The addition of Chris Ivory combined with the emergence of T.J. Yeldon has running back Denard Robinson on the outside looking in on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense. There is no question that his importance to the unit is slipping, but has it slipped so much that the team would consider moving on from him altogether?
That’ll be something Jaguars general manager David Caldwell will have to consider as Robinson prepares to play out the final year of his rookie contract.
The former fifth-round pick out of Michigan has received more touches than a fledgling running back could hope for thanks to the struggling Jacksonville ground attack. His rookie year was spent playing behind a clearly declined Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Forsett and Jordan Todman. However, things picked up in his second year with the departure of Jones-Drew and Forsett. He started nine games and rushed for 582 yards and four touchdowns.
It wasn’t a big year by any stretch of the imagination, but it did bring about some hope that the arrow was pointing up. His year was cut short after a foot injury landed him on the season-ending injured reserve.
Last year was somewhat of a prove-it season for Robinson. The Jaguars drafted Yeldon in the second round, but the team was willing to stick it out with him and see if he could build on his accomplishments in the prior year. But it was more of the same. He was plagued with injuries, ball control issues and inconsistent performances. Yeldon left him in the dust as the featured back and went on to have a successful rookie season.
Robinson finished the year with 266 yards and one touchdown. Not to mention, he coughed up the football three times, bringing his career fumble total to eight. The Jaguars didn’t even blink when signing a proven veteran like Chris Ivory to a five-year deal for $32 million.
This offseason has been like a scene out of Groundhog Day for Robinson, who is reliving his rookie campaign all over again. He is buried in the depth chart with other players vying for the third running back spot on the team. His competition is Jonas Gray, Corey Grant and Joe Banyard.
Gray is remembered for 201-yard rushing game with the New England Patriots against the Indianapolis Colts in 2014. He was surprisingly released the following year after being put in head coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse for being late to practice. The Jaguars signed him last season after a short-lived stint with the Miami Dolphins.
Then there is speedy, second-year back Grant, who landed on injured reserve last season with a hip-flexor tear. Before his injury, he was able to carve out a spot for himself on the team as a kickoff returner.
Banyard is another big-bodied back like Gray. He is a journeyman player that was originally signed to Jacksonville’s practice squad as an undrafted rookie back in 2012. The team brought him back last season after dealing with a plethora of injuries at the position.
When speaking with Jacksonville.com, Jaguars running back coach Kelly Skipper claimed consistency and instant offensive contributions were key in Robinson getting back on the field.
“He needs to provide instant offense,” said Skipper. “He has to be consistent with his assignments and work on the little things, like taking the hand-off and being able to stay focused and make plays when he has the opportunity.”
Real opportunities are rare in the NFL, and Robinson has been given more than a fair share. The team is locked in on Ivory and Yeldon as its one-two punch. Forget a role reduction. Robinson would be doing well to make the 53-man roster this year.
But that’s certainly better than the alternative.