I chose Auburn Tigers offensive tackle Greg Robinson as the first NFL prospect on the offensive side of the ball that I would break down. For the purposes of this breakdown I watched Robinson play against Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and Florida State. Those games represent a game in the middle of the season as well as the final four games of Robinson's college career, including the BCS Championship game.
Greg Robinson is coming to take your lunch money ... every. single. play.
It doesn't much matter whether its a running play or a passing play or some kind of trick play, Robinson is always looking to finish off his blocks aggressively and violently. That doesn't necessarily mean a pancake block (when an offensive lineman drive blocks a defensive player on to their back) is what he's after; sometimes he just mushes a guy 10 or 20 yards downfield from where they started.
This was an important key to Auburn's success on offense because their system forced their offensive linemen to execute a variety of blocks from play to play. I like to group run blocking schemes into the categories of zone blocking and man blocking. Zone blocking usually means that rather than having a particular player or players that the offensive lineman is supposed to block, they step to a particular area on the snap, then block whoever shows up there. Man blocking is pretty much the opposite. Whether it is a base (singled up down the middle) block or a double team (I think you get it), there is a specific man that each guy is supposed to target in some form or fashion.
Many times offensive linemen who are good in one kind of blocking scheme are not nearly as proficient at the other. Auburn evidently didn't care about all that. From play to play they would go back and forth between blocking schemes to take advantage of weaknesses of the opposing defenses.
Robinson is the rare guy who was a master at both blocking styles.
Whether it was trying to drive the defensive end to his side wide on a base block to open up the gap inside of him or trying to cut off the defensive tackle inside of him on the backside of a zone read run to create a cut back lane, Robinson consistently put the hammer down on whoever he ended up locking up with. Sometimes it was five yards, sometimes it was twenty yards, but I only saw a handful of stalemates on any guy that he blocked in five games.
Ok, less than a handful.
You don't see many power running football teams any more. Even the "ground and pound" SEC has a bunch of teams running the read option these days. It's rare to find that offensive lineman who you can call a road grader; without power running schemes it's hard to see guys make the kind of blocks where they dominate their opponent. It's certainly hard to see when you run a lot of zone read plays where the blocking is a lot more lateral than vertical.
Evidently, nobody got around to telling Robinson about that.
Maybe its because I look at offensive lineman through an old defensive lineman's eyes, but I swear I've hardly ever seen the kind of power Robinson puts into his cutoff blocks backside on zone running plays at the collegiate level. And even those I did see happened a long, loooooong time ago, back around the time when I was playing.
Do you understand how demoralizing it is as a guy playing on the front line of the defense to be going backwards for a whole damn game? That's the kind of "bullying" you like to see from a player when watching his film, which is why I am calling dibs on Robinson's nickname being "Deebo" going forward. In that respect he reminds me a lot of Chargers right tackle D.J. Fluker. Earlier this year I called Fluker a goon because of his aggressive style of play, and that moniker fits Robinson just as well. Both guys come hard off the snap and try to take their opponent's will to win on every play.
Athletic as hell
If you followed the Combine, then you already know that Robinson put up some truly eye popping numbers for a man of his size. At 6'5 332 pounds, he ran a sub-5.0 40 and repped out with 225 pounds 32 times. Robinson is not just a workout warrior; his athleticism is evident in his play. Auburn's aforementioned diversified running schemes sometimes called for Robinson to sift up to the second level (about 5 yards across the line of the scrimmage) to a linebacker and block them in a certain direction. He did this effortlessly and enthusiastically on a consistent basis.
You watch the beginning of the Missouri game and you will see Robinson achieve that second level block on a linebacker in devastating fashion. The power he displays on that play is impressive, but for me I was more impressed at his angle to the block that put him in position to make it in the first place.
Auburn also ran a variety of screens where Robinson had to block a defensive back in space. That's one of the harder blocks for an offensive lineman, especially one as tall as Robinson because they have to get out there as fast as they can and have enough not to get juked out of their jock by a little guy in the secondary.
Watch the screen play against Alabama where Robinson literally knocks an Alabama defensive back out cold. Again, the explosion of the hit is amazing, but just to get out there in front of the runner and be able to hit a shifty defensive back in space like that is a testament to his crazy athleticism.
