As many of you may know, Denard Robinson is the former QB (then RB and WR) of the Michigan Wolverines. Leading up to the draft (and throughout), many Lions fans shouted from the rooftops for the Lions to grab him in the 2nd…then the 3rd…then the 4th…and 5th. Turns out the Lions juuuuust missed him, as the Jaguars selected him 2 spots before the Lions picked in the 5th round. After the conclusion of the draft, NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport revealed that the Lions would have taken Denard had he still been there.
However, Justin Rogers of Mlive.com later debunked that rumor upon speaking with Martin Mayhew.
Contrary to report, Lions GM Martin Mayhew said there was no plan to take Denard Robinson in the fifth round before Jacksonville snagged him—
Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) April 28, 2013
Still, this report added fuel to the debate over whether the Lions should have drafted him or not, given that they chose DE Devin Taylor just 3 spots before Robinson’s selection. A certain well-known Detroit-area troll indicated that this was the biggest disappointment of the Lions’ draft. I don’t think this is even an issue for discussion if Denard Robinson wasn’t from the University of Michigan. As a New Jersey native living in the Washington D. C. area, I have no ties the University of Michigan and don’t really even watch a whole lot of college football. I suppose I understand the homerism. I would love the Lions to snag a Rutgers kid (I was campaigning hard for Ray Rice back in the day) or a Maryland player (I’m sure you guys would all love to have Vernon Davis or Torrey Smith, and watch out for Stefon Diggs in a couple years). I, for one, am incredibly happy the Lions did not draft Robinson and would like to convince you that this is for the best.
First of all, what makes Denard Robinson and intriguing prospect? In a word, athleticism. Denard is an impressive athlete with tremendous college production and when in space, he can make explosive plays. But that’s the problem. You need to get him in space first. Playing most of his career as a quarterback (which he isn’t capable of doing as a pro), he didn’t see many snaps at RB or WR. As a running back prospect, Denard lacks the size to be an every-down contributor and is almost completely unproven in that role at the collegiate level. While his frame is well suited to make him a slot wide receiver, reports from the Senior Bowl indicate that he had significant trouble running routes, catching the ball, even lining up in the right spot. These struggles will also hurt his value as a RB because pass catching is a necessary skill for a third down back. As a kick returner, he is completely raw, only fielding kicks and punts starting this offseason (and dropping many of them). Ziggy Ansah looks like a polished pro next to this guy.
And then you can talk about where he would have to be selected. For the Lions to pick Robinson, they would have had to pass up Devin Taylor. Devin Taylor is a 6’7″, 266 lb defensive end with 36″ long arms (that’s freakishly long). At the combine, among defensive linemen, he ran the 8th fastest 40, had the 5th best vertical jump, best broad jump, 2nd best 3 cone drill, and 2nd best 20 yard shuttle. He is an athletic, physical freak, almost rivaling Ziggy Ansah in his athleticism. He has an ideal frame for the position and a high motor. And he has 4 years of collegiate experience in the SEC at that position. Devin Taylor can step in and contribute to the defensive line rotation immediately and develop into a starter in a short period of time. He doesn’t need to be taught the basic requirements of the position.
My point here is that while Denard Robinson is an awesome athlete, so are a lot of guys coming out of college football. But most of those other guys have a position. Picking a guy without a position in the hope that he learns to do any one of a number of things well is a luxury that the Lions don’t have. And certainly, there is better value to be found in the late 4th, where the Lions continued to select starters and guys with a specific and significant rotational role. Denard is a purely developmental prospect at this point and worth more to a team that can let him sit and develop than a team like the Lions trying to get back on track.