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For two years in a row, the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense has only gone as far as James Robinson could will and carry them. Will that once again be the case in 2022?

The Jaguars are hoping that changes as Trevor Lawrence enters his second season, but that doesn't change the fact that the potential of the offense could still ride and die with Robinson.

Robinson suffered a torn Achilles on Dec. 26 as the 2-12 Jaguars traveled to the New York Jets in Week 16. The season was over and Urban Meyer was fired after he and a Week 8 injury derailed Robinson's season, but the hits just kept coming. 

For the Jaguars, Robinson's late-season non-contact injury was one of the toughest blows of the most dysfunctional year in franchise history. Now as the Jaguars hope to heal under Doug Pederson following the Meyer era, Robinson's recovery could prove to be the X-Factor of the offense.

Robinson began running again over the last month after missing nearly six months with the injury. Now, the third-year back and one of the league's most underrated backs feels himself inching closer and closer to coming back to the field.

"Feels pretty good to be back running again. So, it's day by day," Robinson said on Wednesday.

"Just kind of staying focused and not getting too down about it. I know I can come back from it. So I mean, I just try to be strong-minded and come back and not rush it.  ... I'm very excited. I mean, I am just letting my body recover. When I'm ready, I'll be ready."

While the offseason hype for the Jaguars has rightfully and logically surrounded Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Christian Kirk, Robinson's own return should itself be one of the top angles. It just may be the most important, if Robinson's last two years are any indication.

Robinson's accolades over his first two seasons aren't hard to find. He was the Jaguars' entire offense in 2020 as an undrafted rookie, quickly helping the Jaguars move on from Leonard Fournette.

As a rookie, Robinson carried the ball 240 times for 1,070 yards (4.5 yards per carry) for seven touchdowns. He led rookie running backs in receptions (49) and touchdown receptions (three) while recording 344 yards. In 14 games, Robinson finished with 1,414 scrimmage yards (1,070 rushing, 344 receiving), the most scrimmage yards by an undrafted rookie in the common-draft era. He was also the only rookie in the NFL to average more than 100 scrimmage yards per game in 2020.

In 2022, Robinson was on a tear before an injury in Week 8 derailed his season and slowed him down for the rest of the year. Per Sports Info Solutions, through Week 8 last year, Robinson rushed 88 times for 482 yards and was: 

  • Eighth in rushing yards despite being 18th in carries
  • Seventh in rushing scores
  • Fourth in rushing scores
  • Sixth in yards per attempt 
  • 11th in yards after contact per attempt
  • Fifth in broken tackles/missed tackles forced per attempt
  • Eighth in points earned per play
  • 10th in EPA per attempt
  • Fifth in Wins Above Replacement 
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No matter what stat you look at, Robinson dominated before injuries and Meyer ruined his sophomore season. And this doesn't even factor in his ability as a pass-catcher or pass-blocker.

Simply looking at the Jaguars' splits with Robinson on and off the field last year and it isn't hard to see he was the entire engine of the offense. The Jaguars' play-action decreased by 14% per SIS, while Lawrence's completion percentage, positive play-rate, EPA per attempt and completion percentage were all vastly better with Robinson on the field.

The Jaguars have needed Robinson more than any other player the last two seasons. 2022 is clearly different, of course, considering the development of Lawrence, return of Etienne from his own injury and several new offensive additions. 

But Robinson has done something in the past that no player on the Jaguars roster has done -- perform like one of the best players at his position in the entire league. When he is 100%, Robinson is one of the best two to three players on Jacksonville's roster. 

The expectation inside TIAA Bank Field is for Robinson to have a large role in the offense when he returns, with head coach Doug Pederson calling him a three-down back in public comments in March. The comments from inside the building are just as positive, if not more. The Jaguars know how important Robinson is, even with Etienne in the fold. 

“It is exciting, but at the same time, we as coaches, we have to make sure that we get the most out of them and put them in the right spots too. It’s our job to do that and they just have to go play and let us worry about where they play," Pederson said earlier this month. 

"But again, it goes back to the amount of touches with one football, so he’s definitely a player that we want to consider.”

 Now, the Jaguars just have to see when -- and if -- Robinson will be back to being himself. Robinson's progression in his rehab has been encouraging, especially for Pederson and Lawrence, but the Jaguars still need to see it on the field.

"I’m excited to see him do that. It just shows the progression of where he is health wise and really looking forward to down the road when we get him back. But all of that is exciting knowing that he’s heading in the right direction," Pederson said earlier this offseason.

"He’s doing really good. I think his mindset is really good. Obviously, I don’t see a lot of the rehab he does. He’s on his own for a lot of that, but I think his mind is in the right place and I know he’s excited to get back," Lawrence said in June.

"He’s kind of itching to get back, but [we need to] take our time. We’re not going to win a game right now. We need everybody to get healthy, so that’s the biggest thing. He understands that, so [he’s] just taking his time and making sure he’s healthy before he comes back, but I know he’s really excited. Just to see the way this offseason has gone; we’ve had conversations and just really excited about where we’re headed.”

The Jaguars are in a waiting game with Robinson. Whether he is able to return in training camp like has been expected and whether he comes back as the same James Robinson who has taken the NFL by storm through the last two years is anyone's guess. 

But what isn't anyone's guess is just how talented Robinson is, and just how important he is to Jacksonville's offense.