Jacksonville Jaguars: Expectations for Denard Robinson


The development of running back Denard Robinson was certainly a pleasant surprise for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014. Robinson was practically invisible in his rookie year of 2013 as he tallied just 66 yards rushing while appearing in all 16 games. However, the former fifth round draft choice showed promising flashes last year as he led the team in rushing with 582 yards for the season. With a serious spike in production last year, what can Jags’ fans expect from Robinson this year?

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I went back and reviewed six of Robinson’s most productive games of 2014 to see if I could find some clues about his potential. The first thing that stood out to me was how comfortable he appeared in the backfield lining up as a running back. As a former college quarterback at the University of Michigan, I envisioned Robinson as a wildcat gimmick type player. However, Robinson would routinely take hand offs from conventional single back or I-formations with no problem.

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As a runner, Robinson displays the very good speed, nifty agility, and athletic skills that were usually a part of his game during his days at Ann Arbor. However, I was pleasantly surprised with his good vision and ability to see holes developing between the tackles from his new position. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought Robinson was a three year starter at running back for a major university.

I also thought that Robinson ran with a surprising amount of power for someone his size. Listed at 5-foot-11 and just under 200 pounds, Robinson does not possess ideal bulk for his position. Nonetheless, Robinson usually manages to fall forward for extra yards so long as he avoids head on collisions. Part of Robinson’s ability to avoid big blows comes from his agility and foot speed, but the other part of it comes from his desire and heart which he displays every time he steps on the field.

Oct 19, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Storm Johnson (34) and tight end Clay Harbor (86) congratulate wide receiver Denard Robinson (16) after he scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter of their game against the Cleveland Browns at EverBank Field. The Jacksonville Jaguars best the Cleveland Browns 24-6. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of evaluating his weaknesses, I think Robinson’s read and recognition skills do need improvement when running wide on sweeps, tosses, and stretch plays. I noticed that Robinson has a tendency to string these plays out for a split second too long rather than just taking the available yardage. Because of Jacksonville’s well documented problems along the offensive line, this bad habit was exposed on most of Jacksonville’s running plays designed on the perimeter.

I don’t think Robinson is a natural hands catcher, which will limit his effectiveness on third downs. Instead of extending his arms to make catches out of the backfield, Robinson will allow passes to get too close to his body. As a result, I don’t think the Jaguars’ coaching staff felt very comfortable with Robinson as a third down option. In the games that I watched against Cleveland, Miami, Cincinnati, and Dallas in particular, Robinson was usually subbed out during third down passing situations.

Being that Robinson was not on the field for the majority of the third downs that I watched, I did not see him do much blocking. Since Robinson possesses a slight build for his frame, I don’t think he will ever be a great pass protection option. However, Robinson’s diligent work ethic that has allowed him to make such a difficult position change leads me to believe he can eventually become serviceable in this area.

Dec 1, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Denard Robinson (16) against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

All told, I don’t think Denard Robinson will ever be a bell cow type running back, but in today’s NFL, he doesn’t have to be. Most teams employ the running back by committee strategy. With the Jacksonville Jaguars’ selection of halfback T.J. Yeldon in this year’s draft, and their free agent signing of Bernard Pierce, I think Denard Robinson can blend right in and contribute as he did last year. If Robinson plays all 16 games this year, 700-800 rushing yards and six to eight touchdowns may be a very real possibility for the former Michigan Wolverine.

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