Saturday, February 25, 2012

Big Ten Blog: Denard at #16

Denard Robinson is #16 on the field, #1 in my heart* and then at #16 again on the Big Ten Blog's list of the top 25 players of 2011. Maybe it's just my heart getting in the way, but I'd rank him higher than that. Bennett and Rittenberg talk about Robinson's playmaking ability and fortitude in overcoming a mid-year staph infection but also say that his receivers "bailed him out" while citing a "heroic" Michigan defense. Robinson has led the Big Ten in total offense for two consecutive years.



  1. Judging on who they've ranked so far, I'm willing to bet they're putting S&%*#haase above Denard, which will cause me to email them a head-slap.

  2. I actually agree about the receivers bailing him out. They came down with a lot of jump balls this season. See 4th quarter vs ND.

    1. I'm all for giving the receivers their well-earned due on those plays, but Denard's legs put them in a lot of one-on-one/favorable matchups throughout the season as well.

    2. Excellent point Andrew. This wasn't an especially strong receiving corps for Michigan in terms of talent. WRs SHOULD frequently win 1-on-1 jump ball matchups, and they did. It was clearly part of Michigan's strategy to take advantage of defenses stacking against the run. The jump-ball plays were high variance, but high reward. Part of the team strategy, not one player 'bailing out' another, after a screw-up (okay, maybe a couple of them were, but not all).

      Especially when you consider that it wasn't just one guy (though Hemingway did do the bulk of damage on these plays), but Roundtree and Gallon grabbed a few themselves despite being smaller guys.

      It's probably true that Borges would have rather called lower variance plays if he had a more accurate passer (i.e. Denard's limitations forced suboptimal play-calling), but that fact is offset by his ability to force safeties into the box.

      And finally, let's give Denard some credit for throwing catchable jump balls. Everyone credits Roundtree for a great catch against, but Denard did put the ball in a perfect spot for him, and did well to be patient and see Gallon the play before. Yes, the WRs deserve the bulk of the play-making credit on those plays, but they weren't alone.

  3. Well, your partner at TTB recommended a position change and said about Denard: "He's not good. That's putting it bluntly, but it's true." and "He's bad. He's horrible at throwing the ball." This is in November, with most of the season already completed. If even Michigan fans are calling him a bad player at his position... well, 16 is probably too high for a more neutral observer. Thunder's unrelenting criticism wasn't a total outlier. Plenty of people still have their doubts and focus on his limitations instead of his positive traits.

    For many people, 'the expectation is for the position'. If you don't fit the prototype there are going to be doubts. Until Denard demonstrates the consistency and accuracy that are expected of conventional quarterbacks, the criticisms will remain. In general, it's difficult to rank things that don't fit a traditional framework.

    I side with you though...16 is crazy low. To me, the criticisms of Denard's passing is like knocking Barry Sanders for his negative carries, Kobe for his low efficiency, or Ichiro for his lack of homeruns. Valid critiques, but they miss the big picture. This offense was almost entirely dependent on Denard and he was given a great deal of responsibility. When he struggled, it was very obvious.

    1. I have never said that Denard Robinson should change positions in college.

    2. Like you said, it's difficult to rank people/things that don't fit into a traditional framework. It would be one thing if Rittenberg and Bennett were ranking position groups and they had certain expectations/criteria for each position (i.e. completion %, TD-Int ratio). But since they're ranking the top 25 players, it seems hard to justify putting a player at #16 who has led the Big Ten in total offense two years in a row.

      Also, it's very obvious that Thunder isn't too down on Denard. He just ranked him #3 in his list of the Top Five Wolverines of 2011, behind Hoke (#1) and Mattison and in front of Mike Martin (#4).

    3. @Andrew

      Again, I agree with you. The production SHOULD speak for itself, but it's clear that for a significant number of people - including Thunder, it's not enough for people to consider him an elite QB.


      Actually you did, just over a year ago:

      "So here are the steps I was suggesting Michigan should take:

      1. Prepare Gardner to be the starter.
      2. Bring in a freshman or two and see if they can handle being the backup.
      3. Move Denard to RB or WR. Create a package for him to be the "Wildcat QB" or just let him get a few reps at QB in case of an emergency. And if people get hurt ahead of him, he could always move back to QB in a Paul Thompson (ex-Oklahoma QB/WR) or Justin Siller (Purdue QB/RB) type of way."

    4. I suggested that Michigan prepare to move Robinson. I think that's a key difference. Michigan has not been in a situation where they could afford to move Robinson away from quarterback due to a lack of depth at the QB position. So it's been a moot point all along. Michigan honestly might have been better off in 2010 with Forcier at QB and Robinson at RB, since Vincent Smith et al. were ineffective at RB. But without a backup other than the true freshman Devin Gardner (who was "hurt"), that would have been a bad move.

