In the 2012 season for the Michigan Wolverines, wide receiver Devin Gardner was catching passes from dual threat quarterback, Denard Robinson, now a running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He finished that year with 16 grabs for 266 yards and 4 scores. However, after an injury to Robinson, it was Gardner taking the snaps, and he played reasonably well for one to assume he’d hold the QB reigns heading into 2013 as well. In that season, he threw for 2,960 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while also adding another 483 yards on the ground.
However, last season he took a major step back, throwing for 1,896 yards, 10 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Much like his predecessor in Robinson, if Gardner wants to make it on the big stage of the NFL as a recent waiver pickup of Pittsburgh, it’ll have to be at his old position of wide receiver.
At 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, he has the bigger frame that seems to be the trend as far as NFL receivers go. He’s a good athlete, and showed this at the Michigan Pro Day where he ran the 40 in 4.62 seconds, not a burner but not a slouch either. Remember, Le’Veon Bell ran a 4.6 40 too and he’s considered the best all-around runner in the game today. Gardner also posted a vertical jump of 35.5-inches, highlighting an ability to use his big frame to go up and win on 50/50 balls.
It was no surprise when Pittsburgh claimed him off waivers after being released by the New England Patriots, because the team had him in for a visit prior to the NFL Draft. He is no question a conversion project for the team, in the mold of a Julian Edelman or one of their current UDFA in Boston College’s Tyler Murphy. There was some hope that Gardner would actually be drafted, and even ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. agreed.
“He has good measurables, he obviously has experience catching the ball,” Kiper said, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com. “Could he be a late-round pick as a wide receiver? A developmental wide receiver? Yeah, he could possibly be.”
However, Gardner went undrafted and ultimately wound up in the bread basket of Bill Belichick. After being released several days ago, the Steelers grabbed him off waivers, and now find themselves with another “slash” quarterback. In the grand scheme of things, could it be that offensive coordinator is toying with the notion of adding some of the trick plays back into the offensive arsenal that ex-offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, was renowned for?
For example, in Super Bowl XL, Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who played quarterback at Indiana, became the first wide receiver in Super Bowl history to throw a touchdown pass, as he threw a 43-yard strike to Hines Ward on a gadget play that swung the momentum tide in favor of Pittsburgh. Or perhaps a more modern version is the Patriots’ Edelman. A quarterback himself at Kent State, the Patriots spent a low seventh round pick to take him in 2009, and he has became a major contributor for the team, posting 105 and 92 catches, respectively in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
He still can add that element of “trickeration” though, as evidenced by his 51-yard touchdown strike to receiver Danny Amendola in the Pats’ 35-31 Divisional Round victory over Baltimore. Those plays are invaluable, as they’re the type that can nip momentum right in the bud, and add a jolt of energy to an offense. They especially energize the crowd and get them back in the game, so what better excuse to get Steelers Nation even more amped up on gameday than adding some wrinkles to the offense involving speedster Dri Archer, Murphy or Gardner? Even Antonio Brown has shown he can throw a pretty nice spiral.