Allen Robinson Should Be a Rock-Solid WR2 (2018 Fantasy Football)
Once Allen Robinson signed with the Bears early in free agency, he was a player who I knew would walk into 120-plus targets. Well, things change rather quickly in the NFL, and maybe none changed faster than the construction of the Bears roster, forcing me to re-evaluate how I felt about his potential for targets and production. I’m not alone in this, either, as his ADP (average draft position) has varied from the top of the fourth-round, down to the fifth-round.
He’s someone who has already finished as a top-five fantasy wide receiver back in 2015, but did have a down season in 2016 where he finished as the WR28, and then tore his ACL at the start of 2017. Adding to the uncertainty, he still hasn’t practiced with the team as he continues his recovery. So, in short, Robinson disappointed the last time he played, he’ll be coming off a torn ACL, playing with a new quarterback, and playing in a brand-new system. This doesn’t sound promising, but let’s talk about it from every angle.
THE DECLINE IN PRODUCTION
After posting a 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown season in 2015, Robinson appeared to be well on his way to stardom. I mean, he scored more fantasy points than Odell Beckham Jr. despite seeing seven fewer targets. When you added in the fact that he did it with Blake Bortles as his signal-caller, it made it that much more impressive. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to continue that level of efficiency in 2016, as he finished with just 883 yards and six touchdowns on the same exact number of targets (151) that he saw in 2015. What was it that changed? The chart below shows Robinson’s targets that traveled at least 20 yards in the air in each of his last two seasons played.
Some may have placed too much blame on Robinson for his struggles in 2016, as just five of his 31 deep targets were deemed “catchable,” whereas 20 of them were in 2015. When looking at the league average, it’s fair to say that 2016 was what you should consider a “down year” for Robinson. Even if he’d been near the league average on those targets (and not even add any touchdowns), he would’ve finished as the No. 11 wide receiver, rather than the No. 28 wide receiver that he did. Blake Bortles‘ inconsistency definitely contributed to Robinson’s decline in production. As for his new quarterback Mitch Trubisky, here’s his deep ball totals in his rookie season.
Keep in mind that he was a rookie, playing for John Fox, and his primary targets downfield included Josh Bellamy and Dontrelle Inman. To know that he was right up against the league averages should be considered a positive. We should expect Robinson’s levels to return to normal with a better quarterback under center.
THE BEARS ROSTER CHANGES
As mentioned at the beginning, the Bears weren’t done when they signed Robinson in free agency. After landing him for three years, $42 million, they also added top free agent tight end Trey Burton, as well as field-stretcher Taylor Gabriel. While that obviously thinned out the target pool available, those guys had to fill roles that were vacated, right? Well, then the Bears threw us another curveball by trading up into the second-round to select Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller, who was known as one of the best slot receivers in the draft, who can also play on the perimeter. And keep in mind that this is just the new acquisitions they made and doesn’t even include those who were already on the roster, like Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, and Kevin White.
Now onto the next issue – target distribution. We all know that Matt Nagy came from the Andy Reid coaching tree, right? Eagles head coach Doug Pederson also comes from the same staff, so let’s take a look at the offenses run by these three over the last five years, with Trubisky’s target distribution in 2017 thrown in.
|Team||Pass Att||RB Targets||RB %||WR Targets||WR %||TE Targets||TE %|
Do you now understand why the Bears went out and signed Trey Burton to a four-year, $32 million contract? Over the last four years, the tight end position was targeted at least 26 percent of the time. The league average was at just 20.3 percent in 2017, highlighting just how much the Reid/Pederson/Nagy tree uses the tight end position. The Bears have already come out and said that Burton will be used as Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz are in the “move” tight end role that is more of a wide receiver.
The biggest part of this for Robinson, however, is the low wide receiver target share in the offenses, as they failed to top 56 percent of the target share in any one season. The NFL average for wide receiver target share sits at 57 percent, so we’d need Nagy to increase wide receiver usage to even get them to average. Even if we broke down the four games that Nagy took over play-calling duties with the starters in 2017 (from Week 13-16), it’s not going to make you feel any better, as the target distribution in those four games was 21.3 percent running back, 40.4 percent wide receiver, and 36.8 percent tight end.
DIVIDING UP WIDE RECEIVER TARGETS
So, even if we push Trubisky and the Bears up to 550 attempts, which would have ranked 17th in NFL last year, it appears that a 56-57 percent target share is the most we can hope for with the wide receivers, especially when you consider they have one of the better pass-catching running backs, and their own hand-picked tight end. Realistically, the wide receivers are likely to fall into the 50-56 percent range, which would amount to 275-308 targets.
While you wouldn’t snag a wide receiver like Robinson if you don’t plan to use him, the same can be said for Anthony Miller, who they gave up a second- and fourth-round pick to get. Heck, you can say the same for Gabriel who got $26 million over four years, though he’s got a specific role as a field-stretcher. As far as I can tell, it appears that Nagy would like to be more like Pederson than what Reid was doing with wide receivers, as Reid didn’t have a single wide receiver over 105 targets the last two years, while Pederson’s offense produced 117 targets for Jordan Matthews in 2016, and 120 targets for Alshon Jeffery in 2017.
Translating the Bears skill-position players to the Eagles, you can say that Robinson is the Jeffery, while Miller is the Nelson Agholor, Gabriel is the Torrey Smith, Burton is the Ertz, and Cohen is the Darren Sproles/Corey Clement. And despite only 56 percent of targets going to wide receivers in Pederson’s offense, both Jeffery and Agholor finished as top-24 fantasy wide receivers, though the touchdown rates were alarmingly high. Provided Robinson can get on the field with his team to start training camp, he should be locked and loaded for the “Jeffery” share. I’d place the expectations around 115-125 targets for him, with Miller in the 70-80 range, Gabriel around the 50-target range, and the remaining 40-70 targets divided among Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, and Bennie Fowler (though he may not be a lock to make the roster).
While I’m still cautiously optimistic, you cannot ignore the fact that he hasn’t been on the field with Trubisky, while Miller and Gabriel have been getting offseason reps with the young starter at mini-camp. The sooner we see Robinson out there running routes, the more confidence you should have to draft him as a WR2 on your fantasy team. Yes, he’s playing with a new quarterback on a new team, but with Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky being clear upgrades over Gus Bradley and Blake Bortles, it’s not as depressing to his outlook. As for his ACL injury, most players are able to bounce-back to the players they were pre-injury, so it shouldn’t concern you like it would’ve 10 years ago, as modern medicine has come a long way. We just need him to get on the field sooner rather than later in order to learn the new system and develop some chemistry with his quarterback. We’ve recently heard that Robinson will be “all systems go” for training camp, which bodes well for our projection. If he continues to miss time for whatever reason, it would be wise to lower expectations. My 2018 projection: 118 targets, 67 receptions, 918 yards, 7 touchdowns