Denard Robinson has been, and will continue to be, a polarizing figure in Michigan Wolverines football lore.
The former Golden Boy of former coach Rich Rodriguez, Robinson was the lone star during a dreadful three-year span in which Michigan football was at its worst.
Perhaps out of loyalty, or just the fact that he was more familiar with the playbook, Robinson retained the reins of the offense once Rodriguez was ousted and Brady Hoke was hired in 2011. Now, two years later, the man that was either loved or hated by Wolverines followers stares down an NFL career.
On Thursday, the 2013 NFL Draft begins. And while Robinson—rather, “Shoelace”—probably won’t be picked until the late rounds, the fact that he’s one of the most talked about prospects in this year’s draft speaks volumes to his character, mentality, athleticism and commitment to football.
Yes, Robinson carries with him more than a Wolverines-to-the-NFL legacy. He carries with him the legacy of his former coach, symbolizing the only success that Rodriguez had or contributed to during those tumultuous years of agony and defeat.
Two years ago, the thought of Robinson ever playing a snap in the NFL was laughed at by critics. He’s too small, they said. He doesn’t have the arm to ever be a quarterback at the next level, they said (and they were right). He’s just a bell-and-whistle college star, nothing more—well, that’s up for debate.
Despite the hurdles presented by his physical limitations (at just under 6’0” and 200 pounds), Robinson’s speed and versatility have been enough to captivate the thought of even the most ardent naysayer. It’s possible that he’ll evolve into a successful “slash” back in the NFL. It’s also possible that he’ll fizzle out and never compete at the level he established while in college.
Regardless of how critics feel, Robinson’s tenure at Michigan was a success. Wolverines fans owe Rodriguez at least one “thank you” for bringing the Florida native to the field at Michigan Stadium. Without Robinson, Wolverines football would have been unbearable to watch from 2009-2011.
Denard is Realistic
Of course he knows that he’s not a prototypical NFL quarterback. In reality, unless he played for Rich Rod at West Virginia, Robinson wasn’t a prototypical college quarterback.
He made do. He made plays. He made things work, even when they shouldn’t have.
Robinson realizes that he has to change positions in order to be relevant in the most competitive football league on Earth.
"I am just open to do whatever I've got to do to get a shot in the NFL," Robinson told the Associated Press (via the Sporting News) prior to team workouts. "It doesn't matter to me where I play. I just want to play."
Having a realistic grasp on his career will pay dividends. There is no sense in entering the draft thinking that you’re something that you’re not—Robinson appears to have the right idea. He’s just looking for an open door, a cracked-open window or other small entrance to the league.
He’ll do the rest.
Shoelace Will Find His Niche—Eventually
Steve Smith has been told that he’s too small for football his entire life. Robinson has faced similar criticism.
There is a loose connection between Smith and Robinson that may prove to be a difference-maker down the road.
Robinson has worked with Richard Williamson, a former Carolina Panthers coach who assisted Smith. With Williamson’s guidance, Smith morphed from an overlooked player into a dangerous punt returner and a marquee wide receiver.
There is a place for guys like Robinson in the NFL. Those opportunities are few and far between, but they’re out there for the taking. We all know about the Kordell Stewarts of the world. That could very well be Robinson in five years.
Who Will Take a Chance With Denard?
In a nutshell, Robinson’s pro day wasn’t anything out of the ordinary—for a guy who played receiver, that is.
For a guy who has played quarterback most of his life, Robinson demonstrated an impressive level of comprehension when it came to running routes and knowing where and when to catch the ball.
As you’ll notice in the footage, Robinson made a couple of nice moves while adjusting to balls thrown behind or over him. Receivers at any level need to know how to do that, so it’s important for Robinson to grasp the technique early.
Walter Football, a consistently reliable mock draft site, has Robinson going to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round.
Did you hear that?
The Pittsburgh Steelers—you know, the team that kind of made the whole “slash” back gig fashionable and trendy in the NFL?
Stewart played there after starring as a college quarterback at Colorado. Antwaan Randle-El, a second-round pick of Pittsburgh’s in the 2002 draft, had two stints in the Steel City (2002-2005, 2010).
Robinson would bring another level of excitement and athleticism to any NFL club. Imagine him on the run with the San Francisco 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Imagine Robinson being paired with Mike Wallace as a target for Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. That would make for an entertaining offense.
(Be sure to check out four potential destinations for Robinson via Bleacher Report’s Austin Fox)
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines lead football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81