Devin Gardner has been a quarterback in waiting since he arrived in Ann Arbor after being recruited by Rich Rodriguez. Denard Robinson was the starting quarterback at the time, though Gardner did see some time in various games due to Robinson being hurt or just getting some snaps to get Gardner some experience going forward. Gardner’s athleticism was impressive enough where the Wolverines could not wait to get him on the field and had him play as a wide receiver just to get his talent on the field somewhere.
This past year, when it became painfully clear that Robinson’s passing was too detrimental to continue and he was moved into more of a running back, joker type role in the offense, Gardner took over as the quarterback. Sadly for Gardner, he will already be a senior and has not had much opportunity to really develop as a quarterback in games.
On raw talent, Gardner is incredibly impressive with an impressive combination of athleticism with the ball in his hands as well as the ability to make strong and accurate throws. His lack of starting experience has left him with some rawness when it comes to reading defenses and his decision making can reflect it, but he has an extremely tempting amount of raw ability. Coming into this year, Gardner will finally have the opportunity to be the man under center and and should easily surpass the number of passes he has had in his career at Michigan in the first half of this year. With a full year, if Gardner can take all of his natural ability and make the steps to be a polished passer, he could have a chance to fly up draft boards. Based on his resume, he is a third day pick but his athleticism and potential could have a team take him on day two, but if he can make a big step as a quarterback, Gardner has the type of potential where he could make a leap such as Robert Griffin III or E.J. Manuel did where they came into the season as an under the radar name that has a breakout year. It will not be easy because Griffin and Manuel had far more experience coming into their last years, but the potential is there for Gardner.
Vitals & Build
Gardner is listed at 6’4” 203lbs and is extremely lean. Nevertheless, Gardner is an impressive athlete with quickness and straight line speed combined with body control that enables him to make life miserable on defenses. He has a frame that should easily support weight and coming into his senior season, he will hopefully be in the mid-210s and continue adding weight as he goes forward in the draft process, perhaps getting close to 220lbs by the time he is selected.
Gardner has a good arm and can push the ball down the field without much effort. He also throws with good strength on the move and can make throws a lot of guys cannot. The zip on his passes is good and he can sling it in there when needs it.
Accuracy & Touch
Gardner’s accuracy is inconsistent but it is definitely trending in the right direction. His completion percentage does not look great but some of that is due to the length of passes he is typically making as they tend to stretch the field quite a bit.
Gardner has the ability to make some incredible throws and place them perfectly for his receivers to catch the ball in stride and keep going. He also will demonstrate a good amount of ability to throw accurately on the run. Gardner just needs to continue and reduce the number of missed throws he has. For all the accurate throws he can make, he will inexplicably miss some as well and they are not always close.
He has the ability to make a range of touch throws but has not really mastered on how much of it to use and when. Too often, he will end up lofting balls too much when he only needs a little bit of air under them and they can give defenders a chance to get in plays they should not. Like everything with Gardner, this should improve with experience, but to Gardner’s credit, he is not afraid to use touch throws and try to make plays. He has the ability to make some great throws and give his receivers chances to go up and make plays. He just needs to get a little more control of them.
Mechanics & Footwork
Gardner has a traditional overhand delivery but he tends to hold the ball too low on his chest. He would be better off if he could hold it up a little higher and get it closer to in front of his neck to reduce the motion’s length. While his motion is not slow, there is a windmill quality to it, so rushers can knock the ball out on the backswing. It is not ideal but not really problematic either.
Gardner’s footwork is a little clunky but that seems to be due to the fact he has extremely long legs and takes big, long steps. If he can get quicker, choppier steps, he will be able to set up and throw more quickly, but whether it is dropping back from under center or rolling out, he can get throwing from awkward spots because he is caught in between steps. At times, he will make what basically amounts to a crow hop in baseball so he can get his feet in better position. It does the job, but quicker feet would make that habit obsolete and he could just quickly put his feet in position and throw the football.
His pocket awareness is a work in progress. He is not afraid to step up in the pocket and make throws. There are a lot of times where Gardner seems to have a feel for what is going on at an extremely high level and maneuvers within the pocket or bounces out of it extremely well. On the other hand, Gardner will also have some blind spots that are right in front of him and take shots he should avoid. While he has the arm strength to get away with it in college, Gardner will periodically throw the ball while bailing out to protect himself.
He does not panic, appears extremely calm and looks comfortable finding space to throw the ball and looks patient as he rolls out and is deciding whether he has an open receiver or if he will pull it down and run with it. Gardner tends to roll out and methodically work towards the line of scrimmage. If he gets to the line and he does not see anything, he pulls it down and runs with it rather than stopping and waiting, possibly risking a hit from behind.
