On Tuesday, the Green Bay Packers added to their offensive backfield by signing former 1,000 rusher, James Robinson to the Practice Squad. This signing comes after the release of Patrick Taylor following his final practice squad elevation in week 5. Robinson had an excellent start to his career and looked to be on his way to stardom until an Achilles tear in 2021 derailed his rise. So, what could James Robinson offer the Packers as a mid-season addition?
Undrafted Rookie Record-Holder
In 2020, James Robinson was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State. He went on to start in 14 games for the Jaguars where he ran for 1,070 yards on 240 attempts for 7 touchdowns. He also had 49 catches for 344 yards and 3 touchdowns. That is the most scrimmage yards ever recorded by an undrafted rookie. Robinson was one of the most highly-touted running backs then entering his second year in 2021.
He was on his way to producing similar numbers in that second season but suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in the Jaguars week 16 matchup vs the New York Jets. Before the injury, Robinson had 767 yards on the ground, 989 total, with 8 total touchdowns. Not quite his rookie production, but still a good second year. After the injury however, Robinson didn’t quite return to form for the Jaguars and was replaced by 2021 1st round pick Travis Etienne and traded to the New York Jets in exchange for a conditional sixth round pick. Robinson was only active for four of the ten games he was on the Jets roster and was released in the offseason.
After his stint with the Jets, Robinson bounced between the Patriots, Bills, and Giants in the 2023 offseason before signing with the Packers. So, what could a player that’s on his fifth team in a year offer Green Bay?
What to expect from Robinson
With Aaron Jones likely returning on Sunday to the starting lineup, the Packers should have their full complement of running backs on the 53-man roster. However, their usage of Emanuel Wilson has been slim despite the absence of Jones. Wilson has only seen 5 rushing attempts and 1 reception. He was often sidelined while Patrick Taylor handled the duties of spelling AJ Dillon. With Patrick Taylor no longer in Green and Gold, it should be interesting to see if Wilson is used more, or if James Robinson takes the role Patrick Taylor had of being elevated to the gameday roster.
With Robinson only being with the Packers for four days now, I can’t see the Packers being eager to throw him on the gameday roster quite yet. If Aaron Jones is at full strength, the Packers should be able to run with Jones, Dillon, and Wilson in Denver. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robinson elevated for a game in a week or so if he does well in practice.
The Packers haven’t been in this situation often in my lifetime. Expectations aren’t very high. Which allows them to gamble a bit. Try some different things, give some other players a shot and see what they get. This is a perfect situation for a player like James Robinson. There really isn’t a lot of pressure on him to perform at a high level early. Put him in a good situation, and you never know what you could get.
Taking a brief look at some of Robinson’s carries with the Giants in the preseason, there were a few shining moments, but not many. What kind of stood out to me the most though, was lack of running lanes. Many of his attempts I couldn’t figure out where he was supposed to end up as run blocking seemed to collapse as soon as he got there. Robinson did do a good job however, at trying to use cuts to find lanes. There were a few plays where he was able to cut and bounce outside to find some open space for a decent-sized gain. He showed some patience in waiting for lanes to develop, but the problem was, those lanes never developed, and he’d be swallowed up before he could bounce outside.
The Right Environment
One thing I feel James Robinson has lacked since returning from injury, is the right environment to get himself back on track. With Jacksonville, he was kind of rushed into a battle for his job post-injury with former 1st round pick Travis Etienne Jr. Afterwards, he wasn’t really in a place to succeed.
With the Packers, there’s the clear-cut number one and two in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. After them, everything else is purely experiment. Like playing with house money, no rush to produce, no major consequence to failure. Plus, there are few running back rooms in this league more supportive than the Packers. Jones and Dillon love to see their colleagues succeed. Aaron Jones will take the time to teach every detail and answer every question James Robinson may have. There really is no better situation.
Whether or not James Robinson can return to his past 1K yard performances health-wise is unknown. There could be some lingering effects to his injury. However, having this opportunity on the Packers practice squad to show whether or not he does in fact, still have it, could be the best chance he’s going to get. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.