JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars finally got around to drafting a high-profile college quarterback Saturday.
But it’s a quarterback whose future lies at another position, or even two.
Michigan’s Denard Robinson, the all-time FBS rushing leader at quarterback and only the fourth player to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a season twice, was taken in the fifth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday by the Jaguars, who intend to use him as a running back, wide receiver and kick returner. Robinson went through a much-publicized switch to wide receiver following an injury during his senior year that left him with nerve damage and numbness in his right hand.
The Jaguars aren’t deep at running back behind Maurice Jones-Drew, who is coming off his own injury-riddled season. So the 5-foot-10, 199-pound Robinson could get ample opportunity to show whether his great quickness can translate to a position where he’ll need to change a running style that scouts have described as upright.
“I don’t expect him to go out there in Year 1 and just have everything down,” general manager Dave Caldwell said. “He’s going to have his drops. He may even have his fumbles. He’s going to be a little bit of a work in progress. But if we can develop him, he can turn into something pretty special.”
After finishing his career with 91 total touchdowns, breaking the school record held by current Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne, Robinson is eager to show he can make a transition similar to what Antwaan Randle El and Josh Cribbs did in the NFL.
“I’m excited,” he said from his home in Deerfield Beach, Fla. “They can put me in at receiver or running back or whatever. There’s a lot of different positions, so I’m excited about doing that.”
Robinson spoke to representatives of the Jaguars once before the draft but never met Caldwell or coach Tom Bradley in person. He played in the 2011 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and threw two first-quarter touchdown passes before the Wolverines were routed 52-14 by Mississippi State in what turned out to be the last game Rich Rodriguez coached for them.
“I love what he can do offensively,” Bradley said. “But I see him as having the ability to compete for our kick returner.”
Earlier in the day, the Jaguars pulled off their first trade of the week by sending the first pick of the fourth round to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Jaguars received the Eagles’ fourth-round choice and one in the seventh round in exchange for the 98th overall selection. The Eagles then opened the final day of the draft with a bang by taking USC quarterback Matt Barkley.
With the pick obtained from the Eagles, the Jaguars took wide receiver and punt returner Ace Sanders of South Carolina. The native of Bradenton, Fla., caught nine touchdown passes last season as a junior and also returned two punts for scores, including one in the Gamecocks’ victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
“A lot of people haven’t gotten time to see me excel as a slot receiver,” Sanders said. “But I know my abilities. And with the right coach and the right system, I could really excel as a slot receiver as well as a punt returner.”
Caldwell said offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan approved of Sanders despite some concerns over his height (5-7) and relatively slow time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day.
“They like the idea of having a guy that’s really quick and sudden and has excellent separation quickness,” Caldwell said.
“Disregard his 40 time,” said Josh Evans, the free safety from Florida who was taken by the Jaguars in the sixth round and faced Sanders in college. “I got to realize and see that during games. His game speed is crazy. He’s a fast guy.”
With the Jaguars not having returned a punt for a touchdown since Mike Thomas did it in 2010, Sanders is the early favorite to take over the duties which were handled by Jordan Shipley toward the end of last season.
With their two picks in the seventh round, the Jaguars took a pair of cornerbacks: Jeremy Harris of New Mexico State and Demetrius McCray of Appalachian State. Of their eight draft choices, five were defensive backs. Caldwell said he plans to add “at least one, maybe two” undrafted quarterbacks to compete against Henne and Blaine Gabbert, and he’ll also look for pass rushers and offensive linemen. The Jaguars did not draft any ends or outside linebackers, and first-round pick Luke Joeckel was their only offensive lineman chosen.
“For a premier pass rusher or a premier offensive tackle, you have to pick those guys really high,” Caldwell said.