Why James Robinson’s Potential Pro Bowl Push Could Be Historic

Only one other undrafted offensive rookie in NFL history has made a Pro Bowl. Could James Robinson it in 2020?
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James Robinson has already put his name into the conversation for most undrafted rookie records and milestones. But it is perhaps one illustrious recognition he is chasing that takes precedent over all of the rest -- the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl will clearly be different this year due to COVID-19 protocols and virtual settings, but the postseason honor is still an accomplishment that players set their sights. If Robinson ends up getting the Pro Bowl distinction at the end of his rookie season, it will be an accomplishment of the historical variety. 

Only one other undrafted offensive rookie has ever made a Pro Bowl. Phillip Lindsay did it during his historic rookie season in 2018, the same year he became the third undrafted rookie to ever rush for 1,000 yards. No player had done it before and none has done it in the year since. Could Robinson change that?

"I think it’d mean a lot to me and to my family as well. But I mean it’s nothing I can control, so we’ll see if it happens," Robinson said Wednesday when asked about the Pro Bowl. 

Robinson has been so impressive for a 1-10 Jaguars team that those are the kinds of questions he is getting in Week 13 -- much like Lindsay before him.

Lindsay put up great numbers for a 6-10 Broncos squad that finished 3rd in the AFC West in 2018. He rushed 192 times for 1,037 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, along with 49 first downs. He also caught 35 passes for 241 yards (6.9 yards per catch) and one touchdown with 12 first downs.

While the Jaguars would have to win out to go 6-10 and match the Broncos' record, Robinson could benefit from the fact that he is on track to pass Lindsay in most stats simply because he gets the ball more than Lindsay did as a rookie. Robinson has already exceeded the amount of carries and starts Lindsay got as a rookie, for example. 

Robinson was on a tear over the last month, ending November with a huge game against the Cleveland Browns. He recorded a career-best 159 scrimmage yards (128 rushing and 31 receiving) to become the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to total 1,100 scrimmage yards through their first 11 career games. 

Robinson’s streak of five consecutive games with 90 scrimmage yards is the longest in the NFL and his 1,170 scrimmage yards through 11 games are the most in franchise history by a Jaguars player through their first 11 career games. 

For comparison, here is how Robinson and Lindsay stack up in their first 11 career games, with the leader in each stat bolded. 

Robinson

  • 194 carries for 890 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and six rushing touchdowns. 
  • 36 catches on 47 targets for 280 yards (7.77 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. 
  • 6.0 yards per target. 
  • 4 100-yard rushing games. 
  • 47 first downs rushing.
  • 20 broken tackles. 
  • 12 receiving first downs. 
  • 1,170 yards from scrimmage
  • Eight overall touchdowns
  • 5.1 yards per touch 

Lindsay

  • 135 carries for 780 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and six rushing touchdowns. 
  • 24 catches on 31 targets for 187 yards (7.79 yards per catch) and one touchdown. 
  • 6.03 yards per target. 
  • 2 100-yard rushing games. 
  • 36 first downs rushing. 
  • 7 broken tackles. 
  • 10 receiving first downs.  
  • 967 yards from scrimmage. 
  • Seven touchdowns.
  • 6.08 yards per touch.

Essentially, Robinson's volume stats alone put him on pace to shatter most of Lindsay's rookie numbers. Lindsay did more per touch, per carry, and per catch, but Robinson has been both incredibly productive and fed like a workhorse back.

While Lindsay split time in Denver's backfield as they sorted out their offensive identity, the Jaguars have found their identity  in Robinson. Some coaching staffs are hesitant to give a rookie a full workload, but the Jaguars have embraced Robinson's ability to carry the offense.

"He’s done great. We really lean on him quite a bit. He’s been close to 100 yards many times," Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said about Robinson on Wednesday. 

"He’s helped us out in the play action game. The Collin Johnson touchdown was a play action pass which helped sucked the linebackers up and get Collin behind them. Without that threat of a running game, we’re dropping back and throwing it a lot and we have zero chance, so James is quite pivotal in our offense as far as being able to keep defenses honest, and the production that he has both in the running game and the passing game."

Robinson played 97% of the snaps in Week 12, which obviously can't be sustained moving forward. With that said, Robinson could still get snaps off the field while the Jaguars divert their touches to the passing game instead of giving carries elsewhere. 

For example, the Jaguars have only four non-quarterbacks to record a rush this season. That includes Laviska Shenault and Keelan Cole. The only other running back on the roster with a carry this year is Chris Thompson (seven carries). Devine Ozigbo and Dare Ogunbowale have zero carries this year, so it is clearly Robinson's offense.

"I don’t think he came out but two or three plays last week, which we probably have to do a better job of keeping him fresh, getting some people in there to give him some breaks. But he’s a great player and obviously we love him as a person.”

With how much Robinson is getting the ball at this point, it is hard to imagine he won't set most undrafted rookie records by the time Week 17 is over -- as long as 16 games are played. 

Whether he will join Lindsay in the history books as a Pro Bowl rookie is another question, but the numbers suggest he is on his way. He has already made a ton of history this year otherwise, so what is one more record for James Robinson?