Decision Making & Anticipation
Gardner is somewhat raw when it comes to reading defenses and works off instincts quite a bit. His receivers will love him because if he trusts the, he will give them every opportunity to go up and make plays. Junior Hemingway found that out firsthand as Gardner put up passes that allowed him to go up and make play after play last year.
Whether a case of not quite seeing some of the coverages he is facing or trusting his arm too much, Gardner will throw passes into double coverage and throw some ugly interceptions at times. Much of this should improve as he gets the game experience he so desperately needs this upcoming season. He needs to do a better job in this area, but it could be something he really improves upon this year with a full year as the starting quarterback. If he does not make strides this year, the concern will grow, but as of now, chalk it up to inexperience.
Again, due to inexperience, he has not done much when it comes to anticipating and throwing receivers open and the offensive system run at Michigan does not really ask him to either. For the most part, he is able to drop back and wait for guys to get open and just find the right guy to pass the ball.
Gardner’s mobility is impressive. He is a natural runner with the ball in his hands and seems to glide on the field. Gardner can easily work within the pocket but can be electric when he gets outside the pocket. His agility and ability to change directions give him the ability to make opponents miss and create space to throw the ball or as a runner. In addition, his straight line speed is excellent and he can make plays with the ball in his hands. He can easily pick up a few first downs with his legs but if the defense does not corral him, he can break the big one and take it the distance.
Gardner will be attractive to teams who want to run a read option type setup as he can be a dual threat with the speed to make teams respect his run option. The only concern with Gardner is his slight build at this point. There is some concern every time he takes a hit, but he does a good job of avoiding taking defenders’ best shots as a runner with the ability to be slippery enough to avoid getting unloaded on as a runner. He takes his worst shots in the backfield. The other concern is that when he runs, Gardner will not always carry the ball securely and he is a risk to fumble.
Gardner is still moldable as a prospect but he is better suited to play in a system that wants to go down the field, does not rely on a ton of timing, and creates space for him to run. He could be developed to play in a horizontal offense as well, but it will take a little more time, given his experience. Gardner looks like he will need to sit and learn for a couple years while likely seeing some time as a change of pace element. There is a ton of ability there is the right coaching staff gets him and has the time to develop him combined with the work he will need to put in, the ceiling is a franchise quarterback.
|Sat, Aug. 31||vs. Central Michigan|
|Sat, Sept. 7||vs. Notre Dame|
|Sat, Sept. 14||vs. Akron|
|Sat, Sept. 21||at Connecticut|
|Sat, Oct. 5||vs. Minnesota|
|Sat, Oct. 12||at Penn State|
|Sat, Oct. 19||vs. Indiana|
|Sat, Nov. 2||at Michigan State|
|Sat, Nov. 9||vs. Nebraska|
|Sat, Nov. 16||at Northwestern|
|Sat, Nov. 23||at Iowa|
|Sat, Nov. 30||vs. Ohio State|
The game against Notre Dame is always huge because these teams always seem to play close games but there is added tension as the Irish are trying to bail on this rivalry. Gardner and the Wolverines are looking to send the Irish out with something to think about as they go. Michigan State is a tough matchup as they have been one of the better defenses in the Big Ten year in and year out, which will force Gardner to make plays and be smart with the football. The Game against Ohio State is huge. Michigan has had an ugly run against the Buckeyes over the past decade and Luke Fickell is not coming through that door to give the Wolverines a pity victory. From a purely collegiate quarterback standpoint, there might not be a better matchup than Gardner and Braxton Miller as both are dual threat quarterbacks with the ability to pull off the spectacular.
Gardner compares to Tarvaris Jackson based on the athletic package he brings as well as the ability to throw the ball. Jackson came out of a lower level of college was extremely raw coming into the league while Gardner is likely going to come into the league raw but as more of a product of unfortunate circumstance and mishandling by Michigan than anything he did in addition to the fact he is playing against a higher level of competition. Like with Jackson, Gardner will come into the league with a ton of potential and could go higher than some expect because of it, especially if a team wants to run a read option type look. Coached properly and with a realistic timeline combined with a ton of work on Gardner’s part, he can make a great transition and have a far better pro career than he did in college.
Due to the situation at Michigan with the coaching switch and having a player like Robinson in front of him, Gardner is frustratingly raw going into his senior year. By doing what was best for the team and being willing to play as a receiver, which is something that will help him as coaches love that, he has not been able to develop as a quarterback in the most ideal way. He has the talent and ability to make huge strides as a senior and go from being an interesting toolsy quarterback with terrific physical ability and upside to being a player on the cusp of having the light go on and piquing in the NFL. In terms of his ability to learn and the benefits from his experience, many will be keeping an eye on how much of a step forward Gardner can make and project that into the NFL and he could go from a fringe top 100 prospect and make a huge climb up draft boards.