Better to receive than pass

Robinson's NFL future almost certainly depends on a switch of positions

Updated: May 20, 2012, 5:42 PM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A year from now, Denard Robinson will be starting his career in the NFL. At what position, though, is a mystery, one that likely won't be solved until after this college football season.

While it is a logical given that Robinson will not be playing quarterback at the next level -- his combination of size and passing skills do not mesh well with the NFL -- there are many other places he could land.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesDenard Robinson has demonstrated speed and elusiveness, but can he catch passes or return kicks?
Wide receiver. Slot receiver. Cornerback. Punt/kick returner.

"At the end of the day, you don't know where Robinson is going to fit in," ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. told WolverineNation. "I say wide receiver because it has happened a number of times in the past to allow you to think that could happen. He may also be a defensive back. One of those two spots, otherwise he's not going to play in the NFL.

"If he can't play wide receiver, slot receiver and return man and if he can't play in the secondary then all he is is a wildcat quarterback, which doesn't bring a lot of value."

Many high school and college quarterbacks -- Antwaan Randle El, Brad Smith, Matt Jones and Josh Cribbs are some recent examples -- have made the transition Robinson inevitably will, but he has to be willing to do so.

Pat White, the former West Virginia star whose all-time quarterback rushing record Robinson is chasing this season, did not want to transition to another position, Kiper Jr. said. White lasted less than two full seasons in the NFL.

What makes Robinson an intriguing prospect -- Kiper Jr. has him as the fifth-best senior wide receiver on his 2013 draft board -- is the speed and elusiveness he has shown throughout his college career. In his first three seasons, he has rushed 3,229 yards and 35 touchdowns. He has also completed 338 of 580 passes for 4,931 yards, 40 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.

Playing quarterback, though, gives NFL teams no idea of whether Robinson has the skills necessary to make a position transition. Can he catch the ball? Can he field and judge punts or kicks? Can he tackle?

These are questions that will likely go unanswered until at least mid-January. Robinson is not expected to play anywhere but quarterback this season for Michigan.

While it could help Robinson's future to play other positions in his final season in maize and blue, it's highly unlikely.

"The issue there is winning football games," Kiper Jr. said. "If you think about this Michigan team, Denard is a great college quarterback.

"You're getting the value out of them in college, you're winning games in college and you don't want him taking the snap from anywhere but under center or shotgun or whatever it is. You want him to be a quarterback. You don't want to move him around and do other things because it's not in your best interest to win football games."

This doesn't mean Robinson could be hurting himself in his pro potential. While Kiper Jr. said placing him at receiver is just "a projection," he saw Randle El, who played in the Big Ten at Indiana, perform well as a receiver and returner during the Senior Bowl week after his final college season.

The performance convinced scouts he could handle the role in professional football and he became a second-round pick.

So while Robinson's future will be debated over the next season, the answer won't be known for a while. Until that point, anything about Robinson's pro career is merely an educated guess.

"You know he's going to be a great college quarterback and at the end of the day we'll see what he can do either during the college all-star games or the NFL combine or his pro day to see if he can do other things," Kiper Jr. said. "It's wait and see."

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter