By: Dave Stewart (Twitter: @davefantasy)
When it comes to fantasy football, few positions spark as much debate as running back. In dynasty leagues, those debates are magnified, and James Robinson is among the most controversial players you will find.
An undrafted free agent, Robinson caught the fantasy world by surprise when he became the opening day starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team cut ties with previous three-year starter, Leonard Fournette, vaulting Robinson into the lead role.
While many fantasy managers scrambled to acquire the rookie following the Fournette news, not many people had a clear view of what they should expect. The season that Robinson delivered was beyond anyone’s expectations. The first-year pro from Illinois State ran his way to being the fifth-leading rusher in the NFL, tied with Chicago’s David Montgomery.
Montgomery is another polarizing fantasy figure, but that is a tale for another time. Robinson had 344 receiving yards to add to his 1,070 rushing yards. When combined with his 10 total touchdowns, it is enough to rank him fourth among running backs in a PPR format.
On the year, the rookie back averaged 4.5 yards per carrying, and with a 27.3% juke rate, he finished among the league leaders in evaded tackles per game. So, it is a feel-good story culminating with Robinson as a solid RB1 going forward, right? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Jacksonville has no draft capital invested in Robinson, and as a result, they pay him next to nothing. It is the kind of situation the team could walk away from with very little financial consequence. Also, Robinson’s 81.5% opportunity share led the league. It stands to reason that he will not see such a high percentage of the team’s running back workload next season, even if just to give him a break.
I expect there will be an additional face or two in the running back room when camp opens. The question is, how is his workload affected? Coming off a 2-14 season, there are many holes to address on the roster.
After the production that Robinson provided them, it does not appear that running back is one of them. Therefore, it is unlikely that the team will seek to draft a ball carrier early or surrender a great deal of salary-cap space in free agency.
Any incoming backs will probably be drafted late or found as a bargain on the free-agent market. Robinson’s spot on the depth chart should not be impacted.
The Jaguars also finished with the fewest rushing attempts in the league, although some of that can be attributed to playing from behind so frequently. Should they find a little more success in 2021, that number could certainly rise.
Now, take into account that Jacksonville has cleaned house, firing their head coach and general manager. While the general manager role remains open, the belief is that interim GM, Trent Baalke, will be officially given the full-time gig.
The Jags made a high-profile hire at head coach. Urban Meyer steps up to the NFL after establishing himself as a winner at the NCAA level.
It is too early to tell how Jacksonville’s offense will look under Meyer or what his run scheme will mean for Robinson. Yet, with such a successful rookie campaign under his belt, Robinson finds himself in a great position to continue his enviable fantasy output. Though undrafted players do not have a history of fantasy dominance, Robinson certainly appears to be an outlier, when it comes to this trend.
I would be looking to acquire Robinson if the manager in your league is nervous about his future role, and if you are that manager, I would hesitate to part with him for anything short of a sweetheart deal.