Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Take Two: Denard Robinson's NFL future
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
Denard Robinson will have to improve a lot if he wants to become an NFL-caliber receiver.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
The Senior Bowl wrapped up this past weekend, and one player drew more attention than all the others. So Today's Take Two topic is this: What does the NFL future hold in store for Michigan's Denard Robinson?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
Robinson had his share of struggles in Alabama last week as he attempted to make the transition to receiver. He had some drops in practice and didn't run the crispest routes. In the Senior Bowl game, he caught two passes for 21 yards and had one rushing attempt that lost three yards. But anyone expecting Robinson to shine in that setting was being far too optimistic. For one thing, "Shoelace" was really playing full-time receiver for the first time, though he did get some reps there in the Wolverines' final few games of the season. For another, he was still playing through an arm injury that forced him to move away from quarterback in the stretch run of 2012.
NFL scouts shouldn't view Robinson's performances last week as what they will be drafting. He's got three months between now and draft day to work on honing his skills at receiver. What pro scouts should focus on is Robinson's unbelievable athleticism and playmaking skills. After all, the guy ran for 100 yards against a stout South Carolina defense in the Outback Bowl while playing an unfamiliar position. You can teach him how to run routes; you can't teach his speed and instincts.
I see no reason why Robinson can't have the same type of NFL career as another former athletic Big Ten quarterback: Antwaan Randle El. They are both nearly identical in size, and Randle El became a valuable receiver/returner/trick-play artist at the next level. In fact, given the NFL's recent embrace of more college-style spread offense concepts, Robinson could prove to be a very dangerous weapon when used in the backfield, the slot and perhaps even occasionally as a change-of-pace quarterback for his next team. It will just take the right team to recognize and utilize those skills.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
The Randle El comparison is a good one, and if Robinson goes on to mirror Randle El’s career, his future employer(s) would be pretty happy. But you mention NFL teams needing to recognize Robinson’s skills. It’s really up to Robinson to show them he has skills besides great speed and athleticism. The Scouts Inc. crew wrote that Robinson’s Senior Bowl week is merely a baseline for him. I completely agree. He’ll certainly need to improve to boost his draft stock, but the guy played quarterback/running back at Michigan and never regularly caught passes.
My concern is whether Robinson can supplement his NFL-ready speed with other skills because if he doesn’t, he won’t succeed at the next level. There have been a lot of fast guys, a lot of great athletes, who don’t have the position-specific skills to succeed in the NFL and are never heard from again. As a Chicago Bears fan, I’ve lived through the Devin Hester experiment. Now if Robinson becomes the return man Hester is/was, he’ll be fine in the NFL. But the Bears tried to make Hester a wide receiver because of his speed. It hasn’t worked because he lacked the other skills necessary to be a starting NFL receiver.
That’s the challenge Robinson faces as he learns a new position. How good are his hands? How disciplined is his route-running? We know the guy can grasp offenses after starting for two and a half seasons at Michigan. I agree with you that Robinson’s quarterback roots could get him on the field for a few plays, and if he improves as a returner, he could definitely have a future on special teams. But he wants to be an every-down player, and right now, he has a long way to go.