Just 12 months ago, you had to be a hardcore Auburn Tigers fan to have a ton of knowledge of left tackle Greg Robinson, let alone have his name roll off your tongue as a top NFL prospect.
Fast forward one year past Auburn’s improbable run to an SEC title, where Robinson mauled defensive linemen to open holes for two 1,000-yard rushers, and Robinson’s name now holds star power.
Within the first 10 picks of the 2014 NFL draft on May 8, three offensive tackles could be called—Robinson, former Texas A&M star Jake Matthews and former Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan. Arguments have been waged for months, but most feel either Robinson or Matthews will be the first lineman picked, with Lewan a close third.
What hasn’t been debated is what each offensive tackle brings to the table, because these are well-known facts. Both Matthews and Lewan are polished, mostly free-from-risk additions who will be able to jump in and compete for an NFL job from the start. Robinson, on the other hand, is raw—a highly athletic, intelligent prospect with more upside than a NASA rocket.
It’s because of Robinson’s sky-high ceiling that not only could he be the first offensive tackle selected in the draft, he could turn out to be the most dominant rookie lineman we’ve seen in years.
The 2014 NFL Combine
Robinson used his athleticism and power to work his way from second-year college starter to combine invite. He turned the 2014 combine into his own personal coming-out party, showing NFL scouts and executives that he had the physical tools and drive to grow into something special.
When the offensive linemen ran the 40-yard dash, Robinson blew folks away. His 40 time was 4.92 seconds, the second-best time of any offensive tackle there, according to combine results provided by NFL.com. He also posted a top-10 vertical jump of 28.5", a top-five bench press with 32 reps and just missed out on the top 10 in the three-cone drill.
Since 2009, there have been 10 offensive tackles taken within the first 10 picks of the draft. Mike Huguenin of NFL.com put some perspective on how Robinson’s scores stacked up against recent draftees.
Robinson’s 40 time of 4.92 would have ranked him third behind Lane Johnson and Trent Williams, or fourth if you consider Lewan’s 4.87. His 32 reps on the bench press would have ranked third behind Russell Okung and Jason Smith, while his 9'5" broad jump would have ranked third behind Lane Johnson and Eric Fisher, or fourth if you consider Lewan’s jump of 9'9".
Robinson will bring an Adonis-like physical presence to the NFL. His 6'5" frame is a perfect height, and his 35" arms are of prototypical length. It’s his 332-pound mass, however, that’s truly awe-inspiring.
Of the offensive tackles at the combine who weighed over 300 pounds, only four—Robinson, Lewan, Joel Bitonio and Matt Patchan—ran a 40-yard dash quicker than five seconds. Robinson was the only guy there above 310 pounds to pull off that feat.
His rare combination of size, speed and power showed in film. Even though he’s considered somewhat raw, and the 2013 season was just his second as a starter, he was shaming more experienced defensive players.
Robinson is still learning his trade. He’s going to come into the NFL as a run blocker who should develop into a Pro Bowl left tackle once his pass-blocking skills are refined.
Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com compares Robinson with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith.
Robinson's game is similar to Smith. Both of them are extremely quick and athletic. They also are strong to get movement in the ground game. Smith (6-5, 318) is a little bit smaller than Robinson, while Smith entered the NFL as a more polished prospect. Robinson could easily turn into a Pro Bowl left tackle like Smith.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has Smith ranked as the No. 5 left tackle in the NFL last year. They break Smith down further as the fifth-ranked pass blocker and 13th-ranked run blocker. Robinson’s likely ready to surpass Smith as a run blocker and could develop to similar heights as a pass-blocker.
According to the Auburn athletic department, Robinson was the second-ranked offensive guard in the country when he was being recruited in high school.
He didn’t play guard once he got to Auburn, but the run-blocking skills he learned last season in Auburn’s run-heavy offense could translate into playing guard for a few seasons in the NFL as he learns to be a better pass-blocker, offered Greg A. Bedard of Sports Illustrated's The Monday Morning Quarterback with Peter King.
Robinson has all the tools and has shown the potential in the pass game; if teams feel he can learn and work at his craft, then Robinson could be an all-time great. It’s a question of how long that will take, and where do you play him in the interim (Robinson would be a devastating left guard for a year or two). Former Rams left tackle Orlando Pace, who likely will be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, is the player whom Robinson is most often compared with in league circles because of his physicality in the run game.
Many times when collegiate left tackles are drafted early, they get moved to right tackle in the NFL until they’ve proved to be ready to move back to the left side to protect a quarterback’s blind side. Robinson could offer another level of versatility if he is shuffled to right tackle or either guard position.
Stacking Up vs. the Best OTs in the 2013 Class
Three offensive tackles were taken in the opening five picks of the 2013 draft. The Kansas City Chiefs took Fisher first overall, Luke Joeckel went to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 2 pick, and the Philadelphia Eagles selected Lane Johnson at No. 4.
Johnson was moved to right tackle and had a productive season as the 11th-ranked run blocker at the tackle position, according to Pro Football Focus. His pass-blocking skills haven’t been as impressive yet, but the learning experience of the NFL in year one should help him grow quickly now.
Fisher was also moved to right tackle by the Chiefs but had far less success. He started 13 games but looked lost at times and was abused by NFL defensive linemen. Joeckel fractured his left ankle after starting five games for the Jaguars, four at right tackle and one at left. He didn’t look comfortable in his short five-game rookie season, but he did show signs that his struggles were mental errors rather than physical inability.
When comparing the three first-rounders from last year to Robinson, Adam Teicher of ESPN.com reported some thoughts from draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.
"It’s a completely different year than last year," Kiper said on where Fisher would be taken in the 2014 draft if he were coming out of college this year instead of last. "He would have been the fourth offensive tackle taken, probably somewhere between eight and 15 (overall)."
Teicher added, "He is a very good player. But not the kind of franchise savior they could have picked had they drafted No. 1 in 2012 or 2014."
When it comes to drafting an offensive tackle in the first 10 picks of this year’s draft, general managers are going to have to calculate risk and reward.
If the team wants to stay safe and pick a tackle who should develop into an NFL starter for years to come, the proper picks are Matthews or Lewan. But, if a team can stand a little risk, a huge (apologies for the pun) bounty can be had in Robinson.
Robinson can not only be an NFL starter for the foreseeable future if he develops on a similar trajectory as he did last season at Auburn, but he could become an All-Pro for years to come.
It won’t take long on May 8 to find out which NFL franchise sees Robinson as the next great NFL success story along the offensive line.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of "100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die." Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.