Josh Kendall

December 30, 2012

Pro prospects: Michigan's most talented players

In our last meeting of the season with NFL draft writer Josh Norris, we talk about Denard Robinson and the problems he and Devin Gardner pose for South Carolina in Tuesday’s game as well as what the best individual matchup in the game will be.

Josh Kendall

News and views about Gamecocks football

In our last meeting of the season with NFL draft writer Josh Norris (@JoshNorris on Twitter), we talk about, what else, Denard Robinson and the problems he and Devin Gardner pose for South Carolina in Tuesday’s game as well as what the best individual matchup in the game will be.

We know about Michigan’s history and tradition. Tell us what kind of talent this team has got.

Well it all starts with Denard Robinson. He’s not playing (full-time) quarterback anymore because of the elbow (injury). He hasn’t been able to grip a football in quite some time. He’s taken a couple of snaps at quarterback but I see him taking more snaps at running back and wide receiver in this game. I think those two positions are really where he projects, specifically running back. He’s the type of player you want the ball in his hands. He’s a different kind of running quarterback in that he’s very patient with the ball and his blockers. That’s something you don’t find with these quarterbacks who are in a hurry to get out of the pocket. He kind of power runs where he’s following a lead blocker. He knows when to cut off his blocks and burst through the hole. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some trick plays with him and (quarterback) Devin Gardner. To start the season, Gardner, who’s a much better passer than Denard Robinson, was a first-team receiver because of injuries. It could be really interesting to have both those guys on the field at the same time. Gil Brandt, who is a longtime NFL evaluator, said he’d draft Robinson for cornerback. That was kind of surprising to me. On the tape I have, there is no sense of aggressiveness that translates to cornerback. How does cornerback come up? But he may play there. He’s going to the Senior Bowl. He’s not going to play quarterback there. I don’t know if he’s going to play running back or receiver or corner. Patience, cutting ability and straight line speed, all of those translate well to a ballcarrier, especially at the next level.

I mentioned Devin Gardner, he’s a little bit taller than Denard (6-4 to 6 feet), he’s just a much more accurate and consistent passer than Denard and he’s not afraid to test downfield.

They did get a freshman tight end in Devin Funchess who has been underused all season long. He’s going to be a real stud. He’s a big-bodied tight end who can really get downfield. This may be his coming out party if they figure out how to use him in these last few practices because he’s got a lot of talent.

They have a left tackle in Taylor Lewan who a lot of people are talking about a first-round pick, 6-8, 308. I bet you’ll see him and [Jadeveon] Clowney go up against each other a number of times. Lewan, I wouldn’t put him up against a Luke Joeckel, but he’s like an Eric Fisher who is at Central Michigan right now. I definitely think Taylor Lewan, if he declares, will be a first round pick. He’s patient, he doesn’t overextend himself.

On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan has really lacked the talent they’ve had in previous seasons. Craig Roh, a defensive end, 6-5, 278 pounds, who has gone through a transition every single year he’s been at Michigan. He started off as a strongside linebacker, moved to weakside defensive end, where I think he played really well last year, and then he moved over to strongside defensive end this year and I thought he wasn’t good at all. Well, that’s harsh. I thought he was average. I expect him to move back to the weakside and lose some of that weight. He’s just a lot slower, a lot more methodical and doesn’t get in the backfield often enough.

And then Jordan Kovacs is their safety, and he’s always in the right place. He’s very reliable in that deep coverage. Both of their starting cornerbacks now didn’t start the season and one is a freshman, so we’ll see if Connor Shaw lets it loose throwing the ball.

I think the marquee matchup is Lewan versus the defensive line, and if (South Carolina) can contain these big plays. It’s really going to be the South Carolina defense versus the Michigan offense.

On the South Carolina guys who will be headed to the NFL next year, is there anything to be said for one last chance to show something or has most of their work been done in that regard?

Since these games are pretty much the only ones on at that time, you have (more) eyes on them than normal Saturdays. If you have a big-time performance on national television, it can’t hurt you. I think a lot of these guys are set where they are going to be, but let’s say a Chaz Sutton comes in and has a great performance to head him into a solid senior season, that could really be probably the most beneficial. Then he’d be a name evaluators would keep in mind heading into the 2013 season.

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