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From QB to WR: Can Denard Robinson Succeed?

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Can Denard Robinson break the trend of lack of production by quarterbacks that switch to wide receiver? Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Can Denard Robinson break the trend of lack of production by quarterbacks that switch to wide receiver? Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

With the recent news of Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon's suspension, fantasy football enthusiasts are starting to take interest in a rookie wide receiver, who was a former Michigan standout and Heisman candidate. As a sophomore in 2010,  Denard Robinson set the single-season division record for rushing yards by a quarterback and became the only player in NCAA history to both pass and rush for 1,500 yards. He broke the Big Ten Conference season record with 4,272 yards of total offense, including his second start against Notre Dame where he set the Michigan single-game record with 502 yards of total offense.  As a junior in 2011, Robinson led his team to an 11–2 record and a victory in the 2012 Sugar Bowl. With all of these accomplishments, Robinson was known mostly for his amazing athleticism and running ability where he accumulated 4,144 yards rushing and 37 touchdowns in three seasons, as the starting quarterback for the Wolverines. Even though Robinson had been considered one of the top college quarterbacks over the years, the expected happened at the end of last year, where Denard Robinson declared for the draft not as a quaterback but as a wide receiver.

Combine Results:

Height: 5-10
Weight: 199 pounds
40 Yard Dash: *4.43 seconds
20 Yard Dash N/A
10 Yard Dash N/A
Bench Press: (N/A) reps (225 lb)
Vertical Leap: 36.5 inches
Broad Jump: 123 inches
20 Yd Shuttle: 4.22 seconds
Three Cone: 7.09 seconds

So why would a quarterback that was so highly regarded and had so many accomplishments, not enter the 2013 draft at his natural position, in what was considered a weak quarterback class of 2013? At 5'10" 200 pounds, Robinson was considered by most to be too small for the position. Instead, his natural speed would translate better to a position that requires elite speed, such as cornerback, wide receiver or even running back. The size argument didn't make a lot of sense, considering that one of the most successful rookies from the 2012 quarterback class, Russell Wilson, was nearly identical in size, so it really came down to his lack of quarterback fundamentals and long-term potential at the position. Robinson soon declared his eligibility for the NFL draft as a wide receiver and took the hard road in making a very difficult transition, as many other quarterbacks who struggle to find an identity at the next level. He excelled in the combine (see scores above) but struggled in basic receiving skills during individual drills and struggled to keep up with other prospects at the Senior Bowl. Let's take a look at some of the other college quarterbacks that made the transition and how their success or failure translated to fantasy football.

1. Ronald Curry University of North Carolina: Curry had a very productive career at the UNC with 4,987 passing and 1,249 rushing yards in four years. Drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2001 as a wide receiver, Curry struggled to stay healthy after a very serious Achilles tendon injury. He had a short stint of production from 2004-08 after which he became nearly ineffective and was eventually released, never to play again.

NFL Production:

Games Played  Receptions Receiving Yards  Touchdowns
2008  13  19  181  2
2007  16  55   717  4
2006  16  62   727  1
2005   2   2   12  0
2004  12  50  679  6

Combine Results:

Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 220 pounds
40 Yard Dash: 4.59 seconds
20 Yard Dash: 2.66 seconds
10 Yard Dash: 1.60 seconds
Bench Press: (N/A) reps (225 lb)
Vertical Leap: 35.0 inches
Broad Jump: 115 inches
20 Yd Shuttle: 4.11 seconds
Three Cone: 7.06 seconds

2. Matt Jones University of Arkansas: At 6' 6" 242 pounds, size was not a concern for Jones. While at the university of Arkansas, Jones had an amazing career throwing for 5,827 yards and rushing for 2,535 yards in his four years at quarterback. Maybe it was Jones' amazing athletic ability that had him convinced that his career path was to make the switch to wide receiver. Drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005, he immediately showed flashes of greatness, but that quickly faded in what turned out to be a very short an unproductive NFL career. Jones did have off-field issues, including drug use and several arrests which ultimately resulted in his release from the Jaguars in 2009 and he never again saw the field.

NFL Production:

Games Played Receptions Receiving Yards Touchdowns
2008  12  65  761   2
2007  12  24  317   4
2006  14  41  643   4
2005  16  36  432   5

Combine Results:

Height: 6' 6"
Weight: 242 pounds
40 Yard Dash: 4.37 seconds
20 Yard Dash: 2.54 seconds
10 Yard Dash: 1.55 seconds
Bench Press: (N/A) reps (225 lb)
Vertical Leap: 39.5 inches
Broad Jump: 129 inches

3. Josh Cribbs Kent State: Cribbs was dual-threat quarterback in college. He started all four years and still holds maultiple career records at Kent State, including total offense and touchdowns scored. He is the only player in NCAA history to lead his team in both rushing and passing all four seasons. Despite his productive college career, Cribbs went undrafted in 2005 and signed with the Cleveland Browns where he played eight seasons, primarily as a kick return specialist. He is currently a free agent looking for a new team.

NFL Production:

Games Played Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving Touchdowns Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Rushing Touchdowns
2012 16 7 63 0 6 42 0
2011 16 41 518 4 7 25 0
2010 15 23 292 1 20 66 0
2009 16 20 135 1 55 381 1
2008 15 2 18 1 29 167 1
2007 16 3 37 0 9 61 0
2006 16 10 91 0 2 11 0

Combine Results:

Height: 6' 0"
Weight: 205 pounds
40 Yard Dash: 4.55 seconds
20 Yard Dash: 2.78 seconds
10 Yard Dash: 1.64 seconds
Bench Press: (N/A) reps (225 lb)
Vertical Leap: (N/A) seconds
20 Yd Shuttle: (N/A) seconds

4. Julian Edelman Kent State: Much like Josh Cribbs, Edelman went from a record-setting quarterback at Kent State to wide receiver and kick return specialist in the NFL.  Edelman led Kent State in both passing and rushing yards his senior year, while breaking Cribbs’ single-season total offense record. Edelman took things a step further by not only playing as a quarterback but also as a member of the special teams. The Patriots, with their unconventional draft strategy, took a chance on Edelman in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. Edleman was used primarily on special teams and as a temporary replacement for Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker. He was somewhat productive, but with the signing of former Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola this off-season, it is obvious that the Patriots don't see Edelman moving into a bigger role for their offense.

NFL Production:

Games Played Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving Touchdowns Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Rushing Touchdowns
2012 9 21 235 3 4 45 0
2011 13 4 34 0 4 8 0
2010 15 7 86 0 2 14 0
2009 11 37 359 1 2 5 0

Combine Results:

Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 195 pounds
40 Yard Dash: 4.45 seconds
20 Yard Dash: 2.54 seconds
10 Yard Dash: 1.55 seconds
Bench Press: (N/A) reps (225 lb)
Vertical Leap: 31 inches
20 Yd Shuttle: 3.91 seconds

5. Antwan Randle El University of Indiana: Similar to Denard Robinson, Randle El had a very successful college career as the Hoosiers quarterback. In just three years, he ended up fifth on the all-time NCAA total-yardage list with 7,469 passing yards and 3,895 rushing yards. He was a multiple-sport athlete and a true competitor, which made the Steelers think so highly of him that they drafted Randle El in the 2nd round of the 2002 NFL Draft. This turned out to be a great decision, as he became an immediate impact receiver and kick returner for the Steelers for five years, and then a contributor for the Redskins for four years before returning to the Steelers for a year to eventually retire in 2011.

NFL Production:

Games Played Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving Touchdowns
2010 16 22 253 0
2009 16 50 530 0
2008 16 53 593 4
2007 15 51 728 1
2006 16 32 351 3
2005 16 35 558 1
2004 16 43 601 3
2003 16 37 364 1
2002 16 47 489 2

Combine Results:

Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 185 pounds
40 Yard Dash: 4.49 seconds
20 Yard Dash: 2.57 seconds
10 Yard Dash: 1.59 seconds
Bench Press: (N/A) reps (225 lb)
Vertical Leap: (N/A) inches
20 Yd Shuttle: (N/A) seconds

So what does all this mean for fantasy football? Bottom line is that even the most successful quarterback to wide receiver candidate doesn't project to impact numbers in standard formats for fantasy football, and these types of players should generally be avoided. The learning curve from college to the NFL is a large one, and even though these are talented athletes, it is almost aways too difficult to adjust to the complexities of what it takes to be an elite wide receiver. With all this said, I like Denard Robinson and have been impressed with his combine results, as they are definitely in the top tier in terms of the 2013 prospects, but the history of players making a positional change is not on his side. For a player that is going toward the end of rookie dynasty drafts and will sit on the waiver wire in almost all formats, Robinson might be worth the gamble as a low-risk/high-reward option. If we see a trend in the inflation of his average draft position, you have to be extremely cautious, as having Robinson on your teams is a strategy that will most likely end in failure. Even with the suspension of Blackmon, they still have options in wide receivers Cecil Shorts, Jordan Shipley, Mohamed Massaquoi, Ace Sanders and tight end Marcedes Lewis, not to mention a quarterback situation between Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne that is less than ideal. When targeting young rookie receivers, look to those that have played the position for most of their football careers and are given the proper opportunity to be a true asset to their team and your fantasy football teams.