Weight: 203 lbs.
High school: Inkster (MI) Inkster
Position: Quarterback, wide receiver
Jersey number: #12
Last year: I ranked Gardner #25 and said he would be the backup quarterback. He was 11/23 passing (47.8%) for 176 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. He also rushed 25 times for 53 yards (2.1 yards per carry) and 1 touchdown.
More so than in 2010, starting quarterback Denard Robinson avoided getting dinged up, which kept Gardner from having to take control of the team. Most crunch-time snaps that he took in 2011 were in Michigan's "Deuce" package, in which Gardner took snaps with Robinson at running back or wide receiver. There were some explosive plays with the duo on the field, but sometimes it seemed to get the offense out of rhythm. Gardner's passing and rushing numbers from last season were not impressive, and there were some times he made some inexplicable decisions. With all the recruiting hype and his early playing time in 2010, people expected better decision-making from Gardner. But it might be key to remember that Gardner should have been a redshirt freshman in 2011, and he was in his first year of a pro-style system. We should have expected that there would be growing pains; after all, Robinson had his own growing pains (including 15 interceptions), and that was after getting starting QB reps for the entire spring and pre-season.
As a junior in 2012, Gardner is expected to improve his decision-making at quarterback . . . and he will also be seeing some time at wide receiver. With the loss of three senior receivers, including the somewhat dynamic Junior Hemingway, Michigan is looking for a big-play guy. When Gardner plays receiver, he's automatically the best athlete at the position - a 6'4", leaping speedster. Otherwise, the receiving corps is small, slow, and/or inexperienced. It will be interesting to see whether Gardner can handle being the #2 quarterback and a contributing wide receiver. The playbook shouldn't be the issue (quarterbacks have to know the receivers' routes already, anyway), but the technique of his new position might pose a problem. If I'm an opposing defensive coordinator, I'm going to have my corners play press man coverage on Gardner and test whether he can handle the physicality of the position. I don't expect Gardner to suddenly become a 60% passer, and I don't expect him to immediately be a 1,000-yard receiver. However, I do think he has the potential to do either/both because of his physical talents. Gardner isn't the most important guy on the team because he might not start, but he should be a key backup in two spots and has the potential to be a darn good player.
Prediction: Backup quarterback and wide receiver; 25 receptions, 425 yards, 3 touchdowns