After yesterday’s piece highlighting the Bears’ need to prioritize keeping Allen Robinson around this offseason, today will build on that with a closer look at Robinson’s value to the Bears. I’ll start with examining his individual performance, and then look to the importance of that performance in context to building a roster.
To start with, Robinson is the team’s highest volume pass weapon by a wide margin. More than 1 in 4 passes the Bears threw last year went Robinson’s way, and he finished 3rd in the NFL in targets with 151 (9.4/game). Nobody else had more than Darnell Mooney’s 98 (6.1/game). Replacing that kind of volume would be difficult.
However, you could reasonably argue that high volume is not indicative of quality. In fact, if Robinson drew a lot of targets but had limited production with them, it could be argued that distributing those targets elsewhere is a good idea. And at first glance, Robinson was not a terribly efficient target.
- Although Robinson was 3rd in the NFL in targets, he was 6th in receptions and 9th in yards, which means other players around the league out-produced him while needing less volume to do so.
- Of the 42 players who saw 100 targets in 2020, Robinson ranked 21st in both catch % and yards/target, meaning he was middle of the pack in efficiency.
It is important to remember, however, that a pass catcher is dependent on their quarterback, and Robinson was working with bad quarterbacks last year. The players who caught more passes than him were catching balls from Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, and Patrick Mahomes. Those who finished with more yards caught passes from those QBs plus Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, and Matt Ryan.
With that in mind, let’s compare Robinson’s efficiency to the rest of the team’s pass catchers. The table below shows the basic statistics for every player with at least 10 targets in 2020.
Here you really see Allen Robinson stand out. He has the highest catch % among all players but running backs (who typically catch a high rate of targets because they get so many short passes) and the highest yards/target mark by almost 2 yards. If you remove Robinson, everybody else combined to catch 67% of their targets for 6.0 yards/target. That 6.0 yards/target mark would have been the worst mark in the NFL (even with Robinson, the Bears finished 28th in the NFL at 6.4 yards/target).
One of the big reasons for Robinson’s efficiency comes in the deep passing game, which I have highlighted before as an issue for Chicago’s quarterbacks. In 2020, the Bears QBs combined to go 41 for 119 (34.5%) on deep passes, good for 1040 yards (8.4 yards/target). These are awful numbers; the league as a whole averaged 44% completion and 12.3 yards/target. Out of 29 QBs with at least 50 deep attempts, Chicago’s QBs ranked 23rd (Foles) and 28th (Trubisky) in completion percentage and 22nd (Foles) and 29th (Trubisky) in yards/attempt.
Those numbers would be far, far worse if you removed Allen Robinson, as you can see in the table below.
Allen Robinson saw 33% of Chicago’s deep targets on the year but accounted for 56% of deep completions and 52% of deep passing yards. If you remove him from the equation, Chicago completed only 18 of 78 deep passes (23%) for 495 yards (6.3 yards/target). Those numbers are atrocious, and they come with Allen Robinson on the field to draw defensive coverage away from other players.
Related to deep passes are explosive plays, which I have highlighted as a very important component of total offensive production. Once again, we see Allen Robinson more than doing his part to keep the passing game from being truly terrible.
Robinson was much more efficient producing explosive plays – which strongly correlate to scoring points – than any other pass catcher. He saw 25% of Chicago’s total targets but produced 52% of their explosive passes. If you remove Robinson, everybody else combined for 20 explosive passes on 445 targets; Robinson by himself had more explosive plays with 1/3 of the targets.
Skill Position Value
To sum up: Allen Robinson was the only pass catcher who produced efficiently last year, and he did it despite being a very high volume target who presumably drew extra defensive attention. With that in mind, his value to the Bears is obvious. With him, they had a bad passing attack (it’s not Robinson’s fault that the QB and other pass catchers were not good). Without him, they would have easily had the worst passing attack in the league in most key metrics.
That’s the crux of the argument for why the Bears should keep Robinson. But I also want to address the value of keeping him around, which might seem counterproductive given my vocal arguments that the Bears aren’t winning anything that matters in the next year or two and should be looking to get right with the salary cap while they re-tool into a younger roster.
Part of that argument – the most important part, in fact – is that the Bears need to find a quarterback. I don’t think they’re likely to get a top-tier veteran like Deshaun Watson (other teams can offer more draft capital) or Dak Prescott (other teams can offer more money), which means their QB of the future is likely coming through the draft at some point in 2021 or 2022. The Twitter account Butkus Stats (who is definitely somebody you should follow) did some good work back in December showing that the caliber of a QB’s weapons has a strong relationship on the likelihood he will pan out. Right now the Bears don’t have great pass targets, but they’re arguably the worst collection of pass catchers in the NFL if Allen Robinson leaves. They need to keep him and add talent around him this off-season. Losing him is a step in the wrong direction.
Wrapping it up
It’s all about the quarterback in the NFL, and the Bears will be looking to find their quarterback of the future this off-season. However, they can’t let that pursuit cost them their only reliable weapon in the passing game. Allen Robinson showed his immense value to the Bears in 2020, and they need to make sure he is compensated accordingly.
This doesn’t mean the Bears should sacrifice their financial future to keep Robinson around. Instead, they should trade Kyle Fuller and Akiem Hicks so they can afford to re-sign Robinson. The Bears have too much money invested in their defense, which is not a path to winning in the modern NFL. This is their chance to balance out their investment and lock up their best offensive player, who is still only 27 years old, for the rest of his prime.