It took an obvious backseat to RG3 Mania at Redskins OTA's, but Mike Shanahan had some encouraging things to say to the press on Thursday about third-year wide receiver Aldrick Robinson. This caught my attention as well as the attention of Frank DuPont, editor of RotoViz.com, who took the time to answer a few questions about a player who, if given the snaps, could be poised for a breakout year.
1) Mike Shanahan said Aldrick Robinson is "having a heck of a camp." Based on the data you've collected on him over the years, does this surprise you?
Frank DuPont: In terms of data at the NFL level, we don't have much to go on in Robinson's case, but the observations we do have are all outstanding. I almost hate to talk about sample sizes as small as Robinson's, but he's been great on a per target basis and he was even able to convert one of his two red zone targets into touchdowns. Robinson's 12 yards per target is really high when you consider that most good receivers will average maybe seven or eight yards per target.
Again, the sample sizes are so small at this point that we're talking trivia here and not predictive indicators. All we know about Robinson at the NFL level is that when the ball has been thrown to him, good things have happened.
2) Based on size and college production, which receivers in the NFL does Robinson best compare to?
FD: Robinson is similar in size and speed to DeSean Jackson and I think that's probably the upside that you could see if he ever saw a decent number of targets. They're both small guys that are going to tear up a 40 yard dash.
Of the two, Robinson actually had a more impressive college career. DJax's best college season was about 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Robinson's best season was about 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns. If you adjust those numbers for the offenses they played in, Robinson still caught a greater share of his team's yards.
It's true that DJax played at Cal while Robinson played at SMU, but the Pac-12 has actually been pretty pitiful when it comes to producing receivers at the NFL level, so I don't think that the strength of schedule issue is as much in favor of DJax as some might think.
3) On Twitter, I noticed you touched on Robinson having good production in the red zone, which you wouldn't expect from a receiver listed at 5'10" and 180 pounds. Can you elaborate on this?
FD: In general, larger players tend to be more efficient in the red zone. It's not the case in every instance, it's just more of a baseline issue. For instance, tight ends are on average more efficient than wide receivers in the red zone. Smaller receivers tend to struggle in the red zone. As an example, consider that DeSean Jackson has 48 career red zone targets and he's converted just six of those into touchdowns (12.5%). While Jackson is considered a premium WR in the NFL, his teammate Brent Celek isn't considered a premium tight end and yet Celek has converted 20% of his career red zone targets into touchdowns.
But in Aldrick Robinson's case, he was actually a very good red zone receiver in college. He converted about 35% of his college red zone targets into touchdowns. That's a rate that you would typically associate with more of a true prototypical No. 1 wide receiver. We actually have some tools at RotoViz that will let you do things like compare players based on their college stats. We've used those tools to become the engineer on the Aldrick Robinson hype train.
4) Robinson hasn't been much more than a novelty deep-threat for the Redskins offense at this point in his career. Is there anything to suggest that could change down the road?
FD: I think there are actually probably a good number of guys like Robinson in the NFL, and whether they see a lot of usage pretty much comes down to the coaching staff's willingness to pursue a boom/bust strategy. When you throw the ball deep, you open yourself up to increased interception rates and your success rate on plays drops as well. Deep plays have a lot of upside as well, but like I said, it's a boom/bust strategy. A lot of coaches are just more comfortable pursuing a passing game that is lower variance.
But when coaches do commit to that boom/bust strategy, like the Eagles have in the past with DJax and like several Bruce Arians coached offenses have, then suddenly we stop thinking about the receivers involved as being only novelty players. Both Mike Wallace and DeSean Jackson are making No. 1 wide receiver money and T.Y. Hilton has started to make a name for himself. I would say that Aldrick Robinson probably has the ability to put up a 1,000 yard season if the Redskins committed to getting him the ball.
5) There are a lot of fantasy football buffs among the Hogs Haven community, so I'll ask: Is Robinson a player to target at the end of drafts, and what kind of numbers could you see him having for the 2013 NFL season?
FD: I see this issue as a binary issue. He's either going to become involved in the offense, or he's not. You'll know by the time your draft rolls around whether the Redskins are going to commit to getting him the ball at all.
For Robinson to have any fantasy value I think he probably has to start, which means either moving ahead of Santana Moss or perhaps a Pierre Garcon injury. But if Robinson starts, I would absolutely take a flier on him towards the end of the draft. He's talented enough to put up a big season, it really just comes down to a usage issue. As fantasy football players we can't control that part of the equation, we can only watch and try to figure out what the coaches want to do.
I think that's a really key point in any fantasy football discussion. Recall that Victor Cruz was behind Steve Smith on the depth chart. I'm sure that if Smith had stayed healthy we would never know who Victor Cruz was outside of a few preseason catches. In Robinson's case, all we're saying is that he has the talent to have a really big year. Whether he will or not could be a mix of luck and other factors.
Anything else you would like to share with us about him?
FD: I've spent a good amount of time watching his highlight clips on Youtube and he does a number of things that you don't always see speed receivers do. One of those things is that he regularly ended up in jump ball situations and came down with the ball. I should probably spend less time on Youtube.