After a down year in 2018, Robinson bounced back in a major way, tallying 98 receptions for 1,147 yards and 7 touchdowns, leading the team in all categories. He re-solidified himself as a true No. 1 receiver, harkening back to his days with the Jaguars before his ACL tear in the first game of the 2017 season.
Though the Bears’ 8-8 record ultimately fell short of expectations, they have a legitimate top weapon and a potential cornerstone in Robinson around whom they can help retool the offense.
With his contract entering year 3 of his three-year, $42 million deal signed in March of 2018, the Bears should make it a priority to extend his contract this offseason and keep him around for the long run, much like they have already done with Eddie Jackson. Robinson expressed interest to me that he would like to return to Chicago, so they would be wise to make that dream become a reality.
In this article, I am going to head to the tape and showcase a handful of plays for this season that in my opinion, best show why Robinson is a player worth extending this offseason.
On this play, Robinson is lined up outside on the far side of the field. Seeing as though his man is playing off of him and is offering a lot of initial cushion, he bursts off the line of scrimmage and attacks the cushion by running straight at the defender. He takes a subtle step inside upon his acceleration off the snap and begins to veer slightly towards the sidelines in an attempt to open up the defender’s hips a little bit. His speed off the snap puts the defender in a vulnerable position against a sharp in-breaking route, which Robinson executes well by shooting underneath him. He uses a stair-step release technique, in which he pushes the defender vertically to his inside shoulder before planting the outside foot.
Though this next catch ended up getting called back due to a penalty on Cody Whitehair, it’s a great play by Robinson that’s worth showcasing. Located on the outside on the far side of the field, he stems his route by attacking his defender’s inside shoulder, again eating up cushion with a speed release off the snap and utilizing the stair-step release technique to break in with his outside foot on the crossing route. He then shows some ability after the catch, shedding the cornerback’s tackle and breaking free for a big gain.
Let’s look at another play from the Giants game, in which Robinson had 131 yards and six catches on the day. This time, he’s lined up in the slot on the far side. His defender plays in bail coverage and keeps his hips turned inside towards Mitchell Trubisky. Realizing the natural leverage that comes with bail coverage, Robinson attacks the defender’s blind spot: his outside shoulder. This forces him to flip his hips back towards the sidelines. He stems to the outside and veers slightly outward to cut inside and attack the blind spot, and his athleticism allows him to burst coming out of his break. Despite a poorly thrown ball by Trubisky, Robinson is able to sink down to make the grab and carry the defender a handful of yards to reach the end zone.
On this play, Robinson is on an island on the far side of the field. He’s facing press-man coverage, so he widens his base slightly and makes sure his feet are even. He hits the defender with a stutter step before executing a space release on the slant. The suddenness with which he flips his hips catches the defender off guard, which gives Trubisky a large enough window to deliver the pass to him. Robinson catches the safety closing in on him, so he makes a cut away from the defender to avoid the sharp angle he takes to the ball. With Cordarrelle Patterson leading the way as a lead blocker of sorts, Robinson chooses to cut towards the middle of the field instead of taking it towards the sideline, which would have likely resulted in a similar result of him being tackled anyway. He manages to pick up a few extra yards to extend the play.
This play isn’t necessarily flashy, but it shows that Robinson can do the little things right. Located in the slot on the far side, he accelerates off the snap against zone coverage and executes a hook route, which is a good call against single-high defensive looks, especially one that leaves the middle of the field open like this double A-gap blitz look. Even though the inside linebackers don’t actually blitz, they are in no position to get to Robinson on time. He sinks his hips into the cut, sitting in the soft spot on the zone and making an easy grab.
This grab, though not necessarily sexy, also shows Robinson’s reliability in short-area situations. Located in the slot on the near side, he faces press coverage and immediately beats it with a hesitation and a single move towards the outside, opening up the defender’s hips and making him susceptible to an out-breaking route. He sinks deep into the cuts and maintains a low center of gravity when cutting, giving him the ability to generate burst out of his break. Kudos goes to Matt Nagy on this play, as well, as the corner-in route combo creates a natural rub off for at least one the receivers to get open.
We’ll finish this up with a big play from the first week of the season, in which Robinson makes one of his best catches of the year. Facing press coverage on the far side of the field, he attacks in right away with a stutter step and a drift to the outside. He accelerates up the field for a go route and makes an incredible adjustment, flipping his hips towards the ball and stretching outward in an awkward position to make the grab, all while managing to get both feet down and stay in bounds.
These are just a few of the several grabs Robinson made this year, but they illustrate a bigger picture that he is a savvy route runner who understands the nuances that the wide receiver position requires, and that he is a physical mismatch who combines size, speed and physicality to make plays on a consistent basis.
The Bears didn’t exactly light it up on offense in 2019, but Robinson’s consistent play made him the best performer on the unit this season. With the value he brings to their roster, they would be smart to work to extend his contract so he sticks around long-term.