Michigan Football: 7 Ways Denard Robinson Could Succeed in the NFL
With the NFL draft not far away, Denard Robinson will have a unique opportunity to display his talents in the upcoming bowl game.
Since Robinson’s ability as a passer was questioned last season, there’s been a debate as to where Shoelace could play in the National Football League.
When Robinson’s elbow injury surfaced in the Nebraska game, Brady Hoke was forced to find other uses for the dual-threat quarterback. Michigan will conclude its season Jan. 1 in either the Outback or Capitol One Bowl. The opponent will either be Georgia, LSU or South Carolina.
By then, Robinson might be able to throw the football. “I would think he would play quarterback, maybe wideout, maybe running back,” Hoke told ESPN during his Monday press conference.
Truth is, Robinson’s speed, ability to change directions and his gift of making defenders miss gives him a fighting chance to make it at several positions.
Let’s see where Robinson might land in the NFL.
Wide Receiver/Slot Receiver
Denard Robinson’s blinding speed (4.39 in the 40) would certainly allow him to play wide receiver, even though he's listed just under 6'0". Robinson's actually perfectly suited for the slot, where he could operate on a linebacker and occasionally on a safety.
His size is comparable to Wes Welker (5’9”, 185 lbs) and Julian Edelman (5’10”, 200 lbs) of New England and also Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson (5’10”, 185 lbs) and former Wolverine Jason Avant (6’0”, 212 lbs).
Robinson has often displayed his ability to make yards after contact, critical in third-down situations.
He’d also be effective on screen passes and even bubble screens where he can be very dangerous in space.
Just under 6'0", and 195 pounds, Robinson’s build may not be suited to take the pounding of an every-down NFL back.
But he possesses the speed, ability to switch gears and the talent to spin out of tackles to be a situational or third-down back.
While his pass-catching skills were never displayed at Michigan, anyone with his athletic ability can most likely catch a football.
He certainly can run the football, however.
As Michigan’s starting quarterback, Robinson has rushed for 4,395 yards, good enough for second on the NCAA career list by a quarterback. Just 85 yards behind leader Pat White (West Virginia, 2005-08), Denard could hold the record after the New Year's bowl game.
Not a bad stat for an NFL resume.
The Wildcat formation features the quarterback alone in the shotgun or lined up with one other back. It’s actually very similar to what Robinson has been running at Michigan during the last four seasons.
The problem, of course, has been both his throwing accuracy and his decision making in the pocket.
When Shoelace played under Rich Rodriguez (2009-10), he appeared much more comfortable throwing the football.
Some say the problem is mechanics (throwing off of his back foot) and some cite the Hoke-Borges offense.
Then there's the issue about Robinson’s injured throwing arm. It was first noticed early this season, but how long has he really had this particular injury?
Injury or not, Robinson’s going to make a living in the NFL mainly with his feet. But he’s tall enough (Drew Brees is about the same height) to make enough throws in the Wildcat, a formation normally run only at certain times during an NFL game.
Kick Returner/Punt Returner
Providing he can catch, the kick return position will be Robinson’s best chance to succeed.
Even at the quarterback position, Robinson is very difficult to stop—once he finds some space.
Robinson set the Notre Dame Stadium record with an 87-yard touchdown run in 2010. He also rambled 79 yards for a score against Air Force earlier this year.
The punt return is another matter. Catching the ball with defenders bearing down on you is definitely an acquired skill, one that Robinson has yet to display.
Moving over to defense wouldn’t be out of the question for a player with Robinson’s speed and athleticism.
A Michigan player with similar attributes, Charles Woodson, excelled as an NFL cornerback for several years.
For Michigan, Woodson played cornerback, wide receiver and returned both punts and kickoffs from 1994 through 1997. He led the Wolverines to a share of the 1997 national championship while also winning the Heisman Trophy.
Robinson might not be able to step directly into a defensive back’s position, but he could learn it over time.