Earlier this week, the Jets traded a conditional draft pick for Jaguars running back James Robinson. Today, we break down Robinson in detail.
The 24-year old Robinson is listed at 5’9” and 219 pounds and was undrafted out of Illinois State in 2020. He set an NFL record for yards from scrimmage for a rookie back as began his career with a thousand-yard season and followed that up with almost 800 rushing yards for eight touchdowns in 14 games last year. Although he has been splitting carries in 2022, he did have a 100-yard game last month.
Robinson was a three-star prospect out of high school but had to settle for a scholarship at small school Illinois State. As a true freshman, he only started two games but rushed for 322 yards and two touchdowns in a rotational role.
For the rest of his career, his playing time, workload and production increased. As a junior, he was a first team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection after rushing for 933 yards and 12 scores. He was a second-team all-American as a junior, as he had almost 1,290 yards and 13 total touchdowns, with career-bests for receptions (21), receiving yards (164) and yards per carry (6.3).
Finally, as a senior, Robinson was a consensus first team all-American after rushing for 1,899 yards and 18 scores. He played in the East-West Shrine Game, rushing for a 63-yard touchdown, and was invited to the scouting combine, but his slow 40-yard dash contributed towards him going unselected in the 2020 draft.
Having signed as an undrafted free agent with Jacksonville, Robinson immediately won the role as their starting running back. He was a bright spot on a bad team as he contributed well from the outset. In his first game, he had 90 yards from scrimmage. The following week, he rushed for over 100 yards for the first time. Then, in week three, he caught six passes for 83 yards.
By the end of his rookie season, Robinson had rushed for 1,070 yards with four 100-yard games. He also caught 49 passes and scored 10 total touchdowns. He ended up with an all-time rookie record for yards from scrimmage, a place on the all-rookie team and a spot in the NFL’s top 100 players list.
Robinson’s second season wasn’t quite as productive, although his yards per carry average actually increased from 4.5 to 4.7. He ended the season with 767 rushing yards and 31 receptions. This included a career-high 149 yard game against the Titans. He suffered a serious injury at the end of the season, which disrupted his preparation for 2022, though.
This year, he’s been splitting carries with Travis Etienne and had started the year well with a 100-yard game and four total touchdowns in the first three weeks. However, his playing time has dropped off since then and he barely played at all in their last game, as he was reportedly banged-up.
The Jets have sent the Jaguars a future sixth round pick that will rise to a fifth if Robinson racks up over 260 rushing yards between now and the end of the season.
Now let’s take a look at what Robinson brings to the table, divided into categories.
Robinson has a thick and powerful frame, with his small hands and short arms not really a concern as they’d only really be a factor in terms of his catch radius as a passing game target.
The main concern with Robinson and the primary reason why he went undrafted was his disappointing 40-yard dash at the combine. He only ran a 4.64.
The rest of his numbers were good though. He had an outstanding 40-inch vertical, 24 bench press reps and good agility numbers.
Having torn his Achilles at the end of the 2021 season, the concern could be that he’s lost a step, but he’s had enough production this season to suggest he’s made a good recovery. His yards per carry average is down slightly, but still over four per carry.
Robinson is a conventional running back who will line up out wide or in the slot from time to time but mainly just as a decoy. He’s dropped back to throw a pass twice in his career on an incomplete pass in college and a play where he was sacked in the NFL.
With his small school background and lack of elite timed speed, it’s not surprising that Robinson went undrafted but he has obviously proven his ability to be a productive back at this level.
The major concern with him was a lack of straight line speed, although his explosiveness numbers are great. It’s fair to note that he isn’t much of a home run hitter with just six 25-yard runs at the NFL level, though.
He had a 50-yard touchdown earlier this season, but that was on a 4th-and-1 with everyone in the box, so he was in the clear as soon as he broke through the line.
Robinson is adept at making himself skinny to get through a narrow gap and shows some good abilities to slip out of and avoid tackles.
