Devin Gardner has two years left at Michigan.
However, if he plays up to the level that he’s capable of in 2013, he may not need the extra year granted via medical redshirt—2013 could end up being his final show in college.
He didn’t even see 200 snaps at quarterback this past fall for the Michigan Wolverines, but he made the most of his opportunity with 1,129 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and a 9.7-yards-per-completion rate.
As Denard Robinson’s fill-in, Gardner led Michigan to a 3-1 regular-season finish. And despite a 33-28 Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina, Gardner found a way to throw three touchdowns, complete half of his passes and put up 214 yards through the air against a formidable SEC secondary.
He also led the Big Ten with a rating of 161.7.
Since the conclusion of his junior year, Gardner has been compared to a handful of mobile quarterbacks. The prototype of the new, uber-athletic NFL signal-caller seems to be the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, whom Gardner was loosely compared to.
The similarities are definitely there, but there are others, like former Kansas State star Collin Klein, who have skills from a similar genetic pool. Names being thrown around and side-to-side measurements are bound to happen any time a guy stands about 6’5”, moves well in and out of the pocket and makes plays with his feet and arm.
(For what it’s worth, Klein has been compared to Tim Tebow and Robinson—all in the eye of the beholder, right?)
If anything, Kaepernick has proven naysayers wrong about the mobile NFL quarterback: They can excel given the proper circumstances.
Gardner has defied critics and is on the verge of becoming a more nationally known college player this fall. He’s already been in early Heisman Trophy discussions; Big Ten Player of the Year or another high honor surely awaits him.
With a little West Coast-inspired offense and an increased familiarity with the Wolverines playbook, Gardner could very well have a 2,500-yard season through the air. He won’t run nearly as much as Robinson, Klein or Kaepernick did, though. Coordinator Al Borges will have Gardner under center 70 percent of the time.
If guys like Kaepernick are en vogue, then a breakout season might be the only thing separating Gardner from interested pro scouts. One year, that’s it.
What Would Michigan Do Without Gardner?
Shane Morris (2013) and Wilton Speight (2014), both 4-star recruits, look to be Michigan’s future at quarterback. There is a possibility that Russell Bellomy lives up to his 3-star billing and gives the Wolverines three solid options for the next three years.
Michigan is serious about quarterbacks. If Gardner left a year early, he’d leave the Wolverines without an experienced presence under center. But then again, the Wolverines don’t really have an “experienced” quarterback to pin their hopes to at the moment.
If Gardner does have the breakout season that some expect, a jump to the NFL is possible. There would be an adjustment period, obviously, but that’s why this is the fall for Michigan to really get Morris ready for his soon-to-be role.
Kind of Like Kaepernick
Kaepernick had a great 2012. There are no guarantees that he’ll do that again this fall, but he took the NFL world and turned it on its head as one of the league’s most exciting athletes. His style can flourish in the NFL, and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh runs an offense similar to the one Borges implements at Michigan.
That system has made Kaepernick a star in the pros and could lead to immense success for Gardner at the college level—and beyond.
Kaepernick was a 2,500-passing-yard, 1,000-rushing-yard threat for four years. Gardner hasn’t even shown that he can make it through a complete season as a starting quarterback, let alone put up consistently gaudy stats.
However, that doesn’t mean that Gardner couldn’t have done that; he was behind Robinson, one of college football’s greatest all-around playmaking threats. That’s the hand he was dealt.
NFL scouts have taken gambles on one-year wonders time and time again. The market could be in Gardner’s favor in 2014; the 2013 NFL quarterback class isn’t much to write home about.
This year, don’t expect 2,500 and 1,000 from Gardner. Being under center for seven of 10 plays isn’t conducive for spread-running numbers. A year in a less-spready offense and continuation of 2012 could propel Gardner to the NFL.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football lead writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81