Senior Bowl in Review: Denard Robinson

Studying for the GRE and finish up a few of these grad school applications have really been eating into my time, and I have hardly any time to post anything meaningful here, and so I elected to just put it off until I got the free time.  Hopefully now that it’s all taken care of I’ll have more time to devote here.

The Senior Bowl is always a huge week for the NFL.  Tons of scouts and coaches show up to get a chance to check out the top Senior College football players in the country.  Sometimes players make the strange decision to not go, usually they’re told it won’t help their stock, and sometimes it’s due to injury.  Personally, unless you’re injured I think you should go.  I mean hell, Denard Robinson showed up to play a position he had never played before when he wasn’t 100% healthy.  He wasn’t even cleared for contact his first two days there.

Denard was obviously one of the most intriguing players there and he was under the microscope the whole week.  He performed below expectations, according to some NFL Scouts, and dropped his stock from the 3rd-4th round to the 6th-7th round.  Quite honestly I’m not sure how this can be the case.  Yes, he struggled at his first attempt as a full-time receiver, but how could you expect otherwise?  There was almost zero chance he was going to go out there and dominate.  He had trouble fielding kickoffs and punts, which was to be expected.  Fielding punts is one of the toughest things to do, and it’s not as though he has been doing it his whole life.

There were some questions raised about his hands and with some numbness still in two of his fingers on his right hand, I’m not surprised he dropped some passes.  He did look uncomfortable at times running routes, almost as if he was over-thinking things, which also isn’t unexpected.  He did do a very good job of getting separation during one-on-one drills.  There were a few times in practice when he ran an out-and-up route and absolutely blew the doors off the corner that was covering him.  It’s not going to be a natural fit and it’s going to be a work in progress, but he showed that his athleticism can allow him to create space.  He showed that he can take hits against a stout defense in the Outback Bowl when he lined up at runningback, and so teams won’t worry about his toughness.  It’s just going to be the technical aspect of running his routes with more fluidity and that will come with more practice.  There’s not a lot you can expect out of a guy who is changing positions.  Teams are just afraid he will end up like Armanti Edwards, the quarterback from Appalachian State, who has had a rough go of it at wide receiver for Carolina.  Everyone hopes he will be more like Antwaan Randle El, who flourished as a receiver and a punt returner in the NFL after being a stud dual-threat QB at Indiana.  I see him as a more athletic Randle El, who will get touches at runningback, and probably won’t have as many receptions as Randle El did.

In the game, he had 2 catches on 2 targets for 22 yards, and 1 rush for -3 yards on an end-around that he didn’t get very good blocking on.  He also dropped his only chance at a kickoff return, which was obviously disappointing.  I think that once he goes to the combine and has his pro day, provided he is healthy, he can move back up the board.  I just don’t see him falling to the 6th round, strictly because of his athleticism.  A team like the Patriots, Falcons, Packers, 49ers, etc, will be willing to take a risk on him and draft him before he gets anywhere near that.  They will see his athleticism and you can’t teach speed.  I am still a firm believer that he will go anywhere from the end of the 2nd round to the 3rd round.

The big key for him is to really work on getting healthy.  Because if he shows up to the Combine and they perform all of the medical tests on him and he doesn’t pass all of them, it won’t matter how fast he runs.  In that scenario if the nerve damage in his elbow isn’t all the way healed then teams are going to be less inclined to take a risk on his raw receiving skills and sheer athleticism.  Because as much as his skills would be a huge asset to any offense in whatever capacity he can get the ball, without a clean bill of health, his assets will be diminished.  Obviously a huge key to staying in the NFL is staying healthy, and if you can’t get on the field then you’re going to have a hard time making a roster.  Unfortunately, nerve damage is very tricky to deal with.  Worst case scenario is he gets drafted later than he should and a team will put him on the Injured Reserve after training camp or the preseason so that they can keep him with the team. It would give him a full year to recover from his injury and continue to learn the wide receiver position and how to return kicks and punts.

That being said, he was cleared for contact for the last practice at the Senior Bowl and he played in the game, so I think that he will end up being fine health-wise by the time the Combine comes around on February 21st.  He’s too athletic to not make it to the NFL and get a shot.  You can teach him the receiver position, you can’t teach anyone to run and move like he can.

If I’m an NFL team, when it comes to using him, I’m a huge advocate for giving him at least 5 carries a game from the runningback position.  A lot like what the Detroit Lions tried to do with Stefan Logan.  Despite Logan being awful, he returned kicks, punts, and got the occasional carry.  I think if you give Denard 10-15 touches a game, that he will not only stay healthy, but he will add a dynamic to the offense that no one else could.  Give him time, and he’s going to catch on and be a real asset in the NFL.

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