After watching Ryan Ramczyk as the first offensive tackle that I broke down this NFL draft season, I came away a little unimpressed. I expected Ramczyk, supposedly the No. 1 tackle in this class, to look better against the better competition he faced. I expected Ramczyk to make good college edge rushers look pretty ordinary. I definitely didn't expect him to get beaten as many times as he did in last year’s Michigan State and Michigan games.
Now Ramczyk wasn't terrible or anything, and in the other three games I watched, he looked pretty decent. But I need more than "pretty decent" when you're talking about the top tackle.
In the NFL, the talent level of the edge rushers he will be facing is going to shoot up. That's why so many young left tackles get exposed early on. No matter what kind of offense an NFL team runs, when it’s third-and-long, your left tackle is going to have to handle a pretty good edge rusher, all by his damn self, for that play to have any chance. That's a steep learning curve for a guy who might've faced five good edge rushers all year.
When you are talking about the first or second left tackle off the board, those guys are expected to hold up on an island right away. That way, you can send help to the right tackle, who is usually the weaker pass blocker. If you have to send your left tackle a lot of help as a pass blocker, well, it might be time to find a new left tackle.
I'm just sayin’.
Because Ramczyk had trouble against top competition, I was looking forward to getting a good look at Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson. He is the other left tackle who might be the first off the board. I didn’t watch much college football during last season, but you almost have to actively try to avoid watching Alabama these days. They seem to be on TV every week, and they have found a way to make it to the championship game repeatedly.
So I did already have occasion to see a couple of Bama games last fall, and of course I've already done one breakdown of an Alabama player, Jonathan Allen. Being able to take a look at how Alabama's offense has evolved the last few years was a happy byproduct.
For so long Alabama was seen as this throwback team that ran a quote, unquote, "pro-style offense." Now with the proliferation of spread principles in every level of football, you have to switch to spread offense, or at least dabble in it, in order to keep up with the Joneses. For a lot of the kids coming out of high school, spread offenses are almost all that they have ever known, from their little league teams to their seven-on-seven squads.
And sure enough, this was not your daddy's Crimson Tide offense.
Alabama ran all kinds of read-option plays and quarterback runs, along with misdirection plays, to constantly try to keep defenses off balance. With all the talent Nick Saban pulls into that place, having an offense that can fool you as well as punch you right in the mouth is damn near unfair!
What I appreciated about the diverse approach was all of the different kinds of blocks it allowed me to see Robinson try to make. One play, you might see Robinson pulling out wide; the next play, he might be base blocking the edge defender; the next play, he might be pulling inside for a QB trap; and the next play, he might be scooping up to the linebacker on the second level.
On the pass protection side, they hardly ever sent any help for Robinson, even though he faced some of the best pass rushers in the country in the games I watched. I'm watching Robinson against Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett, whom many say could be the first pick in the draft. I watched him against Derek Barnett, who should be a top-10 pick. I saw him in limited reps against Auburn edge rusher Carl Lawson, whom I have yet to do a breakdown on.
The standard I set for Ramczyk — making good college pass rushers look run-of-the-mill —applied equally to Robinson. Robinson was able to accomplish that, for the most part. In those five games, Robinson only gave up one sack and zero pressures by my count, and even the sack has to come with some context.
It was Barnett who got Robinson for the sack, and it was an away game for Alabama. The play prior to the sack was a third-and-10 and Robinson committed a false start to make it third-and-15. Barnett, being the smart player that he is, appeared to surmise that after jumping, Robinson would be a little slow out of his stance, to try to make sure he didn't jump again.
That, combined with the crowd noise, was all she wrote for Robinson on that play. It was over before he had so much as kick stepped out of his stance. You can't put an asterisk by it, but to me, that was the only sack that Robinson legitimately gave up in the five games I watched.
There were a couple of other plays when Robinson had his guy on lock, but the quarterback either had to or chose to scramble up in the pocket and ended up getting sacked by the guy Robinson had been dominating. I'm not going to punish Robinson for his freshman QB's lack of pocket awareness or because another guy missed his block and chased the QB into Robinson's guy.
Other than those handful of plays, however, Robinson didn't just do a good job with his pass protection. He had cats looking like they had on handcuffs.
Yes, that includes Garrett.
Yes, that includes Barnett.
Yes, that includes a bunch of dudes whose names you’ve probably never heard.
When it came to Garrett and Barnett, Robinson didn't always look pretty doing it, but most of the time, he got the job done. And that is impressive when you consider how different Garrett and Barnett are as pass rushers. Robinson was consistently able to handle Garrett's power rushes as well as Barnett's speed rushes.
