Senior Bowl 2013: Is Denard Robinson Really the Next Antwaan Randle El?
The college football world was rocked on Wednesday by the revelation that former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson would indeed be playing wide receiver in the 2013 Senior Bowl in preparation for an NFL career at the same position.
Here's more from the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com) about the development:
Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will play wide receiver in the Senior Bowl.
Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage says he is "comparable to Antwaan Randle El" in athleticism, ball skills and speed. Randle El was an Indiana quarterback who went on to play receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins.
Indeed, the Randle El comparison is the most inviting (one the Senior Bowl also makes in its official profile for Robinson), mainly because the career paths mirror each other rather prominently up to this point. And if Robinson's NFL career matches up with Randle El's as well as their collegiate careers have, Robinson is in for a very successful NFL resume when it's all said and done.
That said, the two aren't the best comparison to make, because the two are physically different players. Watch this footage of Randle El from his Indiana days and notice the disparity.
There are certainly some similarities between the two players, without question. They're both scorchingly fast and able to turn nothing into a big gain. But Randle El's best asset wasn't his straightforward speed (good as it was); rather, it was his ability to elude tacklers in the open field when he wasn't already going at full speed. It's less Denard Robinson and more Barry Sanders.
This type of agility is what one would see from a point guard, and it's no surprise that Randle El spent time on the Indiana basketball team early in his Hoosier career. It also helped Randle El easily adjust to his role as a slot receiver, which he parlayed into a nine-year career with 370 catches, almost 4,500 yards, 15 receiving touchdowns and six return touchdowns.
That's not quite Robinson's game. Robinson's acceleration is world class, as is his top speed. But he's more dangerous moving forward, finding a crease and just burning through it than he is dancing and looking for daylight.
And that assertion is all the excuse we need to post Denard Robinson highlights to prove the point. Go get some popcorn.
That doesn't look like Randle El, or Wes Welker, or any other slot man. If anything, that "find a seam and go zero to 60 in 0.8 seconds" move looks like another skill entirely: kick and punt returning.
You'll recall that we earlier compared Robinson to another fellow Floridian: Devin Hester. And watching highlights of Hester, you see the similarities in skill sets—and get a good sense of what Robinson would bring to the table as both a return man and a receiver:
(Yes, it is fun running highlights for three different guys ripping off gargantuan touchdowns in the same story.)
Now, also remember that Hester started playing receiver for the first time in the NFL. And his stats are, shall we say, not as impressive as Randle El's.
Hester currently has 217 catches for about 2,800 yards in his first six years, and his production on that front is already on a pronounced decline. He was hampered as a receiver by dodgy catching skills and imprecise route running, and he was often better used as a zone-stretching decoy than he was as a legitimate receiving threat.
Be honest: That sounds like a plausible (if not probable) future knock on Robinson, doesn't it?
Now, to be fair, Hester has parlayed his amazing athleticism into an NFL career that has stretched into his 30s, which is no small feat in a league that routinely chews up and spits out players on the wrong end of their physical peak in favor of younger, cheaper talent. And an NFL career with more than 200 receptions for a guy who played cornerback and punt returner in college is quite nice work.
And let's not forget that Hester is also literally the greatest punt returner in NFL history. So he's got that going for him, and thus, Robinson has that as a plausible goal to match if he wants to get involved in the return game. And he should; he's been brilliant at single-handedly carving up defenses his entire career.
So will Denard Robinson be the next Antwaan Randle El? Insofar as he's a quarterback moving to wide receiver, yes. His real comparison is Devin Hester, though, and if he can replicate Hester's feats, that way lies potential immortality.
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