Why Denard Robinson Can Be Trusted in Fantasy Football

Denard Robinson can propel you into fantasy football's championship weekend.

Denard Robinson might just win some people their second-round playoff matchup and send them into fantasy football championship week.

Uh, what?

In a season where significant injuries seemingly strike running backs every week, Jacksonville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon is one of the latest backs expected to miss time. Like many of the backups before him, Robinson has all the makings of a productive plug-and-play.

After piling up 62 yards on only 11 carries against the Colts Sunday, Yeldon was forced from the game with a knee injury in the second half. Robinson stepped in and picked up right where Yeldon left off. He finished the game with 75 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries.

It was later announced that Yeldon had sustained a sprained MCL, which more often than not tends to lead to a multi-week absence for running backs. However, on Wednesday, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley told reporters that he considers Yeldon “day to day.”

Jaguars beat reporter Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union writes that Yeldon is hoping to return in Week 16.

As insurance, the Jaguars signed Jonas Gray from the Dolphins' practice squad on Tuesday. For now, it appears as though ‘Shoelace’ will be the primary ball carrier for the Jaguars in Week 15 against Atlanta.

Robinson as a Feature Back

Robinson, now in his third year with the Jaguars after being selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, had a somewhat promising, albeit brief, stint as the Jaguars' starting running back last season.

Following the continued struggles of Toby Gerhart and Storm Johnson, the Jaguars turned to Robinson as their primary back last season in Week 7.

Robinson excelled over the next four games, carrying the ball 72 times for 389 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and 4 touchdowns. Over that span, he averaged 15.5 fantasy points per game in standard scoring leagues -- his weekly point totals were 18, 11, 16, and 17.

But following the Jaguars' Week 10 bye, Robinson hit a wall. Over his next three starts, he averaged only 2.8 yards per carry on 35 totes with no touchdowns. In those games, he averaged a measly 4 fantasy points per game.

After Robinson's final start, a Week 13 loss to the Texans, it was announced that Robinson would miss the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his foot.

Robinson had a successful four-game stretch, but per numberFire’s efficiency metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), Robinson wasn’t one of the better backs on the season. NEP measures how many points a player adds to his team’s point total based on historical expectation. You can read more about NEP in the glossary.

Of the 43 running backs in 2014 with at least 100 carries, Robinson’s -10.42 Rushing NEP ranked 30th. For context, Jonathan Stewart (-9.87) ranked 29th and Fred Jackson (-11.66) ranked 31st.

Stepping In for a Second Time

With the injury to Yeldon, Robinson finds himself in a similar situation as last year.

One difference, though, is that the Jaguars' offense is much more potent than it was during Robinson’s starts from a year ago.

Jaguars Offense Points Per Game Yards Per Game Rushing Yards Per Game
2014 Weeks 7-14 16.9 303.4 119.4
2015 Season 25.1 352.6 99.3

This year, the Jaguars' offense has been extremely fantasy friendly. They're averaging more points and total yards per game than Robinson's stretch of starts in 2014, but the team’s rushing numbers have dropped. The Jaguars are running the ball on only about 36% of their offensive snaps, which is nearly identical to their pass-to-run ratio in 2014.

Per our schedule adjusted metrics, the Jaguars' rushing attack is second-worst in the league, better than only the San Diego Chargers' unit. Additionally, while the Jaguars have had little trouble putting points on the board this year, their offense is ranked in the bottom-third (23rd) in Adjusted NEP.

With the team's limited rushing success, Yeldon is in the midst of a pretty mediocre year.

Through his rookie campaign, Yeldon has started 12 games for the Jaguars. He’s carried the ball 182 times for 740 yards, good enough for a 4.1 yards per carry average. He’s averaging 15.2 carries per game and has scored only 2 touchdowns on the year.

From a fantasy perspective, he’s averaging nine fantasy points per game on the year, which puts him on par with backs, such as Latavius Murray and Darren McFadden.

Per NEP, Yeldon’s rookie campaign hasn’t been an especially efficient one. Of the 40 running backs with at least 100 carries Yeldon (-10.2 Rushing NEP) ranks 29th, right behind Ameer Abdullah and ahead of Javorius Allen.

In comparison, Shoelace owns a -0.47 Rush NEP this year, but on only about one-quarter of the carries. Robinson has only carried the rock 42 times this year for 196 yards (4.67 yards per carry) and a touchdown.

Robinson’s and Yeldon’s Success Rates are nearly identical, 36% and 35%, respectively, so neither back has increased NEP consistently.

The Upcoming Schedule

With the Jaguars coming off 51- and 39-point outings against the Colts and Titans, respectively, two more plum matchups are on the horizon.

This week, the Jaguars host the crumbling Atlanta Falcons, losers of six straight.

The Falcons hold the league’s 23rd ranked defense in terms of Adjusted Defensive NEP. They're 14th against the run and are allowing 105.6 yards per game. Over their past four games, the Falcons have allowed three running backs to post top-10 scoring numbers at the position, including Week 12, when Adrian Peterson ran all over the Falcons for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns.

If Yeldon misses two weeks, Robinson will get another solid matchup in Week 16 when the Jaguars travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints.

The Saints' defense is ranked dead last, according to our metrics, with the run defense ranking 24th. Of the last four running backs to face the Saints, each of them posted top-15 numbers for the week, and only Alfred Blue finished outside the top-10.

Start Denard Robinson?

You've made it to Week 15, likely the second round of the fantasy football playoffs, and I'm about to tell you to start Denard Robinson in a win-or-go home game.

It's not exactly a comforting proposition, but with the carnage that is the running back position, Robinson looks like one of the more reliable options. While the Jaguars' rushing attack on the season has been mediocre at best, there are plenty of positives. 

Robinson averaged 15 carries a game over the seven-game stretch I mentioned above and showed that he can have some success. Now, he'll be the primary back in a Week 15 matchup that projects to be high scoring -- the Falcons-Jaguars game has an over/under of 49.

Yeldon has played more than 70% of the Jaguars' offensive snaps this year, sparingly being spelled by Robinson (14.7%). Now, Robinson steps into that starting role and should see plenty of playing time and at least 15 carries, which Yeldon was averaging, against a subpar defense.

While many other backup running backs have been part of a committee to replace the starter, we can expect Robinson to be the primary option this weekend.

Fire up Shoelace. He might just carry you into your fantasy championship game.