      Michigan also might have been slightly better in 2011 with Robinson at, say, slot receiver and Forcier at quarterback. However, obviously Forcier was gone, Gardner was mediocre, and Bellomy was a true freshman. So once again, depth didn't allow for the move.

      Did I suggest that Robinson move positions down the road? Yes. Mel Kiper and other NFL analysts have deemed him an unlikely NFL quarterback, and it seems Robinson will have to make the transition from QB to WR/RB once he gets to the NFL instead of in college. But did I ever think that a move to another position was possible in college? No. He's been the quarterback and I've supported him staying at the position, given the situation.

    5. Of course it is a moot point, as the past is in the past and Denard is going to stay at QB because he's proven to be an excellent player there... but it seems like you're trying to change your story. It's okay to change your mind and all, but you said what you said. Anyone is who makes publicly-available opinions, and is willing to take provocative stances, is going to be wrong sometimes. No shame in that. My point is simply to say that a lot people have doubted, and will continue to doubt Denard or any other player that doesn't fit a traditional mold.

      You explicitly suggested he should be moved from QB. This wasn't a 'down-the-road' suggestion, and considering Denard was entering his Junior year, there's not exactly tons of time. You clearly meant 2011. You clearly recommended he change positions. You wrote "If he can't recruit someone for the class of 2011 and Tate Forcier doesn't return, then Denard surely has to stay at quarterback.", but they DID recruit a QB (Bellomy). So you had Gardner, Bellomy, and (per your suggestion) Denard available as a backup/emergency option. That's thin, but not debilitating.

      If the coaches took your advice, took the ball out of the hands of by far their best offensive threat (and probably marginalizing Toussaint as well), I think it's incredibly unlikely this team was 11-2. With the benefit of hindsight, we know keeping him at QB was the right decision.

      It obviously was not obvious that Gardner was mediocre at that time. You recommended he be the primary QB. And anyway, 'mediocre' is better than 'bad', which you called Robinson mid-season.

      I get the argument that Denard's professional career would benefit from a position-change. I don't agree, but there are valid points to be made. But as for Michigan football, in 2011, it seems obvious that Denard at QB was the best option, by far.

    6. If you go back and read the post, it was also a time when it was unclear whether Forcier would return (which I mentioned as an option in the post) and I also said that the coaches should bring in a quarterback or two and see if they could be the backup. Forcier did not return, the coaches brought in a middling 3-star recruit (who has potential but was not the type who would be ready to play as a freshman), and therefore at no point did I think Robinson should have been moved. It was an "If X happens and if X happens, then I think he should move." X and X did not happen.

  4. I have to agree with Lankownia on this one.

    3500 total yards with everybody scheming like crazy for him, twenty or so carries a game from the QB position, Denard carried this team.

    Without Denard Robinson the 2011 Wolverines don't sniff anywhere near 11-2.

    Sure, everybody hated 15 picks, but to say "At his worst, he was a liability to his team." is nonsense.

    Every coach in the Big Ten would give their left testicle for a liability like Denard.

    Except for Dantonio who'd cheerfully swap an ovary.

    Fitz had a very nice season, but without everybody scheming like crazy for Denard, he had lots of advantages.

  5. No way there are 15 players in the Big 10 better than Dernard. I am not blind to his shortcomings, but I submit the esteemed ESPN bloggers have dramatically undervalued both his production and his intangibles. Two years he led the conference in yardage. Enough said about numbers. At some point in the analysis of the "top" 15 players they will no doubt offer some nonsense about that player's statistics not fully reresenting their importance to their team. I would argue that Denard's numbers, as good as they are, do not fully represent how imortant he was to our beloved Wolverines last year. #16 . . . Hah!

    1. I probably agree that there aren't 15 better players than Denard Robinson in the Big Ten, but I will say that Greg Mattison stated that Mike Martin was the best player on the team in 2011. Could that be because Martin was a defensive player and Mattison is the DC? Possibly. But it's also possible that the coaches look at Denard's turnovers, decision making, and inaccuracy and see how badly that hurt the team.

      Last year I ranked Martin as the #1 player in my 2011 Season Countdown, because defense was so much more important to this season's turnaround than offense. Mattison seems to agree with me.

      I do think that some people undervalue Robinson, but I also think some people undervalue guys like Martin because he doesn't play a glamour position.

  6. The problem is that ever since the 2010 Mich State game teams have had a ready made blueprint on how to stop Sensed. Go hard at the run and blatantly dare him to kill you with his passing and, wth a very few exceptions, he just hasn't. " trash tornado" or not he actually did worse in this years Mich StateState game (enough so that Spartan fans are bragging that they'll hold Michigan under 10 next season)

    1. Spartan fans generally don't know much about anything. It's gotten to the point where I don't automatically root for State when they're not playing Michigan any more, and I fully blame their fan base.

      Denard really came into his own in the second half of last season, and he's capable of utterly taking over a game both on the ground and in the air. People who think he won't be a force next year either don't watch sports or are just drunk all the time.