Three seasons ago, new Patriots running back James Robinson made the 2020 NFL All-Rookie Team as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State University.
Robinson made the Jaguars roster as a summer standout in training camp, earning the lead back role as one of a few bright spots on a team that finished the year 1-15. The now 24-year-old ran for 1,070 yards with ten total touchdowns in his first NFL season, adding another 49 catches for 344 receiving yards for 1,414 scrimmage yards in the 2020 season.
The Pats free-agent addition was then on pace for another productive season with 989 total yards and eight touchdowns in the first 14 games of 2021. Robinson was a true hidden gem in Jacksonville. However, his career took an unfortunate turn from there.
Unfortunately, Robinson's second season ended abruptly when he suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in a late December game against the Jets. Robinson would make a remarkable recovery to be ready for the 2022 season. But the Jags already turned the RB1 duties over to first-round pick Travis Etienne, trading Robinson mid-season to the Jets.
Robinson never found his groove in New York, appearing in four games for the Jets while averaging only 2.9 yards per rush. The Jets decided not to tender Robinson, who was a restricted free agent since he initially went undrafted, opening the door for him to be an unrestricted free agent.
Now well over a year removed from tearing his Achilles, Robinson has found a new home with the Patriots after signing a two-year contract with the team on the first official day of free agency.
Robinson joins a running back room led by breakout star Rhamondre Stevenson that needs to replace a productive 2020 draft choice in Damien Harris with a combination of Robinson, second-year backs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris, and veteran holdovers Ty Montgomery and J.J. Taylor.
After Stevenson had to play over 66 percent of the offensive snaps with 279 touches last season, the Patriots, who typically rotate running backs to keep guys fresh, are hoping that Robinson will return to his pre-Achilles tear form to carve out a role behind Stevenson.
"We just felt like it was the right move for us," said Robinson about deciding to sign with the Patriots this offseason. "When I got here, just talking to (offensive coordinator) Bill O'Brien and the running backs coach (Vinnie Sunseri), it just seemed like a good fit for me."
Robinson explained that his decision to join the Patriots related to what he saw playing against head coach Bill Belichick's team for two games as a member of the Jets a year ago.
"It seemed like they liked to run the ball. They got great backs with Rhamondre (Stevenson) and those other guys. I just like the way they do things around here," Robinson told reporters in his first press conference since joining the Patriots.
Along with trying to prove that he's still the same player he was in his first 28 career games, where he tallied over 2,400 scrimmage yards in Jacksonville, Robinson is also hoping to settle into a role in his new home after moving around during the 2022 season.
"It wasn't ideal. I don't really like moving around like that. Kind of hard to just find my role," Robinson said about being traded mid-season. "Coming off the Achilles, there was a lot of talk that 'he's not going to be this or not going to be that.' But, I felt like at the start of that year, when I came back, I was doing pretty fine. And I haven't had a problem with it since."
The assumption following Damien Harris's departure is to pencil Robinson in as a potential spell back for Stevenson in an early-down role. Typically, as Harris did, New England's first and second down backs are primarily carrying the ball between the tackles. During his four seasons with the Patriots, nearly 60 percent of Harris's snaps were running plays.
However, an optimistic projection for Robinson, assuming he has returned to full strength, is that he can also contribute in the passing game. In his first two NFL seasons, Robinson caught 80 passes for 566 yards. He was a reliable option on check downs and screens and also showed some versatility throughout his career to line up in the slot or out wide as a receiver.
Although he's not a natural short-area separator with jitterbug quickness in the James White mold, Robinson certainly can bring another dependable option in the passing game out of the backfield.
"I feel like I do it quite naturally. When I get the opportunity for that, I feel like I make the most of it." Robinson added, "I'm just doing what I can to help this team when. They've seen me play. Just trying to bring what I did in my rookie season here."
Harris was in and out of the lineup last season, but he was a productive player with 100-plus rushing attempts in his last three seasons for 2,082 yards and 20 touchdowns. In 2021, Harris had a breakout second season with 929 rushing yards and 15 scores.
Eventually, Stevenson passed Harris on the depth chart as the top running back in New England's backfield. But the idea was to create a platoon before Harris got injured in 2022.
The Pats prepared for the end of Harris's four-year rookie contract when they drafted Strong (fourth round) and Kevin Harris (sixth) in the 2022 draft. Then, Harris signed a one-year deal with New England's division rival in Buffalo this spring, opening the door for new contributors.
Robinson hopes to step through that door as a reliable ball carrier for the Patriots this season.
DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer