SI Andy Staples on Denard Transitioning to WR

Submitted by Marley Nowell on January 23rd, 2013 at 11:53 PM…


Robinson and his advisors have selected receiver, the position at which Kentucky's Randall Cobb and Indiana's Antwaan Randle El -- two ex-quarterbacks -- have thrived in the NFL. (Cobb also played some receiver at Kentucky.) But a wise deployment for Robinson might be more similar to the way the Vikings use Percy Harvin. Harvin can line up as a receiver, but he can also line up in the backfield. (He did this at Florida as well.) Robinson, whose elusiveness is similar to Harvin's, would work well in that role.



January 24th, 2013 at 12:00 AM ^

I agree Denard will be a Percy Harvin type player.  Just because he's choosing to be slotted as a WR at this point only means he has to pick a position group.  This is best, at WR he can show of his speed and elusiveness, but whichever team drafts him will be doing so because they see how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands and will find ways of doing it.  


January 24th, 2013 at 12:24 AM ^

he was seen lining up incorrectly and had to be moved by coaches to get him lined up correctly.  Denard continues to show that he is struggling to catch the ball cleanly and keeps fighting the ball.  His route running leaves a lot to be desired.  I question his motivation to elect on trying out only at WR instead of at both RB and WR.  RB is his best position considering that he has the vision and patience to find holes/cutback lanes.  Not every speedy player can be Harvin type. It takes a certain kind of player who can do it all naturally and Robinson haven't show it at WR.


January 24th, 2013 at 9:54 AM ^

In the NFL though running back is often a replacable cog in a machine with a career limited to 3 or 4 years due to the number of hits you take.  Denard being on the smaller end of things is going to be even more sensitive to those hits.  Whereas smaller WRs like Deion Branch have had long careers assuming they can keep their speed.  There is more longterm payoff to Denard learning to be a WR.  

Looking purely at it from a success in the NFL perspective, it might have been better for Denard to move over to playing like Percy Harvin in college and spend time developing his catching and his route running skills.  At this point he needs to convince NFL GMs that his speed makes him worth investing time in, versus taking a more polished WR who has proven hands and route running abilities.  


January 24th, 2013 at 3:09 PM ^

I think, especially as his chance at going early in the draft is essentially evaporating this week, the Denard probably suspects his best chance is to show off his speed and interest teams in him as a return man and a possible cheap alternative to a Harvin type player. And considering his injury, wideout gives him the best shot to show those skills off. 


January 24th, 2013 at 12:26 AM ^

I think Harvin is a best-case scenario. Denard is similar in that he will probably get some snaps in some sort of wild-cat/option scenario or in a jet sweep or just something out of the backfield. But, Harvin's been a receiver for a while and he just has those instincts that may be difficult for Denard to pick up. I just hope that he can get as healthy as he can as soon as possible. He's a guy who could be very effective in the right situation, but he could just as easily be wasted, IMO. 


January 24th, 2013 at 12:25 AM ^

Harvin type production is a lofty goal. I think he should try to be Dexter McCluster for starters. Percy is very good at what he does, and I'd imagine he's quite a bit stronger.


January 24th, 2013 at 8:42 AM ^

The bit about Randel El picking up the WR position quiker???  Denard has been doing this for 3 freaking days!  Randel El played some WR his senior year and at least had a bit of experience there.  Give the kid some reps.  It also wouldn't hurt if the QB would throw some catchable balls.


January 24th, 2013 at 9:59 AM ^

when they lost to... was it NC State (going off memory here) in the first game with hapless QB play, he moved back. So he actually got in vastly more study and reps at that position while in college than Denard has.


January 24th, 2013 at 3:12 PM ^

The hype, though, was that Denard's draft stock could rocket up to the second or third round if he could play right away. And he can't. So while it's totally understandable that he's not picking it up faster, it's not what NFL scouts and their ilk were hoping to see from him.


January 24th, 2013 at 1:28 AM ^

His athleticism is on display as good as ever, and you know he'll be able to beat even NFL CB's more often than not, but his hands seemed questionable. It'll take him a little while to develop those.

He'll get drafted, but better hands would put him in the second round. As it stands, he'll maybe be a third rounder.


January 24th, 2013 at 11:05 AM ^

I'm impressed that despite poor route running, he's able to get a good deal of separation from top CB prospects.  Goes to show you, if you look at DG's struggles at route running, it takes time and it's not easy.  I know Denard will put in the work, he just needs a team that will take the chance.


January 24th, 2013 at 1:59 AM ^

Believe me when I say I was never on the "Denard is a great qb" bandwagon, and I'm not trying to make excuses for him but even the announcers in the videos admit that it is common knowledge Denard isn't 100% and is still suffering from the nerve injury. That being said, I don't expect him to make the transition to wr and become the second coming of Jerry Rice in terms of his hands right out of the gate. I just would tend to believe that a nasty nerve injury just might hinder your ability to secure the football.

Greg McMurtry

January 24th, 2013 at 2:31 PM ^

catching the ball and his routes are rounded off, but he's seriously bitching those corners on speed alone. The route running can easily be fixed. The hands, maybe. Definitely worth a shot in the draft.


January 24th, 2013 at 3:23 AM ^

That second video has Denard's height listed as 5'10"...that seems short.  I always knew that his listed height of 6'0 was a stretch, but I just assumed that he was 5'11".  Not that it's a big deal, because he obviously has a ton of talent, I just thought he looked a little taller than 5'10".


January 24th, 2013 at 7:15 AM ^

In a sense richrod was right in the Denard is best as a quarterback running a spread offense.  Unfortunately for denard he doesn't have the arm (right now at least, maybe not ever) to play quarterback at the next level.

As for wideout, dude doesn't seem to have the hands. 

As for running back, I think that is interesting but you can't start in the NFL if you can't block.

For me when he couldn't catch a punt or a kickoff that was the end of his NFL chances, I would be surprised if he goes before the 6th round or is even drafted.  I know we all love him but this 3rd round talk is ridiculous.



January 24th, 2013 at 8:16 AM ^

I think you've got a point. I've thought similar things before; I think you're basically at the pessimistic end of totally realistic.

But I think there are some things working in Denard's favor. Offensively, the culture of the NFL is changing and coaches seem to be a little more adventurous in their play design and calling. The success of Harvin and Cobb probably has a few extra eyes on Denard (not saying Denard has the skill set of either of those players, but their success is probably piquing coaches' interest in players like Denard). Denard is basically a high ceiling guy right now; the knock on him is his lack of reps at WR, but he has the raw ability, experience at QB, and even experience at RB. Finally, for what it's worth, the guy is a positive press machine.

I can't see a way for him to be a feature player, at either RB or WR, but there's a non-zero chance that he can be a very important and successful utility player.

But in the end, unfortunately, I think you're definitely still in the realm of the very possible with your much more bearish take on Denard's chances in the draft.


January 24th, 2013 at 12:11 PM ^

Bearish.   a Bull is optimistic... Think Merrill Lynch's logo, or the bull on wall street.

I agree- he is a high ceiling guy (just like when he was at QB, he had a higher ceiling than did Tate.)  He's had a handful of snaps at a new position competing against top level competition. Look at DG, he struggled at the very same thing (route running).

My guess is, if you think DR will be drafted early, you're probably in for a surprise.  However, i think late enough, DR could wind up being a steal, especially for football teams that are good at building players up.  With coaching and experience, he could be a great asset for a football team.


January 24th, 2013 at 8:35 AM ^

But it's not about whether we give him the benefit of the doubt, the issue is whether NFL teams are willing to take a player with some question marks and potential, but also with little experience at the position he'll be playing in the league. And it's not like the NFL is known for being a risk-taking league.

Someone will give him a chance, and I feel pretty good about Denard taking advantage of that chance. But I don't think it's crazy to think 2nd round talk is a little overblown. I could realistically see him going anywhere from the 3rd to 7th round. I hope I'm wrong and he goes in the 2nd, though.


January 24th, 2013 at 9:03 AM ^

One of the pro-Michigan guys on twitter linked to a scouting report yesterday (sorry, can't find/remember the link) that had Denard going in the last round based on his Senior Bowl week.  Due to his nebulous positioning and upcoming learning curve, it sounds about right.  That said, it's possible that a team with more riches could take a risk with an earlier pick (3-5th?) and take the time to let him learn from the bench.  Either that, or the Lions could draft him with their first pick because they're the Lions.


January 24th, 2013 at 9:24 AM ^

I think you really hit on a big part of this, regarding the "nebulous positioning and upcoming learning curve." Basically, no one really knows what Denard will be doing in the NFL, so he's kind of stuck not being able to learn it right now (not that he has a ton of time, anyway). Any team taking him has to then first figure out what they want him to do then he has to learn it. It's a pretty big project for a 2nd or 3rd round pick.

Who knows, maybe Chip Kelly will take him as a first step toward Oregon-ing the Eagles or Belichick will get antsy about his 4 TE formations and want a smaller, quicker guy.

Todd Plate's n…

January 24th, 2013 at 8:23 AM ^

Why I'm not too worried he'll find a spot, somewhere, eventually:  the reports are not shocking thus far, they sound a lot like they are about a guy who has never played the position he is now working out against NFL level talent against.  The few highlights above where he "dropped" passes, well they were shitty passes.  He is fighting an injury that causes numbness in one of his hands, one of only two hands he currently uses to try and catch the ball...again, something he has never had to do even when healthy.  He is fast, but that alone of course does not mean much, he is fast and knows how to run with the football in his hands.  He follows/sets up blockers well, finds creases and can cut at full speed (this was the catalyst for Devin Gardner telling him, "you're the best football player i've ever seen").  He is a zero-risk draftee in terms of character.  

I'm holding out some judgement until the game on Saturday.  Not necessarily to see how he performs, but more so to see how he is used.  This may give some indication as to how teams see him in the NFL, because we know and they know he is not a pure WR prospect. 

In or out of professional football, the young man has a bright future. 


January 24th, 2013 at 10:18 AM ^

A lot of that can be alleviated with better route running skills. Part of it is muscle memory as well. He still looks to be relatively upright with his weight a bit far back away from his feet but I think as he learns how to run these routes, he will fix this. Maybe after the catch when he's reacting more, as he did as a QB, he regresses and stumbles, but I expect him to run much cleaner routes at least. 



January 24th, 2013 at 11:20 AM ^

when he would come around the corner trying to get upfield, his feet would come out from under him. i am pretty sure that the play he hurt his elbow on was a slip and fall - i will check.

[edit - i checked and he did slip on that play, but then took a couple steps before the elbow. also, i was reminded of bellomy's performance in that game and can't imagine gardner would have been worse.]


January 24th, 2013 at 9:50 AM ^

...I was amazed at how good of a receiver Harvin was in the NFL from the jump.  I just don't think Denard ever gets to that level.  A faster Julian Edelman (who was also a college QB, IIRC) seems like a better comp; not just a slot, but some sort of slot/RB/PR combo that sees him get seven-ish touches per game.


January 24th, 2013 at 10:09 AM ^

I don't think he gets to that level, either. Harvin was such a dynamic athlete in high school, especially at wide receiver, it wasn't surprising to see him pick up full-time WR so quickly. I was actually more impressed with the way he was used at Florida. But, I agree that there are certain things that Harvin has been used to at least practicing for going on 10 years now that Denard will have to pick up some of before he's anything like the natural WR that Harvin is. 


January 24th, 2013 at 10:35 AM ^

Denard does things you cannot coach.  If I'm a team with no major holes, I'm looking at him as a guy who is a project as far as blocking and route running but who can bring things to my team that few can...My fantasy is either that he joins RGIII in D.C. (though Washington has major holes to fill on defense) or Chip Kelly in Philly, who presumably has the imagination to use him well. 


January 24th, 2013 at 10:37 AM ^

I understand why everyone thinks Denard's natural NFL role is at WR/slot (along w/returner, obviously) -- the Randle-El/Cobb comparisons, the idea of getting him the ball in space, etc. But I hope some scouts/team will push Denard to give RB a serious try. Some posters above dismissed this option b/c of Denard's size/build.  Now is he a 25-carry/game guy in the NFL? No. But what makes Denard so dangerous with the ball isn't just his track speed -- it's his vision, his cuts, and his patience to set up his blocks & then accelerate through the hole, as well as his toughness. If I'm an NFL team making an investment in DR as a draft pick, I think I get more immediate contributions from him as a 10-touch/game RB along w/returning kicks, instead of having him ride pine for 2-3 years while he tries to learn WR.

This piece from Rotoworld a couple months back made a great case for using Denard as a RB in the NFL:


When I watch Robinson run (and the way Michigan uses him), I can't help but think his best role would be to start out as a returner and as a situational running back. He's listed at just 6'0/197 pounds, but has a thickly built lower body. The Michigan offense has taught him to make the same types of reads NFL runningbacks are taught. He's totaled over 200 carries the last two seasons, and he was the entire foundation of their run game in 2010 - totaling 256 attempts for 1702 yards (6.6 YPC) and 14 touchdowns. He has a tendency to get upright, but he's a tough and patient inside runner who reads and sets his blocks up well, hits cutback lanes with authority, and has the speed to do damage in space.

[...]  Make no mistake though, he's absolutely electric with the ball in his hands. Should he play some snaps at receiver or get involved in some gadget plays? Sure, but I think it'd be criminal to ask this kid to consistently line up away from the ball, run around, and then try and throw it to him. Give him the ball, don't make him go get it. 

The main question as to whether Denard can consistently get snaps at runningback in the NFL is going to come down to one main thing: whether or not he can pass protect - a completely unprojectable factor at this point. If blocking is something he picks up on, I think he'll eventually develop into a real weapon as a committee running back/returner/space player. If he can't do that, however, it's likely he'll be relegated strictly to returns, Bubble Screens, and the occasional Jet Sweep.



January 24th, 2013 at 11:34 AM ^

A lot of people acknowledge that he can be a good runningback for all the reasons you mention, but a lot of people are thinking from a longevity perspective as well. I think a lot of people look at his build and at what other QB's have done and say that WR is the best spot, but we've seen that he has great running skills besides being fast that would make him a potential weapon in the running game. 

But, there should be caution for him at RB as well, not just for durability issue, but because runningback is simply a different position, even from the running perspective. If we're going to be nit-picky, Denard does have a tendency to dance at times. His skills at RB were best observed, IMO, in the inside running game, but I do question whether he'd be an effective off-tackle runner. I think he could be effective as a zone runner, but who knows.Either way, I think he has runningback skills, but people are concerned about his longevity.


January 24th, 2013 at 11:07 AM ^

Denard will have some time to improve his WR skills in the months leading up to the draft and most likely run a fast 40 time at the combine. Some team will take a chance on him in the early rounds. I know everyone remember Armanti Edwards or maybe you've blocked that name from memory. Anyways, he was a 3rd pick a couple of years ago and that's about where I expect Denard to go. As a Packer fan I would love for them to take Denard and have Cobb show him the ropes.