clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NFL free agency 2023: What signing running back James Robinson means for the Patriots

Robinsons is joining New England on a reported two-year pact.

Jacksonville Jaguars v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have added their fourth outside free agent of the week. After previously signing two offensive tackles (Calvin Anderson, Riley Reiff) and one wide receiver (JuJu Smith-Schuster), they have now brought in a running back: James Robinson will be joining the club on a reported two-year contract.

What does the move mean from a New England point of view, though? Let’s find out.

Robinson adds more power than home-run ability. Over the course of his three-year career in the NFL, Robinson has touched the football 605 times for a combined 2,879 yards and 23 touchdowns. A majority of that production has come on the ground, which in itself is not a surprise: he is a rather classic running back, with limited (but not entirely absent) upside in the passing game.

Robinson’s game is built not on impressive agility or straight-line speed, but rather on a mix of power, vision and aggressiveness when hitting the hole. He offers solid size at 5-foot-9, 219 pounds and a skillset to serve as a between-the-tackles runner, as well as in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Robinson will not break many big runs in the open field, but he can wear a defense down and make defenders pay for insufficient tackle attempts or bad angles. Most importantly, having him in the mix will allow New England to give lead-back Rhamondre Stevenson a breather every now and then — something that was not always the case in 2022.

New England adds another body to its running back depth. The aforementioned Rhamondre Stevenson is the Patriots’ undisputed RB1 heading into the new season, with Robinson a candidate to serve as his primary backup. In addition to those two, New England also has Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong Jr., Kevin Harris and J.J. Taylor on the roster at the moment.

Montgomery and Strong Jr. are receiving and change-of-pace options, respectively, with superior abilities in the passing game when compared to Robinson. The Patriots might envision him in a similar role, but anything beyond early-down work is a bit of a projection at this point in time.

Kevin Harris, meanwhile, is a between-the-tackles runner and potentially the new pickup’s main competition for practice reps and maybe even a spot on the team. J.J. Taylor, on the other hand, has not been able to establish himself in a clear role due to his lack of any outstanding traits and small stature.

The Patriots believe they can fix his ball-security issues. Robinson comes with some questions marks related to his injury history. One of the biggest potential problems, however, is ball security. He has put the football on the ground eight times in just three seasons in the league, fumbling at an average rate of once ever 75 touches.

Taking care of the ball is imperative, and something the Patriots did have their fair share of problems with last season. Nonetheless, signing Robinson means that they feel confident that fumbles will not be an issue for him — or at least something they can fix.

Special teams will not be impacted by this move. New England likes to assess players from a holistic perspective that often reaches beyond their listed positions and into the kicking game as well. Safety Jabrill Peppers’ recent two-year contract extension, for example, also factors in his special teams contributions.

Robinson, on the other hand, has virtually zero value in the game’s third phase. It might become a part of his game with the Patriots, but for now his career résumé includes exactly zero snaps in the kickoff or punt game.

Damien Harris’ future is very much in doubt. The Patriots’ featured back for much of the last three seasons, Harris remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent. While a return is still theoretically possible, Robinson being added to the mix casts a shadow of doubt on a potential reunion.

At this point in time, the former third-round pick returning to the mix would be a surprising development.

Robinson will not factor into the compensatory draft picks formula. While the Patriots did pick him up from free agency, Robinson will not negatively impact their compensatory draft picks table for 2024. After all, he does not yet have four accrued seasons under his belt and only entered the market because the Jets decided against tendering him as a restricted free agent.

New England is currently not projected to earn any compensatory picks next year. Losing Jakobi Meyers to the Las Vegas Raiders is being canceled out by signing fellow wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to a similarly-valued contract.


How would you grade the Patriots signing RB James Robinson?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    (302 votes)
  • 42%
    (1344 votes)
  • 35%
    (1113 votes)
  • 8%
    (279 votes)
  • 3%
    (104 votes)
3142 votes total Vote Now