In not-so-surprising news, the Chicago Bears placed a franchise tag on superstar wide receiver Allen Robinson right before Tuesday’s deadline. There’s no certainty who will be taking the snaps under center for the Bears in 2021. Whoever it is will be next on a list that includes Matt McGloin, Christian Hackenberg, Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Mitchell Trubisky, and Nick Foles. No, that’s not a list of quarterbacks struggling to find work in today’s league. That’s who Robinson has been forced to corral passes from dating back to his college days.
Woeful Quarterback Play
Despite all of the odds stacked against him, Robinson has put together a stellar NFL career. Through 88 games, he’s averaging 5.2 receptions per game for 68.2 yards and has hauled in 39 total touchdowns. That extrapolates to 83 receptions, 1,091 yards, and 7.1 touchdowns per 16 games. Considering a wide receiver relies on someone to throw them the ball, that is phenomenal production.
While Robinson’s ability to get open has garnered plenty of targets throughout his career, quarterbacks have struggled to provide him with catchable balls. His two quarterbacks at Penn State didn't do much after disappointing college careers. Matt McGloin spent four pro seasons in Oakland, in which he has a 1-6 record while completing 58.1% of his passes. Robinson's other Nittany teammate was quarterback Christian Hackenburg. He was drafted by the quarterback-needy Jets and never played an NFL snap.
Looking at Robinson’s 2015 season in Jacksonville, you’d assume that he finally had a good quarterback. He caught 80-of-151 targets for 1,400 yards, which was the sixth-most in the league. He also led the league with 14 touchdowns in his 2015 sophomore campaign at just 22 years old. The 1,400 receiving yards accounted for 31.6% of Bortles’s total as Robinson became a garbage-time monster in a lost season. The Jaguars finished that season 5-11 with no chance at the playoffs. In 2016, Robinson saw the same 151 targets. But a dropoff in yardage and touchdown rate from Bortles caused Robinson to produce just 883 yards and six touchdowns. Then, heading into his final year on his rookie deal, Robinson tore his ACL in Week 1 after a 17-yard grab. His time in Jacksonville came to an end, and the Bears offered him a big contract to fill the hole left by Brandon Marshall.
The three-year stint in Chicago has had well-documented quarterback woes, similar to what Robinson has dealt with since his college days. Trubisky was his primary quarterback. There were seven Foles' starts mixed in there and a handful of games under Chase Daniel. Despite the putrid quarterback room, Robinson still turned in back-to-back WR1 seasons as fans pled to free him from the wretched grasp of Chicago. Disregarding a disappointing and injury-plagued first year for the Bears, Robinson has amassed 2,397 yards and 13 touchdowns since the start of the 2019 season.
Robinson’s frustration has started to show both on and off the field. Cryptic post-game tweets have followed exasperated sighs on the field. It’s easy to see why. Week after week, Robinson would get wide open only to see balls sail over his head. Lame ducks were thrown across the middle of the field resulting in vicious hits from defenders. Just 27 years old now, Robinson has been seen gingerly nursing aches and pains as the hits pile up. With a catch radius the size of a barn door, quarterbacks kept chucking up dreams hoping that the big-bodied receiver can do what he does best -- make plays.
The 2020 numbers are a microcosm for Robinson’s entire career. He finished third in targets, fourth in receptions, fourth in red-zone targets, seventh in air yards, and eighth in receiving yards. However, his target accuracy ranked 82nd in the league, and his 8.3 yards per target ranked 52nd. He was used as a downfield jump-ball threat during his years in Jacksonville. In Chicago though, Robinson has seen over 22% of his snaps coming from the slot while being heavily utilized on short routes.
When it comes to garnering targets, Robinson is one of the best in the league. He’s seen at least 151 targets in four of the last five seasons, good enough to be top-eight in each of those years. While it makes sense on paper for Chicago to lock down the elite receiver, his will and commitment to the team have to be questioned, and rightfully so.
The Player Empowerment Era
Gone are the days of players being forced to suit up for contracts they disapprove of. LeVeon Bell and Melvin Gordon are the most recent players to refuse to play under the franchise tag, and Derrick Henry threatened to hold out this past offseason. Joe Mixon and Kenny Golladay both nursed injuries that most people have deemed contract-related. This isn't to say that Robinson will hold out this season because he’s been a professional throughout his entire career, but his desire to get out of Chicago seemed apparent since the team was unable to work out a long-term deal last offseason.
Overall, this situation leaves many questions regarding Robinson’s fantasy football value heading into the 2021 season. When healthy, he’s nearly guaranteed a WR1 workload and output, regardless of who is throwing the ball. Paired up with the Bears' longshot quarterback rumors of Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson, Robinson would be a top-three pick without a doubt. But given the uncertainty of Chicago’s quarterback situation, Robinson’s apparent desire to leave Chicago, and the lack of secondary weapons on this Bears team, the future could be bleak for Robinson’s fantasy managers.
All Robinson has done throughout his football career is defy the odds stacked against him. When David Caldwell gave him Bortles, Robinson gave the Jaguars 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. When Ryan Pace gave him Trubisky, Robinson made himself a consistent WR1. At some point though, you’ve got to expect the odds to win. We’ve seen wide receivers play elite football with less-than-average quarterback play -- Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Anquan Boldin, DeAndre Hopkins, and Andre Johnson. Robinson already has a place on that list and can soon find himself atop it. Throughout his entire career, Robinson has been a great fantasy value. But given his current draft position as a top-10 fantasy receiver, it would be smart to look at safer options in 2021 drafts.