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Very Deep Sleeper: Aldrick Robinson (49ers)

Jun 13, 2017

Aldrick Robinson may be set to breakout as a 49er this year

R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate Aldrick Robinson of the 49ers.

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If a wide receiver prospect had run a 4.48 40-time at the 2017 NFL Combine, it would have caught fantasy football GMs’ attention, but it wouldn’t move the needle that much – these days most prospects seem to run below a 4.50…so, it’s not as impressive as it used to be. If I told you that the same wide receiver prospect ran a 6.65 three-cone and a 4.09 20-yard shuttle time – then those of you into analytics, Moneyball, or SPARQ scouting…I would have your full attention waiting to find out the next piece of workout information.

Those are some terrific agility scores. You’d be beyond curious for the next piece of workout data and wondering if this prospect performed at a high level in college to go along with the high-end athleticism.

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Of course, those workout numbers refer to Aldrick Robinson of the San Francisco 49ers…a member of the 2016 Atlanta Falcons with his then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now his head coach. The name Aldrick Robinson may not elicit a favorable (or any) fantasy reaction today, but had his 2011 scouting profile been entering the 2017 NFL Draft…there’d be a lot of buzz on him.

So, what happened? Is Robinson just another ‘sweet athlete but bad at wide receiver’ guy? We’ve all seen that show plenty of times. Or is there something to Robinson…something that might be on the verge of a useful, fantasy breakout season?

I need to circle back to his 2011 scouting profile to set the foundation for how rare Robinson’s workout/measurables profile is…

I study football prospect analytics (measurables and performance data from the NFL Combine and Pro Days) and gorge myself on football tape analysis. I have a database of WR prospect profiles that I work with that is a mile long.

If I go to my database and ask to see all the WR prospects who have run under a 4.50 40-time, I still have a list too long to do anything with…multiples of hundreds of names. If I then look at the 4.50-or-faster 40-time guys at wide receiver who have also run faster than a 6.75 three-cone time, my monstrous list is suddenly down to less than 50 WR prospect names over the past decade.

If take that shortened list and ask for the WR prospects who have also jumped more than 37″ in the vertical leap testing – an additional indicator of athletic prowess, burst, leg strength, etc. – my list of less than 50 is nearly cut in half.

If I then get tired of the athletic indicators and want this group culled to just those who had also posted a 1,000+ yard season at the D1 level in college, then I would be left with six names…

Julio Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, Donnie Avery, Steve Smith (recently retired Carolina/Baltimore WR), Odell Beckham, and one Aldrick Robinson (65 catches, 1,301 yards, 14 TDs at SMU in 2010). Many eye-catching names…and Aldrick Robinson sitting there as the greatest ‘oddball’/weakest NFL performer of the group by far.

It’s a little selective to do a prospect mining search the way I laid it out above, but I wanted to set the table – Aldrick Robinson is not a WR prospect without distinction. However, he’s no longer a ‘prospect’…he’ll turn 29 years old during the 2017 season. He’s been in the league for five years and hasn’t achieved a whisker of success most all the names on his list have.

What happened to Aldrick Robinson? Robinson was a sixth-round pick in 2011 for the Washington Redskins…then coached by Mike Shanahan and his son Kyle working with the offense.

In 2011, Robinson was cut by the Redskins that same season and put onto the practice squad. He worked his way to the active roster late 2011 but saw no action.

In 2012, Robinson made such an impression in camp that he has pushed his way into playing time on Opening Day. Robinson caught four passes for 52 yards and scored a TD in his debut. He played a good amount in Week 2 but dropped a crucial fourth quarter 50+ yard pass that hit him right in his chest…virtually costing the team the game.

He played sporadically the next six games after his flashy debut and depressing drop. In Week 9, he caught one pass on one target…a 49-yard TD.

In Week 10, he caught one pass on one target for a 68-yard TD. After the mini-run of long TDs – he would not catch a pass the rest of the 2012 season.

Why didn’t Robinson catch another pass in the 2012 season after promising flashes of talent? Rumors of some clashes with the head coach and talk that Robinson was not a hard worker in practice wafted around. More than a few young players were put in (and out) of the Mike Shanahan doghouse back in the day.

In 2013, Robinson was expected to take a step forward, but he started slowly, just seeing a few targets a game. By midseason, things picked up – he popped for a couple long TDs (45 and 41 yards) as his snaps increased a bit. In the final four games of the season, Robinson was targeted 6.8 times per game, but only averaged 3.0 catches per game in those four games.

In 2014, Robinson barely played for new head coach Jay Gruden. He was cut in December 2014. He was quickly picked up by the Baltimore Ravens in late 2014 but never saw a target with the Ravens, and then was cut by Baltimore before the 2015 season without playing an NFL snap.

In 2016, the Atlanta Falcons signed him in March. A long shot to make the roster, but he dazzled in his appearances in the preseason. He forced his way onto the Falcons’ main roster.

He was used as a #4 wide receiver most of the season. He outshined starter Justin Hardy, but then another Kyle Shanahan-connected grab added to the WR congestion with a breakout performance – Taylor Gabriel started to become a key weapon. Robinson saw time and targets in most every game but mostly rotated in with a second unit of receivers.

He played more late in 2016 when Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu were a bit nicked up, and Robinson used the opportunity to shine. In Week 15, he posted his first career 100+ yard game. Robinson turned in a quality 2016 season, making several tough catches and never logged a ‘drop’ all year.

Robinson caught 20 passes in 2016, and six of them for 20 or more yards. They weren’t a lot of ‘gimme’/simple catches either.

In 2017, Kyle Shanahan is announced as the new head coach for the 49ers. Robinson joins his coach a day after another Shanahan-connected wide receiver signs (Pierre Garcon).

Robinson is no sure thing for fantasy 2017. The 49ers also possess guys like Jeremy Kerley, Marquise Goodwin, Bruce Ellington. Pierre Garcon will obviously start and be the go-to guy. Jeremy Kerley will most likely be the slot/possession type wide receiver. Robinson will probably battle Goodwin and Ellington for the ‘Z’ wide receiver spot…the deep threat.

Robinson is the most experienced, talented guy to work that role for the 49ers (as of June 2017)…doing so for a team that is expected to be down and throwing quite a bit in games. If Robinson can earn his first, real shot as an NFL starter in a Kyle Shanahan, pro-pass offense on a team likely playing from behind a lot – Robinson could splash for fantasy…an Emmanuel Sanders-type upside.

The 2017 season is Robinson’s best (and maybe last) chance to have an NFL impact since his 2012 debut season. He has the physical talent. He has the relationship with the head coach going back for years and most recently working for him well last season. This might be the perfect confluence of events for Robinson to become fantasy relevant, finally.

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