A few things are for sure: Denard will be taking more snaps under center, will be running less, and will be asked to read defenses and make more traditional throws than he's used to. In an effort to project how Denard will fare in a system like this, I tried to isolate situations from the 2010 season that would give a better approximation of Denard's traditional passing skills, as opposed to his raw numbers. Put another way, I parsed out Obvious Passing Downs (OPD) in which defenses likely didn't have to compensate for his running ability, and Denard was under pressure to gain a decent amount of yardage through the air.
The first step was to establish the criteria for OPD. The basic parameters:
- 2nd down and 10+ yards to go
- 3rd down and 7+ yards to go
- 4th down and 7+ yards to go
- All situations where over 20 yards were required for a first down were omitted
- All first downs were omitted
With these parameters, I charted Denard's performance (and the team's playcalling tendencies) through the year with the help of MGoBlog's Upon Further Review series*.
|QB runs (yards)||5 (53)||2 (10)||1 (7)||-||1 (8)||-||1 (4)|
|Comp/Att (screens)||8/10 (2)||3/8 (3)||1/2||-||0/2 (1)||2/5||4/7|
|Scrambles (yards)||1 (11)||-||-||-||-||1 (1)||1 (4)|
|QB runs (yards)||1 (18)||1 (-7)||2 (27)||1 (14)||2 (12)||2 (4)|
|Comp/Att (screens)||3/7 (2)||1/3||3/9 (1)||2/3 (1)||1/10||3/5|
|Scrambles (yards)||-||1 (9)||-||1 (6)||-||-|
The raw data are dense, so I've compiled the totals and compared them to his numbers over the course of the season:
|Passing Downs||Season totals|
|QB runs (yards per carry)||19 (7.9)||256 (6.6)|
|Yards per attempt||5.7||8.8|
|Scrambles (yards)||5 (31)|
*Except for the final two games of the season, against Ohio
There are a few things of note here, many of which are obvious. During the season, Denard averaged 6.6 yards per carry on the ground. On OPD, Denard averaged 7.9 yards per carry on designed runs (scrambles excluded), something you'd expect given that teams are anticipating a pass. The other side of that coin is his diminished passing numbers. On the season, he completed 62.5% of his passes for 8.8 yards per attempt. On OPD, he completed only 44% of his passes for 5.7 yards per attempt. In addition, Denard threw nearly half of his interceptions in these scenarios. While you might expect that (trying to force the ball to a receiver to pick up a first down), it implies that he's either not particularly careful with the ball in OPD (he had a 7.1% interception ratio) or he has difficulty reading defenses and executing the throws.
Given the amount of noise in the numbers, can we draw any conclusions about his performance in a pro-style/West Coast offense? Using strictly the numbers at hand, I tried to draw a comparison between the uptick in his rushing and his passing performances. The presumption is that in a pro-style/West Coast offense, Denard's rushes will be fewer and more surprising, raising their effectiveness. His yards per carry on OPD yielded 120% of his season average. However, his passes will likely begin under center, reducing a defense's necessity to compensate for his legs. His yards per attempt yielded only 65% of his season average (to say nothing of his interception ratio). To apply those numbers directly to his 2010 production doesn't return a reasonable result, but natural player progression, an uptick in his running effectiveness, and a team's inability to anticipate a pass on every down (like is logically the case here) will likely mitigate, though not entirely negate, Denard's struggles in the passing game.
While unfortunately no hard-and-fast conclusions can be drawn from these numbers, I think they illuminate the improvement Denard needs to make to truly excel in a more traditional offense. While Borges is working to optimize Denard's talents, and there's a chance Denard will spend much of the game in the shotgun, the chances are that his production will noticeably fall off from last year. My prediction for Denard's 2011 production, compared to that of 2010:
|Denard Robinson||Completion %||YPA||Passing Yards||TD/INT||YPC||Rushing Yards|
While his total yardage may seem exceptionally low in comparison, you also have to take into account that Hoke and Borges' offense won't move at nearly the same speed that Rodriguez's did, greatly diminishing Denard's ability to rack up numbers. Because of that, I anticipate a few less touchdowns, significantly less rushing yards (also due to an emphasis on running back carries), and more interceptions, based on Denard's performance to date. The offense won't be nearly as bad as it was in 2008, but I'm anticipating a significant step back.