Weight: 210 lbs.
High school: Detroit (MI) Inkster
Class: Redshirt junior
Jersey number: #12
Last year: I ranked Gardner #25 and said he would be a backup quarterback and wide receiver with 25 catches for 425 yards and 3 touchdowns. He started games at wide receiver and quarterback, finishing with 16 catches for 266 yards and 4 touchdowns; 75/126 passing for 1,219 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions; and 47 carries for 101 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Last year was a very odd year for quarterbacks at the University of Michigan. The starter, of course, was Denard Robinson, a better runner than passer. Robinson hit Gardner on a 44-yard touchdown pass in the season opener against Alabama. A week later Gardner caught 5 passes for 63 yards and 1 touchdown against Air Force. Then 2 catches for 48 yards and 1 touchdown against UMass. So on and so forth. He was putting up decent numbers as a receiver, despite looking like a quarterback playing receiver - sloppy routes, some awkward catch attempts, poor body positioning. He was perhaps the best Michigan had at the position, yet he was out of his element. Then Robinson hurt his elbow in the first half of the Nebraska game, and Russell Bellomy entered with a thud. The following week, Gardner - who had apparently stopped taking snaps at quarterback during his WR tenure - started against Minnesota, where he went 12/18 for 234 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus a rushing score. That was followed by the Northwestern game, in which he went went 16/29 for 288 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus 47 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground; that earned him Co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. He earned that honor again the following week with an 18/23 performance for 314 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus 37 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. The Ohio State and South Carolina games weren't quite as productive, but he still performed adequately for being inexperienced when thrust into the position. Expectations skyrocketed, and this spring and summer, observers started to talk about how good he looked and how much he had grown at the position. People even started to suggest that he could leave early for the NFL after the 2013 season.
Here comes that 2013 season, and people around the country are looking at Gardner as a potential breakout star. His favorite target last year was Jeremy Gallon, who returns primed for a big year and wearing the #21 Legends jersey. Unfortunately, the guy expected to start across from Gallon (Amara Darboh) is out for the season after foot surgery. There aren't many other proven targets on the roster, aside from senior slot receiver Drew Dileo and sophomore tight end Devin Funchess. One potential breakout receiver is redshirt freshman wideout Jehu Chesson, who should soak up some of Darboh's vacated targets. Good quarterbacks can sometimes make mediocre receivers look good, too, and hopefully that's the case this season. Gardner was on pace last season for well over 3,000 yards passing and to be an elite passer nationally. If he can find another consistent target, Gardner could race Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Northwestern's Kain Colter for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year; he could also make a case to be the top quarterback in the nation if things fall just right. I don't think Michigan has the talent at wideout to earn him national accolades, but I'm guessing NFL scouts will like what they see.
Prediction: Starting quarterback; 63% completions, 3200 yards passing, 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions; Second Team All-Big Ten