For much of it's history, Arizona State has featured a prolific passing offense. With gunslingers like Danny White, Jake Plummer and Andrew Walter at the helm, passes were flying all over the field, and many Sun Devil wide receivers thrived, eventually developing enough to get drafted into the NFL.
In the 1970s, the school turned out three first rounders at the position, including, J.D Hill who went fourth overall, the highest position of any Sun Devil in history, and Hill and John Jefferson had tremendous success at the next level.
However, over the past 25 years, the returns have been anything but exceptional.
Eight Sun Devil wide receivers have been drafted during the last quarter-century, and together have produced impacts that range from "Not bad" to "Ick". In fact, the greatest ASU pass catchers in the NFL during that time have been a pair of tight ends. Todd Heap and Zach Miller have combined for 742 receptions, only 40 shy of the combined total of the eight drafted wide receivers.
A ninth member will join this group in April in the form of Gerell Robinson. How well will Robinson do? A look at the recent history books tell us it could be challenging. Let's examine Robinson's eight predecessors before looking at his chances.
1987: Bruce Hill: 4th Round (106th overall) by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Years Active: 1987-1991
The speedy Hill was the last Sun Devil to post a 1,000 yard receiving season in the NFL, coming in 1988 when he had 58 receptions for 1,040 yards. He followed that with a 50-catch season in 1989, but after a 17-catch 1991 season, his NFL career ended. Perhaps the most notable aspect of his NFL career was that he was acquired with a draft pick that Tampa Bay received in the Steve Young trade.
1988: Aaron Cox: 1st Round (20th overall) by the Los Angeles Rams
Years Active: 1988-1993
After a decorated collegiate career, Cox was the second consecutive Sun Devil taken in 1988's first round, coming one pick after future Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel. The first Sun Devil wide receiver to be drafted in the first round since John Jefferson in 1978, Cox is also the last ASU wide receiver to be drafted that high. His career was a disappointment, as his best season came during his rookie year, when he had 28 catches for 590 yards and five touchdowns. He never became a consistent contributor due to persistent hamstring injuries, and was out of the NFL after six seasons and 104 receptions.
1990: Lynn James: 5th Round (122nd overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals
Years Active: 1990-1991
Another failed NFL career, James battled disturbing legal issues and was gone after two years and 10 catches between the Bengals and Browns.
1995: J.T. Thomas: 7th round (240th overall) by the St. Louis Rams
Years Active: 1995-1998
Once again the Rams took a former Sun Devil wide receiver, but this time instead of near the beginning, Thomas was the 240th of 249 players taken that season. As a seventh round pick, Thomas held on for four seasons, seeing kick return duty his first two years before having his best season in 1998 when he had 20 catches for 287 yards. Sadly for him, he was out of the NFL the next year when the "Greatest Show on Turf" won the Super Bowl
1997: Keith Poole: 4th round (116th overall) by the New Orleans Saints
Years Active: 1997-2001
One of the most popular Devils in recent memory (if for nothing else but this photo), Poole had a decent, if unremarkable run, being the most productive receiver since Hill. By his second season, he had emerged as a decent deep threat, posting a 21.2 yards-per-catch average. His best year was in 1999, when he had 42 catches for 796 yards and six touchdowns. Poole lasted another year in New Orleans before a five-reception final year in Devner.
2003: Shaun McDonald: 4th round (106th overall) by the St. Louis Rams
Years Active: 2003-2009
Yep, the Rams strike again. McDonald was a shifty slot receiver during the waning years of the Mike Martz-era in St. Louis. In 2004 and 2005, he combined for 83 receptions and 1,017 yards. His production dropped off after Martz left, but in 2007, he posted the best season from an ASU wide receiver since Hill's 1988 campaign. Now a Detroit Lion, McDonald tallied 79 catches for 943 yards and six touchdowns. He had 35 catches the next season, but was let go after the season. His final NFL experiences were four reception-less games for the Steelers in 2009.
2006: Derek Hagan: 3rd Round (82nd overall) by the Miami Dolphins
Years Active: 2006-Present
The all-time leading receiver in ASU history has yet to make a mark in the NFL. His best season came in 2007 with 29 receptions for 373 yards and a pair of touchdowns. After three unremarkable years in Miami, Hagan spent three with the Giants, getting a Super Bowl ring in 2009, and then started last season with the Raiders before landing with the Bills. Only 27, Hagan still has a chance to turn things around.
2010: Kyle Williams: 6th Round (206th overall) by the San Francisco 49ers
Years Active: 2010-Present
Williams made great strides in 2011, making several key catches for the resurgent 49ers. However, his two critical fumbled punts in the NFC Championship game have completely overshadowed his entire NFL career to this point. However, Williams is only 23, and with his talent, better days are most certainly ahead.
[Kerry Taylor, the only other ASU wide receiver currently on an NFL roster, went undrafted in 2011 before bouncing around several teams last season. He is currently on the Vikings' roster but has no career game appearances.]
All told, those drafted Sun Devil wide receivers have produced 782 catches for 10,907 yards and 63 touchdowns, which equates to a very underwhelming average season stat line of 20-287-2.
So clearly, the ASU NFL bar at this position is set rather low, and adding another name to the underperformer list would be the move that history dictates.
However, Robinson possesses a good chance to overcome this mediocrity at the next level.
For starters, he has the size that NFL offenses currently favor. At 6'4" and 220-pounds, Robinson presents both an inviting intermediate target for quarterbacks, as well as match-up problems for defensive backs. Robinson excelled this past season in owning the field between the hashmarks, and his ability to use his size to shield the ball from defenders was critical in many situations. Other than the 6'2" Hagan, no other ASU wide receiver on this list is over 6'0".
Robinson is also a tireless worker with tremendous drive and grit. While the Sun Devils' 2011 season imploded and it would have been easy to shut it down, he continued to hone his craft. Over the last eight games, he set a new personal-best in receiving yards six times, culminating in the 241 yards Maaco Bowl effort.
But perhaps the greatest asset he displayed during his senior year was the ability to make the tough catches in traffic. Showing off his great hands, Robinson repeatedly showed no fear in going over the middle to make key receptions, a trait that will be critical to his NFL success.
The primary question about Robinson will be his speed, and his 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine later this month will have an effect on his ultimate draft position. With his size, hands and work ethic, a time in the low 4.5s could result in a much improved draft position.
Only time will tell if "GRob" will follow an NFL path John Jefferson or Aaron Cox, but given what he has shown the world over the last five months, it's hard not to be optimistic.
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