that would have put him one point behind DeAndre Hopkins and left him as the WR6 in PPR. The Bears are going to lean on Robinson out of necessity, so his target volume won’t see a dramatic shift. Even if his total amount decreases, so long as he can bump his YPR up, it will negate any negative fantasy impact.
The potential for a high target total isn’t the only reason to be excited about Robinson. More specifically, it’s a certain type of target that should leave you feeling reassured. Robinson’s usage in the red-zone makes him not only safe but an incredibly high-upside play as well. He received the third-highest red-zone targets, as well as the third-highest amount of targets inside the 10 yard-line. When the team smells the end-zone, they want to get the ball in Robinson’s hands.
While Trubisky hasn’t allowed Robinson to reach his full potential, Robinson has done some amazing things considering his situation. He ranked fifth in contested catch rate last year, and he placed 63rd in target accuracy. Translation: he makes plays all on his own. We know what Robinson can do with mediocre target quality, but what could he do if Trubisky or Foles actually help elevate his stat-line and not the other way around?
No matter who is behind center, you can’t keep him down. Robinson will find a way to produce eventually. He has a knack for entering into the realm of elite fantasy producers. For what it’s worth, Fantasy Pros labeled his strength of schedule as the easiest in the league among receivers. While defenses change greatly year-over-year, there’s some truth in the strength of schedule grades when it comes to the early stretch of the season. Robinson’s first two games, for example, are against the Lions and the Giants. These secondaries are going to be hard-pressed to contain a player of Robinson’s caliber.
The Bears’ offense as a whole doesn’t have a rosy outlook, but don’t allow that to alter your view of Robinson. They need him to produce if they want to stay afloat, and whoever the quarterback is, they’re going to pepper him with targets. If Robinson can put together a season like last year with Trubisky mightily struggling to lead his team, what is his ceiling if his quarterback improves? Based on pure volume alone, Robinson is a safe bet to finish as a WR1. When you add his upside to the equation, he’s a must-have player in the draft. If his ADP stays consistent through August, he’s going to be one of the most rostered players on championship teams.
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