The left tackle position in today's NFL is considered one of the most valuable positions in the sport. Since the 2004 draft, 11 offensive tackles have been selected with top-five picks. An incredible three offensive tackles were taken in the top five last season, while two more are expected to go this year.
Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Greg Robinson of Auburn are those two tackles.
Matthews is what you typically expect to get at the very top of the draft. He is a refined pass-protector who should be able to start immediately at left tackle and be effective. On the other hand, Robinson comes with a lack of clarity that could scare off some franchises.
The uncertainty with Robinson is born out of his lack of refinement.
He is a raw athlete who played in an exceptionally run-heavy offense. Auburn ran the ball 52 times per game and passed it only 20 times per game. Not only did this offense give teams very little time to watch Robinson in pass protection, it also made it easier for the left tackle to be an effective pass-protector.
Defenses had to account for the run on every single snap and couldn't be aggressive on passing downs. They also had to account for the very creative read-option runs that were built into the offense, making them hesitant at the snap.
Furthermore, Robinson blocked for a mobile quarterback who felt pressure and adjusted in the pocket well.
In the NFL, nobody runs an offense like Gus Malzahn's. Outside of the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers, nobody attempted less than 30 passes per game last season. Robinson won't be selected in the top five of the draft to be a left tackle in an option offense.
He will be expected to be a pass-blocking star who can play without any help from tight ends or running backs against the best pass-rushers in the NFL. The 21-year-old certainly has the physical traits to become that player, but it will likely take a few years before he develops his all-around game to be trusted in that role.
Entering the draft, Robinson's play on the field isn't worthy of a top-five pick.
He could immediately start at guard and be a dominant run-blocker who receives help in the passing game from the inside or outside, but those kinds of players generally don't go in the top five of the draft. Robinson would fit that role perfectly because his run-blocking ability and overall strength is incredible.
On this play, Robinson draws the defender upfield by stepping backwards at the snap. With impressive quickness and balance, he begins to move forward while the defender is still coming towards him. By engaging the defender with his long arms and powering his legs through contact, he is able to push the defender off the line of scrimmage.
This opens up the edge for his running back, so even though Robinson doesn't sustain the block to the end of the play, his initial power surge has allowed the block to be effective.
When Robinson's assignment is lined up directly across from him, he is generally able to engage that player and push them off the line of scrimmage. There are times when he doesn't quickly square off with that defender or he misses him with his hands, but even then he can be effective.
On this play, Robinson whiffs on the initial contact and should be dragged out of position by his momentum. However, he holds his ground with excellent body control while using his outside shoulder to fend off the defender.
Robinson is essentially sliding sideways into the defender here, but he is still able to knock him sideways as the Auburn back runs between the left tackle and left guard.
This power-balance combo is the primary reason that Robinson is considered a top prospect in the draft. There have been other tackles with his dimensions who projected well as prospects in the NFL, but very few who dominated in one facet of the game like Robinson did.
When Robinson plays with good technique and sustains blocks, he is borderline unstoppable.
There aren't many offensive tackles in the NFL who can dominate defenders in the running game like that. There are even fewer who bring the versatility to their arsenal that Robinson can promise whoever drafts him.
Much like Joe Staley or Jason Peters, Robinson could quickly diversify his offense's rushing attack and become a crucial part of the screen game.
At no other point is all of Robinson's athleticism put on show like it is when he is asked to lead on screen plays. He seamlessly slides past the pass-rusher on this play before locating the defender in space. No defensive back will ever be able to contend with his power unless they can get him off balance.
It's not tough to fathom why an NFL team would want Robinson for his physical prowess.
However, that physical prowess shouldn't completely eradicate any concerns over his lack of readiness to be a starter in the NFL and the uncertainty surrounding his development. Only on Madden are players guaranteed to develop, so real-life evaluators and decision-makers need to understand what Robinson's floor is.
He could not be a reliable starting tackle in the NFL right now. This can't be emphasized enough. He could likely play guard, but that won't solve all of his issues either.
Like with most positions in the NFL, footwork is vitally important. Robinson can place his quick feet with precision when moving forward, but that doesn't translate when he is asked to drop back in his stance as a pass-blocker.
Robinson is consistently slow to react at the snap, and he regularly failed to gain enough depth in his drop.
Instead of dropping back into his stance and using his long arms and strength to repel defenders while shifting side to side with his feet, Robinson was too quick to try and create contact. He appeared to be trying to play to his greatest strength, his power, to knock people over.
When working in space against quick college defensive ends/linebackers, this was a problem. When it happens in the NFL, it will be a major liability.
Now if Robinson only needed to work on this aspect of his game, then he might be able to quickly develop into a reliable starting left tackle on an NFL offense. However, he has many other warts that need to be treated.
While we can't ever really be 100 percent certain who messes up when an assignment is blown on the offensive line, it appeared that Robinson blew a few too many last season. A lack of awareness seems to be the cause of his failings in this area.
All of Robinson's issues in pass protection combined to make him prone to holding. While he wasn't always called for some blatant holds, he was clearly doing things that were punishable if they had been recognized.
Offensive linemen generally hold because they know that they have been beaten or because they panic. It's not the kind of trait you see in good starting left tackles because they are supposed to be very effective and comfortable working in space against quality pass-rushers.
While Robinson should immediately be an impactful run-blocker on the next level regardless of where he lines up, he also can't simply ignore that area of his game because there are issues to address.
His ability to work in space is very impressive, but there is also inconsistency in how he locates defenders on the second level. He didn't need to perfectly square off against linebackers or safeties in college because he often only needed the slightest connection to knock them down, but that will be tougher in the NFL.
Linebackers will be both bigger and quicker while safeties should be faster than him.
While it also wasn't something that was exposed regularly on the college level, likely because of his overwhelming physical talent, Robinson also has a tendency to play too high. On this play the defender makes a great play because he gets lower than Robinson, but Robinson compounds his loss in the leverage battle by not simply falling on top of the defensive tackle.
That's easy to say while watching on, but it's the kind of thing you don't expect to happen to a supposedly dominant run-blocking offensive lineman.
It's clear that Greg Robinson is incredibly talented. He has a huge upside and should be taken in the top half of the first round of the draft because of that upside. However, as is generally the way during draft season, the optimism with this left tackle is tipping the scales too far in one direction.
The potential for Robinson to bust is much larger than most make out.
His versatility will likely prevent him from being the next Jason Smith, but like Robert Gallery he could potentially wind up as a guard rather than a tackle. If Robinson has a great career inside, then it would be tough to call him a bust. But for those teams that need offensive tackle help at the top of the draft, this isn't a simple selection.
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