Warning: minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t yet seen Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
The Chicago Bears made an unceremonious exit from the playoffs with a disappointing home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles helmed once again by savior Nick Foles. Despite the tipped field goal attempt and other shortcomings on both offense and defense, there were bright spots for the Bears during the game despite the disappointing outcome. One silver lining was the clear chemistry between Mitch Trubisky and Allen Robinson. Trubisky made crisp throws, and Robinson made some phenomenal catches, racking up 10 receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown in the loss. It’s too early to project Robinson for elite fantasy production in 2019 akin to his 2015 breakout season, but there’s reason to be optimistic about him next year.
So what does Spider-Man have to do with Robinson’s 2019 outlook? Well, in Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales is a kid who develops a variety of powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, but he’s unable to fully achieve his potential until he gets some help from his partner Gwen Stacy and an experienced Spider-Man coach from an alternate reality. I’m not sure if Robinson was similarly bitten to have attained his physical gifts, but he too has yet to fully realize his full potential in Matt Nagy’s offense. His 2018 stats are uninspiring, hauling in just 55 receptions on 94 targets for 754 yards and just four touchdowns, but there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic that his 2019 production will far exceed these figures.
Health played a factor in Robinson’s pedestrian season, both his health as well as that of his quarterback. Robinson tore his ACL in September of 2017 while with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which probably factored into Jacksonville choosing not to use their franchise or transition tag on him. Chicago promptly signed him to a three-year, $42 million contract last offseason. However, while ACL tears are no longer the career-threatening injuries they were in past decades due to developments in sports medicine and surgical procedures, it can often take more than a year for players to fully regain their explosiveness and comfort after such an injury. While Robinson flashed at times in 2018, it would be fair to say that he didn’t look like the dynamic big play-threat he’s been in past seasons. Additionally, he missed Weeks 8 and 9 due to a groin injury and was held out in Week 17 due to a nagging hip injury.
On top of all this, Trubisky missed Weeks 12 and 13 due to a shoulder injury, and Robinson unsurprisingly averaged a measly 3.5 receptions and 58 yards per game during the two outings with backup Chase Daniel under center. Excluding a Week 7 performance against New England in which Robinson was playing through his groin injury and left the game early, he averaged 4.5 receptions for 63 yards and 0.3 touchdowns per game this season. If we narrow down the sample size further to games played only with Trubisky, Robinson’s per game averages increase further.
In either scenario, his per game averages extrapolated out to a full 16-game season would roughly result in 70 receptions for 1,000 yards, and six touchdowns. Translated to fantasy, that would be 206 PPR points, good enough for Robinson to have finished as a top-20 fantasy wide receiver this season. While that would’ve been a definite improvement over Robinson’s WR34 finish in PPR formats this year, a projected middling WR2 finish is nothing to get worked up about when looking into dynasty prospects to acquire in the offseason. But this projection assumes no improvement in volume or efficiency from 2018 to 2019, and there are plenty of reasons to expect both.
For one, Trubisky was a second-year quarterback in the league and in his first year in a new offensive scheme. While Chicago’s coaching staff simplified certain elements of the offense for him in order to ease him into the new system, it was still a major adjustment from John Fox’s run-heavy offense in 2017. While Trubisky may not necessarily put up Patrick Mahomes-esque numbers next year, there’s every reason to expect him to improve as a passer. And even if Trubisky fails to make major strides in shoring up his faults, particularly making quick decisions past his first read, Robinson is often the first read on many of Nagy’s offensive play calls, so it will hardly impact his target share.
With another offseason for Robinson to recover fully recover from his ACL tear and for Trubisky and Nagy to further develop this burgeoning Bears offense, Robinson has enormous potential in 2019. Which brings us full-circle back to Into the Spider-Verse. During the film, our protagonist Miles purchases a Spider-Man outfit from a costume shop as he begins to discover his powers. As he holds the costume, Miles asks the shopkeeper, voiced by the late Stan Lee, whether the outfit will fit him. Lee’s character replies, “It always fits…eventually.” While not all NFL players are perfect fits for their respective offensive schemes, the quote holds true in this case. Robinson is a great size/speed athlete who can be a receiving threat both downfield and in the red-zone, and Nagy’s innovative offense will find ways to scheme him open. And while there were glimmers in 2018 of what this offense could become, we have yet to see the finished product at its peak.
Moreover, there is justification to expect more passing attempts overall in 2019 for Trubisky beyond just his development and that of the offense. With the NFC North slated to play both the NFC East and AFC West next year, the Bears will face a number of opponents with high-octane offenses, including teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers. Additionally, as a result of winning their division, the Bears will also play the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints next year. Despite a stout defense, Chicago’s offense will likely need to score touchdowns to win in these contests, and that means more targets for their no. 1 receiver. Even if you’re not completely sold on Nagy’s offense or Robinson’s talent, target volume is a big factor in projecting wide receiver production.
Speaking of the defense, Chicago was incredibly fortunate to have most of their defensive players healthy for the majority of the season. While LB Khalil Mack, S Eddie Jackson, and slot CB Bryce Callahan all missed time some time during 2018, the defensive starters were fairly consistent overall for the season. Whether this will remain the case in 2019 is anyone’s guess. Furthermore, as of this writing, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is a head coaching candidate for multiple teams around the league and is considered one of the front-runners for the job in Denver. Defensive performance is difficult to replicate year over year in the NFL, especially when there are potential coaching changes on the horizon.
Barring injury, Robinson is primed for a major bounce back season, possibly even propelling him back into the elite tier of dynasty wide receivers. Given his talent and his role in Nagy’s offense, he has a WR2 floor in PPR formats next year, but his ceiling is the reason to buy. Given his ADP and current valuation in many dynasty leagues, Robinson can likely be acquired for a mid first-round rookie pick, and maybe even for less. My early 2019 projection for Robinson is 82 receptions for 1,085 yards and seven touchdowns, which would’ve made him the WR13 this year, but 1,300 yards and double digit touchdowns wouldn’t be out of the question. He has the power to be a WR1 for your fantasy team, but it’s your responsibility to go acquire him. There’s still time to buy Robinson, and there’s still time to go see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, in theaters now.
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