After the 2012 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos added some talented undrafted free agents. The Broncos have a knack for finding college free agents who can contribute (and star) in the NFL. Players like cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (2011), linebacker Steven Johnson (2012) and running back C.J. Anderson (2013) have all made the team and contributed at various levels after being overlooked in the draft.
The Broncos are hoping to develop another prospect from that 2012 group.
Gerell Robinson was a standout wide receiver during his college days at Arizona State. While in college, he caught passes from current Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. After Robinson went undrafted the Broncos picked him up, but he failed to make the final roster in 2012.
Shortly after that, the Arizona Cardinals added him to their practice squad as a developmental player. He bounced on and off the Cardinals roster during that year, but he finally ended up back in Denver as a practice squad player in early 2013. Robinson failed to make the final roster again, but this time Denver was able to keep him around as a practice squad player.
He spent the 2013 season as a practice squad player, and Denver re-signed him to the practice squad after the Super Bowl. It wasn’t long after that when news filtered out that Denver would be keeping him around as a tight end.
It’s not an unusual move for the Broncos as they’ve moved players around before. If a player can show versatility and an ability to play at the pro level, the Broncos will find the best fit for them.
Here’s a breakdown of what Robinson could bring to the table. Is he a sleeper prospect at his new position? Let’s find out.
Skill Set: Positives
Robinson has the size to be an effective tight end. He knows how to use his frame to keep defenders away from the ball. Robinson will square his shoulders to the line of scrimmage in order to present the biggest target for his quarterback.
He has a large wingspan, and Robinson will use his long arms to regularly pluck passes away from his body. This helps him play “above the rim” in the end zone. Robinson can win at the point of the catch because of his size, wingspan and leaping ability.
While not a deep threat, Robinson can work well on underneath routes. He’s too fast for linebackers to keep up with, and Robinson is fearless running routes over the middle. He can look in passes, take a hit and still hang onto the ball.
Robinson is known as a hard worker and a team-first player. This asset will help him as he learns a new position.
Skill Set: Negatives
While he’s a big player, Robinson struggles to get off the line of scrimmage cleanly. He needs to work on his release from a three-point stance. Robinson worked mostly out of the slot in college.
Robinson does not have the speed to attack the deep middle seam. He ran a limited route tree in college, and that will continue in the pros even though he’s now a tight end. Robinson needs to sharpen up his routes so he doesn’t tip off which way he’s going before he makes his break.
On Sunday after rookie minicamp concluded, I was able to interview Robinson on my ESPN Radio show Ridin’ Shotgun. Here are a few interesting tidbits from what Robinson had to say.
Robinson talked about the differences from playing wide receiver to tight end: “As a receiver you kind of worry about your own spot. As a tight end you have to be more intertwined with the offensive line calls and the defense. I’m fortunate that I played quarterback all my life, and I kind of lean back on that knowledge. I use that to understand defensive fronts and line calls.”
Tight ends have to block, and that is something Robinson says he is working hard to improve: “I’m just learning technique from coach Clancy [Barone]. He’s done a helluva job teaching me how to get into the right position. To be honest with you, blocking is all heart and determination. So as long as you want to do it and work on your technique you’ll be sound.”
Robinson knows how to “box out” defenders from his basketball background. “I played basketball growing up a lot. It’s a mind game. My coach in college used to say ‘play the game within the game’ so if you understand where he’s going you know where you’ve got to get.”
He’s learned a lot from watching Julius Thomas go from a raw prospect with limited experience at tight end to a star in the NFL. “He’s definitely a good friend of mine. With the year that he had last year, there’s no question I ask him what he thinks about certain things. He’s taken me under his wing in the tight end room. With the basketball background that I have along with the football pedigree I’ve been raised in, I’m excited about this year.”
The Broncos have an eye for diamonds in the rough. Robinson is athletic enough to be a good move tight end at the pro level. Making the switch was the right decision for his future.
With Joel Dreessen’s $3.1 million price tag (with approximately $665,000 in dead money), there may be room for a new fourth-string tight end in Denver. If the Broncos let go of Dreessen due to injury concern or price tag, then Robinson could be next in line for that spot on the depth chart.
Even if Dreessen sticks around, Robinson may impress enough to beat the veteran out for a roster spot.
Robinson is an emerging talent who could be contributing on Sundays in the near future. There may also come a day when he’s catching passes from Osweiler once again.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. All transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com. All contract information provided by Spotrac.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.