Sunday, February 17, 2013

Denard Robinson, #16

Denard Robinson's first snap - and first touchdown - of his career
2012 Season Countdown: #1 Denard Robinson

Robinson came from Deerfield Beach (FL) Deerfield Beach, which also produced Adrian Witty in that graduating class; Witty signed with Michigan but did not qualify academically.  Robinson, meanwhile, picked the Wolverines over offers from Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kansas State, Miami, Ohio State, and West Virginia; most schools wanted him as a cornerback except Florida, Kansas State, and Michigan.  He visited in early January and, despite the cold weather, committed to the Wolverines on National Signing Day.  Robinson was Rivals' #14 athlete and the #188 player in the country.

Robinson electrified Michigan Stadium on his first career snap, a play against Western Michigan in which he fumbled the shotgun snap, picked it up, sprinted around right end, split two defenders, and outraced everyone to the endzone for a 43-yard touchdown.  He finished the season 14/31 passing for 188 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions as fellow freshman Tate Forcier's backup.  He beat out Forcier by opening day 2010, earning the start against UConn and setting school records (soon to be shattered by himself) of 383 total yards and 197 rushing yards (most by a quarterback).  Including an exciting 87-yard touchdown, he rushed for 258 yards and passed for 244 yards in a win against Notre Dame, setting the school record of 502 total yards.  Robinson finished the season 182/291 passing for 2,570 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions; he also ran 256 times for 1,702 yards and 14 touchdowns.  As a junior in 2011 under new coach Brady Hoke, Robinson completed 142/258 passes for 2,170 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions; and he ran 221 times for 1,176 yards and 16 touchdowns.  His numbers declined once again as a senior, when Robinson completed just 89/167 of his passes for 9 touchdowns and 9 interceptions; he ran 177 times for 1,266 yards and 7 touchdowns; and he caught 3 passes for 31 yards.  The decline as a senior was especially apparent during a 4-interception, 1-fumble performance in a 13-6 loss to Notre Dame.  An elbow injury knocked him out of the eighth game of the season (Nebraska), causing him to miss the next two games and preventing him from throwing the ball for the rest of the season, except for 1 weak incompletion against South Carolina in the bowl game.  As a result, he played some quarterback but also spent time at running back and wide receiver.

427/747 passing (57.2%) for 6,250 yards, 49 touchdowns, and 39 interceptions; 723 carries for 4,495 yards (6.2 yards/carry) and 42 touchdowns; 3 receptions for 31 yards (10.3 yards/catch)

All-American RB, Big Ten MVP, Bo Schembechler Team MVP, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, All-Big Ten First Team in 2010; All-Big Ten Second Team, Bo Schembechler Team MVP in 2011; All-Big Ten Honorable Mention in 2012; first player to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 yards in a single season in 2010; set NCAA record for career rushing yards by a quarterback (4,495)

No player during the Rich Rodriguez era gave Michigan hope like Denard Robinson did.  The 2010 season was ridiculously exciting from an offensive point of view, because no one in football history had put up the numbers he did.  Fortunately for the program - and unfortunately for Robinson - Rodriguez was fired after that season, and Michigan hired Brady Hoke.  Robinson's numbers took a precipitous drop under Hoke, but the team went from 7-6 in Robinson's first year as a starter to 19-7 over his final two seasons.  I was never a fan of Robinson's quarterbacking skills, although it was impossible to dislike him as a runner.  He turned over the ball too much (5.2% of his passes ended up in the opponent's hands; fumbles were a problem) and, aside from a simplified passing attack in 2010, he completed too few of his passes (245/456 or 53.7%).  But the 43-yard run against Western Michigan, the two 80-plus yarders against Notre Dame in 2010, the 79-yarder against Air Force, the powerful 67-yard run against Ohio State in 2012 . . . all those and more were a joy to watch.  And he did it all with a smile on his face.  Despite being a flawed quarterback, he was perhaps the most exciting football player in Michigan history.

Robinson's chances of playing quarterback in the NFL are extremely slim, not just because of his flaws as a thrower, but because of his lack of size (he measured in at about 5'11" during Senior Bowl week).  He will have to play wide receiver or running back at the next level, and he has very little experience at either position.  As exciting as he was during his quarterback days at Michigan, his athleticism won't be quite as much of a mismatch at those positions.  Furthermore, his potential as a kickoff/punt returner might be limited by the fact that he has little experience there and could be a liability.  He will get drafted, but it would be a mistake to pick him higher than the third or fourth round, in my opinion.  If I were an NFL general manager, I would pick him as a running back, teach him how to pass block, and use him like the New Orleans Saints used Reggie Bush early in his career - as an outside runner and a receiver split out wide.  If he can add some bulk and become a reliable pass blocker, he might be able to develop into a full-time running back.


  1. I agree with your projection- Bush is a decent model for Denard, though Denard's pass-catching probably needs development. Chris Johnson, CJ Spiller, and Jamal Charles are other potential comparisons, as thinner backs. They'll need to bring him along a little slower than college RBs but he can play a useful role immediately as a ball carrier. I wouldn't trust him as a punt returner yet, but kickoff returner is low-difficulty. Fumbling may still be a problem to work on.

    As for college, I think you left out his impressive leadership. He clearly sacrificed personal accolades to stay, had to deal with scheme/coaching changes, and never complained about it. His teammates voted him a captain, which should be an 'award' IMO.

    He was very tough, often carrying the ball 20-30 times a game in addition to the typical QB hits. He was always a willing blocker and took the shared role with Gardner and eventual injury-induced move to RB with class. Who knows how many more injuries he had that weren't put out to the public.

    Leadership is something you can't put numbers to. It can be overblown by fans (ahem, Z.Novak), but Denard's sacrifice and dedication to the program stuck out to me just as much as his electric playmaking. Any narrative that focuses purely on his gaudy numbers and inconsistency as a passer is incomplete, IMO.

    Furthermore, I'd argue the leadership he exhibited helped set a tone in moving the program forward under Hoke. The character and work ethic and selflessness seems to be retained in these recent recruiting classes. Hoke will get most of the credit (and probably deserves it) but Denard's legacy goes beyond the numbers and will extend beyond 2009-2012.

  2. It's kinda sad to see his career stats and know they won't change, now. His time at Michigan was special.

  3. just a heads up, that picture was Denard's first snap at QB. He was split out wide and ran a reverse or two before.

  4. He was an All-American RB?