He also brings plenty of power and will often finish runs strong, dragging defenders or running over them.
Robinson is capable of handling a big workload. He has carried the ball 22 times or more five times at the NFL level and 569 times in his last two years in college.
One minor concern is ball security. He was benched in 2021 after fumbling in two straight games and had a fumble a few weeks ago, the eighth of his career.
Robinson has 18 rushing touchdowns at the NFL level and eight of these were from the one-yard line. He has the ability to go low with power, jump over the top or follow his blockers.
Robinson has had some production as a pass catcher, but it’s mostly from screen passes and dump-offs. He doesn’t bring the same kind of diverse pass catching threat to the offense that someone like Ty Johnson does. This was a rare example of him making a play down the field.
When they can get him the ball in the passing game, he has shown that he can be productive in space.
Robinson’s catch rate is 78 percent, which is about what you’d expect for someone who mostly catches short passes. He can be prone to lapses in concentration, though as he had six drops in his first two seasons.
While he hasn’t shown much in the passing game to date, Robinson did flash some untapped potential on this sensational catch.
As a rookie, Robinson struggled in pass protection, surrendering three sacks and giving up a pressure approximately once every six pass protection assignments. However, he’s really improved over the last two years, with no hits or sacks surrendered and a lower pressure rate.
What’s impressive about his pass protection is that he will be the aggressor, not just slowing his man up, but trying to take him out by lighting him up or driving him back. Perhaps he can be an asset in this area once he gets to grips with the playbook.
Robinson hasn’t played any special teams snaps at the NFL level but had some kick return experience at Illinois State. He averaged over 23 yards per kickoff return as a true freshman with a long of 52. Over the rest of his career, he had just one kickoff return for 23 yards and a punt return that went for a loss.
Robinson displays excellent vision as a runner, with the ability to not just bounce it outside or find a cutback lane, but also to anticipate and cut to avoid players at the second level or in the open field.
He can also be a patient runner, something Breece Hall was able to do successfully on a regular basis behind the Jets’ line before he got hurt.
There have been a few mental errors in Robinson’s career so far. He had two false start penalties and also caused this fumble.
Robinson was praised by his offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, for his maturity and calm demeanor as he was able to win the starting role as a rookie. He described him as a no-nonsense player who is poised and tough. Dane Brugler also described him as an “attitude runner” when evaluating him as a draft prospect.
On the field, he had one personal foul, which was for grabbing a tackler’s facemask in the backfield.
Robinson suffered a torn Achilles at the end of the 2021 season, so it’s impressive that he was able to get back to having 100-yard games by September. However, he’s been limited over the past week or so with knee soreness and was described as day-to-day on his arrival with the Jets.
In college, he missed three games as a true freshman with a calf injury and he also missed two games with an ankle injury when he was a rookie.
Some experts have questioned whether Robinson is an ideal fit for the Jets’ offense, but they have a varied enough attack that they should be able to work him in effectively. His vision and running ability should be good enough that he could thrive on some of the plays the Jets have had success with so far this season.
Although he doesn’t offer much in the way of a passing game threat, other than as a safety valve, the Jets have other players that can do this. In addition, his blocking ability fills part of the void left by Hall’s injury.
Considering the cost, this was about the best possible move the Jets could make in response to losing Hall for the season. Whether Robinson can be anywhere near as effective as Hall with the Jets’ offensive line also having been weakened by Alijah Vera-Tucker’s injury remains to be seen, but he’s shown he can be productive at this level.
In the longer term, Robinson is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so the Jets could opt to retain him. However, if Hall’s rehab goes well and Zonovan Knight shows he has something to offer, they might not have room to keep him.
For now, this move is mainly about keeping the Jets in contention because starting off 5-2 and then falling back into the pack because your running game falls off would be disappointing. The Jets will hope that getting Robinson will prevent this from happening.