Allen Robinson: The Path to WR1 Fantasy Season
Editor’s Note – Check out The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Series Guide to see how our writers compile their projections and the methodology behind this series.
When scouring the middle rounds for a potential WR1, there are often a few key ingredients to look for. Is there a guy coming off an injury that we don’t expect to linger (aka Keenan Allen)? Is there a guy who’s done it before, and has the potential to re-emerge in a changing situation (aka DeAndre Hopkins)? Is there a guy heading to a new team with a hefty share of available targets and high-octane offensive potential (aka Brandin Cooks)?
It’s not often you find all these ingredients in a single receiver. If you could and if he was falling to the late fourth round in drafts, boy would that be a recipe for success.
Let me share with you today’s special: Allen Robinson, with a side of delicious WR1 production.
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2017 Season Recap
How good was Allen Robinson in 2017? Well, he had a 100% catch rate and averaged 17.0 Y/R, so pretty darn good. Okay, you caught me, that was on a single target. From there, he, unfortunately, tore his ACL and missed the remainder of Week 1 and the 2017 season.
Obviously, we can’t learn much of anything from last year’s results, except that Robinson has been rehabbing from surgical repair since Sept. 11, 2017. The good news is that the injury and surgery were extremely early in the season, boosting ARob’s likelihood of health and production out the gate in 2018. He participated in OTAs with his new team, the Chicago Bears, over a month ago and while they intend to take it slow and reduce risk, Robinson is fully expected to play Week 1.
For more useful statistical data, we’d have to look at Robinson’s first few years in the league.
Polarizing, I know. We’ll get into things like catch rate and target share below, but this demonstrates both Robinson’s ceiling and his volatility. Which will it be in 2018? Let’s find out.
The Path for 2018
In order for Robinson to return to WR1 territory in 2018, there are a number of statistical benchmarks he must meet.
Target Share – Let’s not beat around the bush — target share is Robinson’s strongest asset heading into 2018. We know he’s capable of shouldering an astronomically high target load from his last two full seasons in Jacksonville. He was top-8 in the league in targets both those years, and sported clear WR1 shares of 25% in 2015 and 24% in 2016.
Now, he enters a brand new situation in Chicago. This is no longer the horrifically boring Chicago John-Foxes of 2017. The front office brought in Matt Nagy as head coach — another graduate from the offensively-geared Andy Reid school of coaching. They also brought in former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, who notably led the Ducks and Marcus Mariota to a National Championship game and Heisman trophy in 2014. Both additions are clearly directed at one primary goal: developing No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky into the superstar QB they expect in the Windy City. And that goal should be synonymous with success for Trubisky’s pass-catchers.
As for the roster, it’s certainly improved from the dumpster fire that was Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, and Dontrelle Inman in 2017. Besides Robinson, Chicago added Taylor Gabriel and TE Trey “Booboo” Burton in free agency, as well as highly-touted Memphis WR Anthony Miller in the draft. Still, that’s an undersized burner, a tight end (albeit, one with upside), and a rookie. Stacked up against Robinson and his 3-year, $42 million contract, it’s not difficult to see where the primary target share will lie.
It seems well within reason to allow as high as 22-24% of the targets to Robinson. A brief review of recent play-calling trends from the Andy Reid school of coaching — and Chicago’s expectations for their first round QB — should put the team total for pass attempts between 540 and 560, so ARob could be in line for roughly 120 to 135 targets.
Catch Rate – Catch rate is a tougher nut to crack for Allen Robinson. As we saw reviewing his NFL career to date, he’s finished as high as 59.3% (as a rookie) and as low as 48.3% in his dud of a 2016 season. Of course, all this data came from the arm of Blake Bortles, who has not been regarded as one of the more accurate quarterbacks to grace an NFL field. In fact, in 2016, Bortles sported a completion percentage of 58.9% and a passer rating of 78.6, good for 33rd and 28th in the league, respectively.
Of course, Trubisky’s numbers through 12 games haven’t been much better, as he sits at 59.4% and 77.5 after a limited and poorly-coached rookie year. But the widespread expectation is that Trubisky and this offense will take a step forward in 2018. In other words, we can confidently say Robinson’s QB play should be a lateral move at worse and a potential improvement if things go right. ARob’s career catch rate sits at 52.6%, so we should be able to project that as a floor, but his path to WR1 status may take a career year — up around the 58-60% range.
