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What is a “breakout candidate” in today’s NFL? Is it a player who finally cements himself as a starter after serving as a backup with rotational snaps? Is it a player who finally reaches a certain statistical milestone that we’ve long held as standards for the position—like 1,000 yards for a running back or wide receiver, or 4,000 yards from a quarterback?
Or is it something simpler?
I think it’s the latter. And I think that when a player earns a spot on their first Pro Bowl roster that it’s as good an indication as there can be that said player has had a breakout year.
NFL.com’s Nick Shook recently went through every NFL team and identified who he thought would be the most likely player to make their first Pro Bowl.
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, that player is fifth-year wide receiver Christian Kirk...
Did the Jaguars overpay for Kirk this offseason? Based on past production, that’s a fair assessment, but they handed over the cash because they expect Kirk to emerge as a primary target for Trevor Lawrence in the quarterback’s second season. This is still a roster in need of additional talent and one that’s relying on a handful of young, unproven hopefuls, so I’m turning to the speedster and hoping Doug Pederson can maximize this pairing. If the front office is going to score a win, it would be by watching Lawrence connect with Kirk often enough to earn him a Pro Bowl nod.
I disagree, not because I think Christian Kirk is a bad... or even simply average or adequate player. I disagree because of Doug Pederson’s history with wide receivers (he’s always favored tight ends getting a lion’s share of targets in his offenses) and his quarterback will need a portion of the early season to get back on track with his development after Urban Meyer, effectively, wasted his rookie season.
So, where does that put us? If it’s not Christian Kirk, then who?
Enter James Robinson.
Don’t get it twisted, I think Travis Etienne will see a ton of snaps—I said last week that 200 total touches with 150-ish of them being runs wouldn’t surprise me.
What would surprise me, however, is if Doug Pederson doesn’t lean on the running game with volume opportunities (especially early in the season) with efficiency being the name of the game for Trevor Lawrence & Co.
Could James Robinson get somewhere in the neighborhood of 300-350 touches, with 50-60 catches? Yes. It’s exactly what he did for the 2020 season during his rookie year. And that was being played on a worse offense with a less talented offensive line. That was good for over 1,400 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
And that was with Jacksonville converting just 40.6% of their third downs—good for only 19th in the league.
Pump that third down conversion rate up a little bit with the influx of short-yardage talent you’ve assembled this offseason, and suddenly James Robinson staying on track to match (or even surpass) his 2020 totals seems entirely plausible.