It has been five years since the Michigan football program produced a starting quarterback at the NFL level, but redshirt junior Devin Gardner appears to have all of the physical tools required to play professionally. As of this moment, though, there is not enough evidence to definitively say Gardner will have success in the NFL.
This is not an attempt to suggest Gardner cannot blossom into a pro quarterback. For the time being, however, all of us just have to wait and see.
After all, Gardner has yet to play a full season as the Wolverines' starter. Gardner spent his first two years in Ann Arbor backing up Denard Robinson. With a dire need for playmakers in the passing game, the coaching staff opted to play Gardner at wide receiver for the first half of the 2012 campaign.
Only after Robinson sustained an injury to his ulnar nerve in Week nine did Gardner become Michigan's No. 1 signal-caller. In place of Robinson, Gardner put up some gaudy statistics that have the Maize and Blue faithful excited for 2013.
The Inkster (Mich.) High School product threw for 1,219 yards and scored 18 total touchdowns in just five starts. Additionally, Gardner completed 59.5 percent of his passes and had an efficiency rating of 161.7.
Most of those numbers can be attributed to the defenses Gardner went up against, though. In two games against teams ranked No. 47 or worse nationally in total defense (Northwestern and Iowa), the 6'4", 203-pounder piled up 600 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. When facing three opponents ranked inside the top 35 of this category (Minnesota, Ohio State and South Carolina), Gardner only averaged 206.3 yards through the air and posted eight total touchdowns.
None of those accolades really prove Gardner can hang with the best football players in the world. Given how quickly Gardner has come along over the past several months, though, there is reason to believe the best is yet to come from the Detroit native.
Gardner has two years to shore up the weaknesses in his game, which means there is plenty of time for him to impress professional scouts.
Coming out of high school, the two biggest knocks on Gardner's game were his flawed mechanics and shoddy footwork. Under the tutelage of veteran offensive coordinator Al Borges, Gardner has made significant improvements in both of those fundamental areas.
Neither trait has been perfected, but Gardner will learn to set his feet on every throw and develop a shorter release during his final two seasons at Michigan.
Accuracy and consistency are what scouts will be watching closer than ever this season. Gardner is an accurate passer in terms of percentage, but when it comes to hitting receivers in stride he has a little bit of work to do.
Two things that will keep Gardner on the radar of NFL teams for the upcoming campaign are arm strength and size. The former four-star prospect can make any throw, which is exactly what pro scouts look for in a draft prospect.
Although Gardner could stand to add some more muscle to his frame for the sake of durability at the next level, he already has the prototypical stature of an NFL quarterback.
The Wolverines' current transition to a pro-style offense should benefit Garnder's stock as well when the time comes to enter the draft. Borges plans to have Gardner under center for 70 percent of Michigan's offensive plays. This is a valuable skill that will help Gardner make a quick transition from college to the NFL.
A breakout season appears to be on the horizon for Gardner. If No. 12 lives up to expectations, there is a very good chance he will begin making appearances on draft boards.
This year is going to be crucial for Gardner. By the time it is over, all of us will have a better idea as to whether or not Gardner has a future as an NFL quarterback. Right now, however, five games is simply not enough to judge Gardner's chances of being a starter at the next level.
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