That ain't easy.
Hell, I didn't see any other left tackle handle either guy the way Robinson did both. And there isn't a thing that I want my left tackle to be able to do that I didn't see Robinson do on a high level. He can drive people off the ball, he's good blocking people out in space, he makes pass blocking look way too easy, and he plays with a little edge to him.
Another thing that impressed me with Robinson's tape was his pad level. You're talking about a guy who is 6'6 and some change, over 320 pounds, and yet he was consistently low, whether run blocking or pass blocking. Playing with outstanding leverage like that also helped Robinson move people off the ball, rather than just laying on them.
One of the criticisms I have is that he tended to get a little too overextended as a run blocker, which, every once in awhile, meant he would whiff on a stunt inside by the defensive lineman. I can live with a few of those, however, for the most part. I'd much rather my offensive lineman be *too* aggressive than not aggressive enough, if I had to choose, tbh. And hell, those other guys get coached too; every once in awhile, everybody gets beat.
I don't like some of the brother-in-lawing I saw Robinson doing with Garrett a few times. But really, I'm going to be a lot more pissed at the defender than the offensive lineman in that scenario. The defender is supposed to be busting his ass, trying to get to the football. If Robinson sees that his guy is loafing or shutting it down, then hey, his job is done anyway.
To be honest, sometimes Robinson looked genuinely bored, because he knew those guys didn't have a chance in hell of beating him straight up. And guess what, he was right!
Look, this kid has plenty of dog in him. Yeah, OK, he had a couple of loafs, but I also saw him finishing plays. And I also saw him step his game up against top competition. I don't worry much about whether Robinson has the right mindset to dominate on the next level, when I see him giving Lawson the business on a play when Lawson has almost zero chance to be a factor anyway.
It was usually too easy for him in the games that I watched, but I don't think he will have any problem finding challenges on Sundays.
And let me be clear on something: when I say a couple of loafs, I mean exactly that. I only had Robinson with two in four games. And in only one of those instances did his guy make the play. In fact, not many guys that Robinson blocked made many plays, just fyi. I’m the #GetOffMyLawn guy when it comes to hustling, and I didn't see much about Robinson’s effort to get mad at.
If you can get Robinson to play just a tad bit harder all the time, you probably will have a a perennial All-Pro left tackle. But hell, even with some of the effort issues here and there, Robinson's tape simply blows Ramczyk's tape out the damn water!
I just don't see a thing Ramczyk currently does better than Robinson, aside from not getting arrested. I don't see Ramczyk having nearly as high a ceiling. I can’t find a rationale for picking Ramczyk over Robinson, but it’s not my pick.
Some of the little things Robinson does are just so damn impressive, if you know how hard it is to do them. On his cut off blocks, he tends to work to get between the defender and the hole, and he turns his hips toward the defender, to make sure his guy has no chance of making the play.
It looks easy, but trust me, it ain’t.
Even if the argument for Ramczyk is that you want a right tackle instead of a left tackle, why not get the better tackle and move him over to the right?
Robinson's tape was what I expected to see when I turned on Ramczyk's. So if you are asking me who the best left tackle is of the two, I don't think there's any question that it’s Robinson. Hands down. End of discussion. (And that's before you e’em get to Ramcyzk coming off of injury/surgery.)
What I also liked about Robinson's tape was his consistency with his technique. He wasn't perfect on every play, but his footwork put him in position to make the block every play.
Consistency is one of the more important traits for offensive linemen, because even when the shit is hitting the fan all around them, as long as they don't forget their technique, they usually have a chance. With the way Robinson plays, he looks to be ready to start from day one and be the anchor for the next seven to 10 years, barring injury.
Robinson is that rare left tackle who does all these crazy things out in space, getting up on linebackers and safeties on the second level and blocking cornerbacks on screens ...
... but who also goes one-on-one against edge rushers.
Normally, you only get one or the other.
I believe Robinson is the total package, no matter where you put him, and whether he goes before Ramczyk or not, he has top-half-of-the-first talent.
Maybe there is a guy out there who is better tackle prospect than Robinson, but it ain't Ramczyk, and, all things being equal off the field, I think most teams will live to regret it if they choose Ramczyk before Robinson.
Since I don't have access to all-22 for college games, I use the next best thing for my draft profiles and go to draftbreakdown.com, where they the TV copy of a bunch of top prospects already cut up. Also, their site is compatible with the new noHuddle app, which turns your cell phone into a "cowboy clicker," which is pretty damn neat. For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Robinson against USC, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Auburn, and Washington. Those spanned the first and 14th games on Alabama's schedule.