From the second that Alshon Jeffery left the Chicago Bears, the team had a sizable hole at the wide receiver position.
Instead of making up for that departure with a high-upside free agent signing or a draft pick, general manager Ryan Pace decided to stick with the duo of Cameron Meredith and Kevin White - along with Kendall Wright and, eventually, Dontrelle Inman - to serve as the Bears’ wide outs. That decision proved to be one of the biggest reasons for their offensive struggles, as rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky simply didn’t have much in the way of starting-caliber talent to throw to once Meredith and White both went down with season-ending injuries. Realizing his mistake, Pace wisely took it upon himself to make surrounding Trubisky with weapons the top priority of the 2018 offseason.
While the Bears added several talented players on offense, none have quite the upside as free agent signing Allen Robinson.
Before his ACL injury in 2017, Robinson was in the upper echelon of wide receivers throughout the NFL. His 2015 campaign saw him tie the league lead in receiving touchdowns with 14, and his 2016 outing, while not as prolific, was still the best performance on the Jacksonville Jaguars offense that year. Still only 24 years old, the five-year veteran is the most talented wide receiver on Chicago’s roster and will try to reclaim his status as a true No. 1 weapon.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Sculpting the Offense article - this summer has been a busy one and has prevented me from being able to do many longer articles like these - so let me fill you in on what the series is meant to do. By comparing the skill sets and abilities of current Bears players to players who either played for Bears head coach Matt Nagy in Kansas City or players who play in Philadelphia under fellow Andy Reid protégé Doug Pederson, I try to provide analysis as to how each notable Bears wide receiver, tight end, running back and quarterback should be used in the new offense.
I kicked the series off last month with an article on Taylor Gabriel, and I followed that up with an article on Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen. I’ve linked both of those for you guys to get a refresher on each of those players. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Robinson is something that Coach Nagy didn’t have the chance to work with last season with Kansas City: a dominant ‘X’ receiver. While Tyreek Hill was dangerous in the ‘Z’ role last year, the Chiefs didn’t have a true force at the split end. However, there’s one player in a similar offense whom the Bears could look at as an indication for how A-Rob should be used, and it’s a name they’ll remember quite well: Alshon Jeffery.
Using NFL’s Next Gen Stats, I pulled up a few charts of Robinson’s 2016 campaign with the Jaguars to see how Jacksonville used him. As one can see from his Week 16 outing against the Tennessee Titans, Robinson lined up directly on the line of scrimmage on the outside. He ran a handful of quick out routes that week, as well as a couple of vertical routes. He didn’t really cross the middle of the field very often, and when he did the routes weren’t necessarily sharp.
A similar chart can be seen from his Week 10 performance against the Houston Texans. He ran a significant amount of speed out routes, as well as a few fades.
Let’s liken that to the routes of Jeffery, starting with his Week 9 performance from this season against the Denver Broncos. As one can see from where the routes stem from, Jeffery, like Robinson, lined up primarily as an X receiver: directly on the line of scrimmage and on the outside. His route tree also has a good chunk of out routes and fades towards the sideline. He had more routes crossing the middle of the field than Robinson, but most of them were shallow crosses: not necessarily the sharpest of routes.
Jeffery’s Week 2 outing against the Chiefs also displays a couple of out routes and routes aimed towards the sidelines. Pederson also called upon Jeffery’s deep-threat abilities, as he ran three routes that went beyond 20 yards, two of which having gone beyond 40 yards.
Robinson’s deep-threat abilities will certainly also be taken advantage of, especially if he can come close to returning to his 2015 form. He gained 672 receiving yards on passes beyond 20 yards, which is the highest total of any receiver since 2006, as Pro Football Focus reported back in February.
In 2015, Allen Robinson was on 20+ yard passes! pic.twitter.com/U3TFvE1Oon— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 18, 2018
Robinson also has incredible upside as a red zone target. Over the last three years, he has scored 18 touchdowns of his 20 touchdowns in the red zone, which is tied for the highest total in the league, as Warren Sharp of Sharp Football pointed out on Twitter. Considering the fact that Robinson only played on three snaps in 2017, his ranking is astonishing. T.J. Hernandez of 4for4 Fantasy Football also pointed out that A-Rob’s red zone touchdown rate is higher than any other wide receiver in the NFL since he entered the league in 2014.
Robinson likely won’t be used down the middle of the field, but that’s just fine. He has significant value as a receiver who can shed physical press coverage, win battles out on an island, dominate in red zone situations and beat boundary cornerbacks with speed on deep routes. Mitchell Trubisky will almost certainly look to him as his main target heading into the 2018 season.