Receptions – Given the range of targets and catch rate we’ve baselined so far, Robinson could optimistically see 80 receptions in 2018. If you read my Path to WR1 profile on Josh Gordon, you may know where this is going. It’s not as common to see an 80-catch receiver in the top 12, but there’s plenty of precedent for it as well. Here’s a quick reminder on PPR WR1s over the past three years with 80 or fewer receptions:
Now, it typically takes an elite touchdown total or elite yards per reception (or both) to pull this off. We’re going to address Robinson’s projections in these categories shortly, so keep your eyes open. Notice the sixth name on the list. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Yards – Much like his catch rate, Robinson’s yards have been fluky over his years in Jacksonville. In his rookie season he averaged only 11.4 yards per reception, and in the dismal 2016, that number rose only slightly to 12.1 Y/R. However, in his breakout 2015 campaign, Robinson hit 17.5 Y/R, posting a grand total of 1,400 yards to finish fourth in the NFL that year.
Robinson is 6′ 2″, 220 lb. and runs somewhere between a 4.47 (pro day) and 4.60 (combine) 40-yard dash, so we probably shouldn’t project higher than 17.0 Y/R — numbers typically reserved for dedicated burner wideouts. That said, he’s also a clearly dominant outside receiver with excellent “above the rim” skills and yards-after-catch ability. His closest NFL comp, per PlayerProfiler.com, is Dez Bryant — and it’s a strikingly strong comparison. Dez has averaged 14.0 Y/R over his career while dominating the red zone, so we should be able to easily project similar results for Robinson.
But, as you’re about to find out in the aDOT and Air Yards section, Robinson is more of a downfield threat than Bortles and his early career has actually produced. If Trubisky can improve on the downfield accuracy Bortles has clearly lacked, Robinson could easily beat his career average and finish somewhere in the 15.0-16.0 Y/R range. Over the 80 receptions we’ve established above, we’re looking at anywhere between 1,200-1,300 yards — as good or better than half the WR1s last year — so chances are starting to look solid for ARob.
aDOT & Air Yards – Average Depth of Target (aDOT) and Air Yards — a couple advanced metrics for projecting a receiver’s production somewhat independent of QB play — are massively helpful in evaluating Robinson’s potential. As expected, Robinson’s 2015 numbers in these categories are in the elite tier. He posted an aDOT of 14.9, in the range of field-stretchers like John Brown and DeSean Jackson. More importantly, his Air Yards came in at a gargantuan 2,245 — second best in the league, behind only DeAndre Hopkins. But it’s the statistically dry 2016 where these metrics really tell the tale. Despite his WR28 finish, Robinson hit an aDOT 13.2 — still solid and comparable to guys like Alshon Jeffery and Brandin Cooks — and totaled 1,974 Air Yards, third best in the league.
To summarize, Robinson has left a lot of fantasy points on the field over his past couple of seasons. But it’s not on him. ARob totaled 8 drops over 302 targets from 2015-2016, an obscenely good rate that matches up with guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Calvin Johnson. With a competent, accurate QB, these metrics are telling us Allen Robinson’s production could skyrocket.
TDs – Touchdowns have also been fluky for Allen Robinson over his career, but they’re also fluky for the entire NFL. It’s more important to evaluate the player and the opportunity than a three-year sample size, and both speak volumes for ARob. We already talked about how well Robinson comps to Dez Bryant, one of the best scorers in the game in his prime. Robinson is a prototypical red zone threat and easily projects as Trubisky’s go-to guy whenever the Bears are inside the 20. Assuming Nagy can get them there more frequently than they have in recent years, that could quickly translate to double-digit TDs for ARob without question. We’ll project him for 9-10, to be safe, but few WRs in the league have the remote chance of hitting 15 like ARob.
WR1 Possibility: Decent Chance (33%)
This percentage is based upon the combined average of the Fantasy Footballers writing staff. The 33% mark is essentially projecting that Robinson would hit WR1 PPR numbers a third of the time if we were to simulate 2018. For the most part, this probably correlates directly to the odds of Trubisky being a breakout QB star, as discussed many times above (and below).
The formula is pretty simple for Allen Robinson. If Mitch Trubisky plays even close to the level he was drafted to play at, Robinson’s heavy target share, ability to get downfield, and touchdown potential spell a clear path to WR1 status. Based on our reasonably optimistic projections if everything breaks right, Robinson could be in line for 80 receptions, 1,250 yards, and 10 TDs, which would virtually lock him in as a WR1. At his fourth-round ADP, that’s a whole lot of potential value.