Robinson blocks an FSU defensive back:
You can also watch Robinson when he goes over to play tight end on the opposite side of the center when Auburn would go with an unbalanced line. In the Texas A&M game, Robinson absolutely demolished one of their defensive backs out of that unbalanced set. Those handful of plays in just about each of those games showed that a transition to right tackle in the NFL would probably go pretty smoothly as well.
What drives you crazy is trying discern how Robinson can be so athletic leading up to and through the first couple of steps of contact on run blocks and even on some pass blocks, but look so unathletic after that point. When playing against defenders who had good hand fighting technique he consistently lost contact with the guy after initially knocking him back.
Trying To Do Too Much
Robinson's propensity to lose his blocks a couple of steps after contact can at least partially be attributed to what I like to call the (air quotes) down side of all that aggression he displays on the field.
What he has to understand is that every block can't be a pancake block. He starts leaning with his head down once he gets his hands on the defensive player and tries to run right over him. That works when he goes against a guy who doesn't attempt to disengage from the block, but guys with good technique were able to consistently get off of Robinson's blocks. Sometimes it drew holding penalties because he wouldn't let go even though he was beaten.
This also shows up in Robinson's pass blocking. When he gets his hands on a guy that gives up after the first move, he dominates those players and keeps them right at the line of scrimmage. However, when a guy like Alabama defensive end Adrian Hubbard keeps working to an edge after contact, Robinson tended to lose the block, and in the case of Hubbard, he gave up a sack.
Some of that appeared to be bad footwork by Robinson where he is mostly kicking out to the pass rusher rather than getting depth so he can stay between the rusher and the quarterback. Because he was looking to make contact with the pass rushers early and block them aggressively, they only had to continue to work outside after contact and stay on an edge. That led to Robinson giving a soft shoulder (turning his hip to step back which turns his outside shoulder perpendicular rather than the parallel to the line of scrimmage) because he hadn't gotten enough depth initially.
After watching those five games, I came away concerned about how much did Auburn try to hide Robinson's deficiencies as a pass blocker. Many times, rather than have him block the end man on the line of scrimmage, they would have him block down to help double the defensive tackle. And I'm not just talking about when the opposing defense threatened to blitz.
This is a legitimate cause for concern for any team picking in the top 10 of the draft. A tackle taken that high is going to be expected to start right off of the bat. He is also, usually, expected to man the blind side of his new quarterback for the next decade or so. If they are poor pass blockers on the college level you don't normally see them make a huge leap forward in that department during their rookie season. The question then becomes whether or not a team believes they can get Robinson's technique squared away relatively quickly since he is so obviously athletic.
There is another option. A team could draft him to initially play guard, and eventually move him outside when his footwork has improved enough to man the tackle spot. The Dallas Cowboys did that with eventual Hall of Famer Larry Allen, and I see a lot of a young Larry Allen in Robinson's game.
The explosion out of the hips at the snap, the great body level on every play for a man that size, and the freaky athleticism are all traits that Robinson shares with a young Larry Allen. Allen also had to work on his pass blocking technique before he eventually became the best left tackle in the business.
Am I saying Robinson is a Hall of Famer?
Of course not!
What I am saying is that the potential is certainly there for Robinson's career to have the same kind of arc to it. I don't think anybody feels confident enough in Robinson's pass blocking ability to project him as a day one starter at offensive tackle this upcoming season. On the other hand, if you asked most folks if they thought he could be a day-one starter at guard, I do believe many would agree with me that he could, and play guard at a pretty high level.
Having said that, I also have to say that taking a guard in the top 10 picks of the NFL Draft is pretty unusual. However, you wouldn't be picking him to play guard. You would be picking Robinson to eventually take over the blind side tackle spot and hold that position for a decade or more. It goes back to that whole "upside" conversation that I've talked about in previous breakdowns.
No matter how raw Robinson might be right now, his potential is off the charts. A little better technique here and there and you can envision this kid transforming into a monster. Especially when you factor in his 35-inch arms, which tied him with Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson for the third longest arms of any offensive linemen at the Combine. Having long arms can help to offset poor/slow pass blocking footwork at times. It won't solve the problem, but sometimes it can be enough.
For these reasons, I'm projecting Robinson to be the first tackle taken in the draft.
You just can't deny that much ability, no matter the flaws. Robinson is going to instantly help any team's running game get on track. Sooner rather than later, he should adjust to being a pretty good pass blocker as well.