One of the best developments of the offseason for the Michigan Wolverines was Devin Gardner's emergence as a legitimate wide receiver. The Wolverines needed someone with Gardner's size and athleticism on the outside, and his transition has been remarkably productive: eight catches, 155 yards and three touchdowns—one score in each game.
Not too shabby for a guy who's still learning the position.
And yet Gardner doesn't feel like a real wide receiver yet, which seems rather puzzling. Here's what Gardner said about playing wideout after the game, according to AnnArbor.com:
But there's also more to being a receiver than just outrunning or outjumping a defensive back. There's a mind-set, and it appears Gardner hasn't totally assimilated to certain aspects of that. Namely, blocking.
"I don't feel like I'm ever going to be a person who loves to block," Gardner said with a laugh. "That comes with the position, but I don't think I'll ever love that."
"It's a lot better knowing that you're going to play, and it's a lot easier to prepare as well, knowing you're going to play," Gardner said. "You gotta be ready to contribute. Last year, I didn't have any idea whether I would play or not. So I feel like (playing) makes it a lot easier.
"I know I'm a quarterback, but as I've said in previous weeks, I'm helping the team, and I'm doing well."
It's pretty obvious that this isn't something Gardner wants to hear, but he already looks far better as a receiver than he ever did as a quarterback. And if he wants to play in the NFL, he should give a great deal more consideration to playing wideout full-time.
Here's the best video of Gardner as a quarterback, from Michigan's spring game.
That? That is not good. That makes Denard Robinson look like Johnny Unitas. And being that Gardner's a junior, he's running out of time to get to a competent passing level. Meanwhile, those wheels looked fine.
Meanwhile, at the 4:00 mark of the next video, here's Gardner scoring a touchdown that probably 90 percent of receivers wouldn't be able to score.
That play's even better than it looks at first glance. Gardner gets pushed at the 10-yard line and manages to stay upright long enough to make a dive for the end zone, and that dive is with full extension, no elbows or knees coming down prematurely. That is a world-class run after the catch.
Gardner's natural fit is at wide receiver. He doesn't want to believe that, and it's commendable that he wants to stay a quarterback, because being a quarterback is a lot of fun and it's certainly more intellectually rewarding than playing wideout.
But we know a fit when we see one, and Gardner is absolutely a fit at wide receiver. He looks like a mix of Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens, except significantly less loopy than either (as far as we know, anyway).
He has All-Pro ability at wide receiver. At quarterback, he's looking more like All-Arena League.
So while he doesn't have to learn to love blocking—nobody loves everything they do at work except the smuggest, most insufferable people you know—he should at least get used to it, especially since he's basically Hercules compared to nearly every cornerback he'll go against in college.
And the better he gets at running routes, the more productive he'll be—especially at the next level. If his goal is really to be on the field and helping as much as possible, he'll be best suited to do so at wide receiver.