Locker Room NFL Sleepers Bracket Round Three: Khiry Robinson vs. Justin Hunter
This post appears as part of our 2014 Ultimate NFL Sleepers Bracket. View the other entries below, or check progress at the overall bracket.
Zach Greubel stumps for Khiry Robinson:
Remember when Bill Parcells told Sean Payton he had the next Curtis Martin on his hands? Parcells was referring to second-year running back Khiry Robinson, a 6-foot, 220-pound physical specimen from West Texas A&M. Robinson saw minimal opportunities during the 2013 regular season with Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles sharing time out of the backfield. Robinson really showed what he is capable of during the playoffs against Philadelphia and Seattle. He averaged 5.6 yards on eight carries against the Eagles and 4.4 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries against the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
Robinson did show glimpses of his potential in the regular season, too, however. Per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com’s Around the League, Robinson forced more missed tackles than Ray Rice on 654 fewer snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus metrics. That number is extremely telling of how elusive Robinson is. While Robinson is capable of carrying a three-down load, it’s unlikely that he’ll do so with Thomas and Ingram in the mix. That being said, while he may not be the Saint’s every-down running back, the fact that Ingram has been ousted in this sleeper competition and Robinson remains tells me that the audience understands that Robinson is a better, more viable option for New Orleans.
Still, Robinson should see an influx of carries in 2014. Head coach Sean Payton wants to run the ball more this year and said earlier in the offseason that Robinson is further along than he was last year. Naturally, Robinson has become more accustomed to the team’s complex offense. He admitted from the onset that he hadn’t grasped the offense yet, saying he was just hoping to go the right way when he ran. Head coach Sean Payton said he notices Robinson has a better understanding of protection assignments and is much quicker. If Robinson can maintain his improved pass protection, combined with his already successful running style, he should see a much bigger role in the regular season, not to mention Robinson is a skilled pass-catcher, more effective than Ingram in that area. Keep in mind that Sproles was tallied target numbers of 89, 114 and 111 the past three seasons. Thomas saw 84 targets in 2013. The Saints love to pass to their running backs and there will be plenty of leftover targets in the wake of Sproles’ absence. Robinson may see a bigger pass-catching role than people realize.
With another offseason of studying and preparation under his belt, that should be much less of a problem for Robinson. In addition to the added studies and preparations, Robinson has reportedly doubled his offseason workouts to add strength and stamina, not that he need any more of those in the first place.
Additionally, Thomas will likely continue his valuable pass-catching role and Ingram will probably continue his disappointing career, playing second fiddle to Robinson, at least that’s how I see it panning out. The momentum is on Robinson’s side going into the 2014 season. When a running back is said to be the next Curtis Martin by a renowned head coach, it’s time to start paying attention.
Robinson proved he deserves more of our attention in last year’s postseason against two elite teams. It was a sign of things to come. He’s more than just a flier in drafts. I personally have Robinson ranked at RB38, between Danny Woodhead and DeAngelo Williams; though, I still don’t know that I’m giving him enough credit.
Don’t be surprised if Robinson eventually takes over the majority of carries in the New Orleans backfield, and don’t miss out on what could very well be a breakout campaign.
Rich Hribar follows with Justin Hunter:
I’m representing Justin Hunter as the best late round option in 2014. The Titans’ front office has always had affection for his skill set as evidenced by the team trading up to the 34th selection in last year’s draft to select him. As a rookie, Hunter struggled with drops and irregular playing time, but still managed to grab 18 passes for 354 yards and four scores as a 22-year-old rookie. Hunter is big play option who had 39 percent of his targets on passes over 20 yards downfield and turned three of those targets into scores. He also posted the tenth best touchdown per snap ratio out of all receivers in the entire NFL last season, scoring once per 85 plays on the field.
For 2014, the Titans have brought in Ken Whisenhunt who has had no issue going vertical with the football in nearly all of the stops he’s made in the NFL. He’s also been around some pretty good young receivers such as Santonio Holmes, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and just recently, Keenan Allen and has been effective at getting them the ball. He still has growing to do and pesky Nate Washington is still hanging around, as well as overcoming Jake Locker’s accuracy issues, so I understand the pause. But Hunter is coming off the board after receivers like Steve Smith and Danny Amendola, who at their ceilings aren’t winning you titles. For a receiver you can select after the 12th round, Hunter possesses WR2 upside and is an arbitrage play on Terrance Williams, Riley Cooper and Aaron Dobson.
At 6’4″ with great leaping ability (check the combine numbers) and plus-speed Hunter is an athletic talent who had a relatively quiet season in his first year.That quiet year is causing many to sleep on Hunter, despite his having the talent and the overall context to succeed.Ken Whisenhunt just coaxed outstanding seasons out of Keenan Allen, Philip Riversand co. and is generally viewed as a positive for Tennessee’s offense and for Jake Locker‘s development. Kendall Wright, with great hands and run after the catch ability should be the prime beneficiary in an offense predicated on short passes but Hunter will be prepared to do work over the top as well.