Columnists, Sports

4th and Inches: An AFC team on the rise and a rookie’s remarkable journey to the field

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | DFP Staff

The revamped Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been one of the more impressive teams in the NFL so far. While they are not bonafide contenders, Jacksonville’s recent play has shown that they are on track to be a consistent playoff team in the AFC. 

The Jaguars have won a combined four games in the past two seasons. In contrast they have won half that in the past four weeks this season. Jacksonville’s performance in years past has been so poor that they notched the first overall pick in both the 2021 and 2022 NFL Drafts. However, the Jaguars front office may have struck gold with their recent selections. 

Jacksonville drafted quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence had a stellar collegiate career at Clemson University but struggled in his rookie season. Four games into his sophomore campaign, Lawrence is showing the star potential he entered the league with. 

The Jaguars surrounded Lawrence with better leadership and talent in the offseason. The franchise brought in head coach Doug Pederson, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to their 2018 Super Bowl victory, and added receiver Christian Kirk in the offseason. Lawrence and Kirk were quick to build chemistry, as Kirk ranks top 10 in receiving yards and touchdowns.

While the Jaguars improved their offense, their defense has shined. Jacksonville selected edge rusher Travon Walker with the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Walker has been an impact player from Week 1 and is among the favorites to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Walker was Jacksonville’s marquee selection in 2022, but another Jaguars rookie has been stealing the spotlight. Linebacker Devin Lloyd, the 27th overall pick, surpassed Walker as the DROY favorite and even earned Defensive Rookie of the Month honors in September.

The Jaguars, while not quite an elite team, are in the perfect position for a playoff run. Jacksonville’s division –– the AFC South –– is one of the weaker divisions in the league. The Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans are subpar teams with glaring weaknesses, giving Jacksonville an easier path to the division’s crown.

If Jacksonville is able to dominate on defense and consistently win, they will have a legitimate shot at punching a ticket to the playoffs. 

Brian Robinson’s remarkable recovery

The name Brian Robinson Jr. might not mean anything to some NFL fans — likely because he has yet to play a single snap in the NFL. However, Robinson’s inspiring path to the gridiron will not be lost in NFL history. 

Robinson was selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Washington Commanders after a five-year stint at the University of Alabama.

In college, Robinson racked up over 3,100 yards from scrimmage and 31 total touchdowns. Robinson also won two national championships and played in four national championship games at Alabama. 

Robinson immediately carved out a role for himself in Washington’s offense after an impressive training camp. By the time preseason kicked off, Robinson was working with the first-team offense, challenging Antonio Gibson for his starting spot.

The night after Washington’s final preseason matchup, Robinson was the victim of an attempted carjacking and suffered two nonfatal gunshot wounds to his lower body. Fortunately, the gunshots did not cause any major damage, and Robinson was expected to make a full recovery.

A few days later, Robinson was placed on the non-football injury list, forcing him to miss the first four games of the season.

Perhaps the most incredible part of Robinson’s journey is how fast he has been able to recover. Just two days after being shot, Robinson appeared at the team’s facilities on crutches. The 23-year-old even managed to uphold his rookie responsibilities and brought his coaches and teammates a package of Oreos. Two weeks later, Robinson returned to practice. 

Due to the severity of Robinson’s injuries, Washington’s coaching staff is unsure if he will be active in Week 5 when he becomes officially eligible. Head coach Ron Rivera has been preaching patience with Robinson’s recovery and has never provided a definitive timeline for his return.

However, on Oct. 3, a day after the Commanders’ Week 4 game, Robinson was medically cleared for a full return. 

The plan is to start his clock on Wednesday and see how he does, and if he continues to progress, there’s a very good chance he’ll be able to play on Sunday,” Rivera told the media on Monday.

Whether or not Robinson begins his NFL career on Sunday against Tennessee, his toughness, resiliency and work ethic is beyond doubt. 

It is a miracle Robinson survived the two gunshot wounds. The fact that he is cleared to play in the NFL — one of the most physically taxing leagues — a month after suffering two gunshot wounds is a feat impossible to justify with words. 

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