The deck is stacked against Devin Gardner realizing his NFL dream, but his physical talent and the team he signed with gives this undrafted free agent a reasonable chance of coming out with a winning hand.
At Michigan’s pro day a few months back Gardner at 6-3.5, 218 pounds, clocked 4.62 and 4.67 in the forty, a 4.42 short shuttle, and turned in a 35.5-inch vertical. Had he spent his entire career at receiver there’s a good chance he would have had the type of productivity necessary to garner getting drafted. Still, the glimpses of playmaking ability he showed at the position a few years ago render this much more than an experiment.
Gardner’s experience at wideout actually predates his time at Ann Arbor. During his days as a high school quarterback he routinely worked at receiver during summer camps. Those dalliances came in handy when in his redshirt sophomore season at Michigan went from throwing passes to catching them. It was a temporary move made necessary by the lack of proven play-makers at the position after Junior Hemingway’s graduation and Daryl Stonum’s dismissal from the team.
Gardner filled in admirably at wideout during the first eight games of the 2012 campaign, hauling in 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns. His highlight play came in the Wolverines’ lopsided loss to eventual national champion Alabama. Gardner beat former Crimson Tide All-American corner (and first round draft pick) Dee Milliner in man to man coverage for a 44-yard touchdown catch. On the play Gardner showed his strength by beating Milliner’s jam, and his speed by getting deep for the score.
The former signal caller’s biggest adjustments will be in refining his route-running and overall technique, but has some advantages that will help his chances of doing so. First is the fact that Gardner is exceptionally bright. He graduated from Michigan in three years and spent his last two in graduate school. Then there’s the benefits that come with being selected by the New England Patriots. He’ll learn at the feet of fellow Michigan grad Tom Brady, and will be able to pick the brain of fellow wideout Julian Edelman (who also made the shift from college quarterback to NFL receiver).
Sticking in the pros will be a high hurdle for Gardner to clear, but far from an impossible one.